Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good morning. John Moffet and I are pleased to be here representing Environment Canada. And colleagues, as you noted, are here with us from Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Parks Canada Agency.
I will provide some opening remarks, which will include a high-level overview and status report of our implementation of the act and some observations from the review. My colleagues and I will then do our best to answer your questions.
SARA is premised on the view that it is in our interest to protect species at risk. Canada's biodiversity is essential to the health and well-being of Canadians and our economy. For example, 13.6% of Canada's GDP depends on healthy ecosystems through forests, agriculture, and the oceans.
The Species at Risk Act explicitly recognizes that the responsibility for conservation of wildlife in Canada is a shared responsibility. Under the accord for the protection of species at risk, the federal government, provinces, and territories committed to use their own laws and regulations to protect species at risk. For the federal government this is applied to migratory birds, aquatic species, and species on federal lands. SARA is the key legislation the federal government uses to implement the accord.
SARA was put into place to prevent wildlife species from becoming extinct or being extirpated—which means no longer existing in the wild in Canada—and to support their recovery. It addresses all types of wildlife in Canada, ranging from large mammals to fish to insects to plants. As the committee has studied in some detail, the act sets out required processes for assessment, protection, and recovery of species at risk. The act also provides for monitoring and evaluation to determine the effectiveness of protection and recovery measures and to make adjustments as necessary. The ultimate goal is to delist species that have recovered.
As we described in our previous appearances, when SARA became law, 233 species were immediately listed on schedule 1 of the act. As a result, under the timelines prescribed in the act, recovery strategies were required by June 2007 for 190 species that were listed as threatened, endangered, or extirpated. Similarly, management plans were required by June 2008 for the remaining 43 species listed as “special concern”.
Although this immediate set of obligations presented a significant challenge, we are making progress on this initial backlog. As of February 4, 2011, 486 species were listed under the act. Recovery strategies have now been completed for 144 species, and strategies for nearly 190 additional species are under way. With systems, staff, and policies in place, the pace is picking up.
My colleagues and I would be happy to answer your questions about the implementation of the act to date. And I would like to now make some comments regarding the review and what we've heard so far from review of the witnesses' testimony.
We have followed very closely what the witnesses have said to this committee. Apart from detailed issues of concern that relate to the particular circumstances of individual stakeholders, we believe some cross-cutting messages emerged from the review.
None of the witnesses questioned the basic purpose of the act or the importance of protecting and recovering species at risk as an important element of conserving healthy ecosystems in Canada. There are, however, understandable and widely shared concerns about delays in getting to effective on-the-ground action.
You heard about the challenges associated with the prescriptive nature of the act and how it can be difficult to reconcile its detailed, step-by-step requirements and timelines with obligations to consult on most key decisions and with the overarching need to foster collaborative partnerships on the ground.
Industry representatives told you that they need predictable and effective ways to be able to comply with the act. And most witnesses emphasized that efforts under SARA need to work in harmony with other conservation measures, many of which require collaborative partnerships rather than the imposition of an inflexible, one-size-fits-all approach.
In addition to these key challenges, certain overarching themes may be drawn from what the committee heard.
First, it seems clear that witnesses want the goal of action under SARA to be timely and effective protection and recovery of species at risk.
Second, as stated earlier, the responsibility for conservation of wildlife in Canada is shared, and effective conservation requires cooperative actions involving all levels of governments, aboriginal peoples, and other stakeholders, including landowners and resource users. People expect action to protect species under SARA, to contribute to and align with this overall suite of public and private conservation efforts.
Third, a number of witnesses have talked about moving forward to more ecosystem-based approaches, or grouping species to support effective conservation actions, for example, by addressing a common threat. This would help facilitate an integrated approach to working with provinces, territories, aboriginal peoples and others. Many are already involved in managing activities from a landscape, watershed, or ecosystem-based approach.
Finally, those who participated in the committee's review expect us to look for ways to focus our efforts on the actions that would produce the best conservation outcomes on the ground, encourage the development of proactive partnerships and facilitate voluntary action to protect and recover species at risk, conserve species that are not at risk, and support broader conservation planning and protection.
In closing, I would like to assure you we take these concerns and suggested strategic directions seriously. We look forward to the advice from your report.