ENVIRO NOTES: A law without real teeth

There doesn’t seem to be much point in having a good law if there’s neither the means nor the will to implement it.

Our estimable Species at Risk Act (SARA) falls into this category.

Enacted in 2002, not without some difficulty, SARA has been praised as a science-based measure to identify, list and protect endangered animals, plants and ecosystems. Wisely, it delegates wildlife evaluations to the independent Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, deals with stewardship and habitats as well as with species, and permits the federal government to act if a province should fail to provide adequate protection. Now, however, all this is at risk with the federal government’s modifications to environmental legislation, presented as streamlining, but feared as emasculation.

Under SARA, there are three categories of risk or endangered status. A ‘yellow’ rating indicates the unit is safe and under no immediate threat; ‘blue’ means the unit needs attention; and ‘red,’ the highest category, ranks the unit as threatened, endangered or, in the worst case, extirpated.

It’s beyond the listing stage that SARA is less effective. Recovery strategies have been developed for only about half of the species listed.

The act calls for recovery strategies to be in place within a year for endangered species and within two years for those identified as threatened.

There is no specific data for the Semiahmoo Peninsula, since it is mapped as a part of the Chilliwack Forest District which covers the southwest corner of the mainland.

The district’s red list includes no large animals but identifies snowshoe hare, Townsend’s mole, Olympic and Pacific water shrews and three bird species – northern goshawk, peregrine falcon and spotted owl. The six red-listed fish species include both white and green sturgeon in the lower Fraser River. The list includes two amphibians, four insects, four molluscs, 25 herbaceous plants and two mosses.

The blue list is much longer, and it may be surprising to some that both grizzly bear and wolverine appear, but it’s not so very long ago that they frequented southwestern B.C.

Along with them there are 13 bird species, 47 herbaceous plants, two mosses, eight insects and seven molluscs.

Loss of habitat is by far the commonest causal factor.

The entire coastal Douglas-fir ecosystem, which covers this corner of the province, is listed as ‘at risk’ by the Ministry of Environment.

We’re fortunate that the Peninsula can boast of probably the largest and oldest remnant in its Sunnyside Acres Urban Forest – 130 hectares of 80- 100-year-old second-growth forest – and it includes a red-listed cottonwood stand. Dedication was achieved before SARA, but it fits right in with the principles of the act and is a credit to the community.

Dr. Roy Strang writes monthly on the environment for the Peace Arch News.

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