Canadian Government Criticized for Failure to Protect Endangered Species
American conservation groups Defenders of Wildlife and Northwest Ecosystem Alliance (NWEA) today petitioned US Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt and US Secretary of Commerce William Daley to certify Canada under U.S. trade law for that country's lack of any federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) legislation.
More than 400 groups, in letters to both US President Bill Clinton and Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, have joined the call for Canada to directly address its growing endangered species and habitat degradation problems. Failure by Canada to take appropriate action could lead to US trade sanctions.
The number of endangered species in Canada has grown by 20 percent since 1992, and the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada has listed 285 species as being endangered or at-risk of extinction. Hundreds more are listed as vulnerable. The vast majority of these species, such as the grizzly bear, marbled murrelet, bull trout, and woodland caribou, either migrate to or share range with the United States. A recent study by the American Fisheries Society found that more than 140 stocks of salmon in British Columbia have gone extinct and 624 are at high risk; US salmon stocks continue to plummet. By failing to adopt a federal ESA, particularly when the majority of Canadian provinces also lack legal protection for endangered species, conservationists charge that US efforts are being undermined and that Canada itself is destroying the very natural attributes that defines its culture.
"Hiding your head in the sand when there's an incoming tide of extinction is not a particularly smart strategy," said Joe Scott, conservation director for Northwest Ecosystem Alliance (NWEA). "We just celebrated the 25th anniversary of the US ESA and our neighbors to the north have yet to begin the effort," he said.
"My experience has been that Canadians overwhelmingly want their government to protect and defend endangered wildlife and ecosystems," said Brock Evans, director of the US Endangered Species Coalition.
"Failure could render their natural landscapes a distant memory," concluded Evans. Recent polls show that 94 percent of all Canadians support federal legislation to protect endangered species.
Under the US Pelly Amendment to the Fishermen's Protective Act of 1967, passed in 1971, the president possesses the authority to impose trade measures upon countries that are not living up to international commitments for the conservation of endangered species.
Environmentalists claim that Canada is violating at least two international agreements -- the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention on Nature Protection and Wildlife Preservation in the Western Hemisphere -- by failing to possess endangered species legislation. As a result of this legal gap, stream side protection for Canadian salmon pale in comparison to US standards, grizzly bears are protected in the US but can be hunted as soon as they cross the border, and forest habitat for the spotted owl and marbled murrelet is dwindling rapidly in Canada despite effects on the American side. Other impacted species include the bald eagle, peregrine falcon, piping plover, lynx, trumpeter swan, swift fox, right whale, whooping crane, eastern cougar, woodland caribou, sea otter, and gray wolf.
"We must begin to look at North America as both politically and ecologically inter-connected," said Bill Snape, legal director for Defenders. "Wildlife can't survive or recover inside increasingly shrinking human boundaries. When Canada hurts its wildlife and habitat, it is injuring the United States. We've asked for action from the Canadian government many times and we now have no choice but to take this legal action."
Three months ago, Defenders and NWEA also filed a lawsuit against the US Trade Representative, as well as the Secretaries of Interior and Commerce, for their failure to consider endangered species and other environmental issues in negotiating the US-Canada Softwood Lumber Agreement (SWLA). This active case will decide to what extent trade negotiators must consider the environmental impacts of Canadian lumber exports upon key ecosystems such as the old-growth forests of British Columbia. Like the federal government, the province of British Columbia possess no endangered species law, which many believe provides a subsidy to the British Columbia timber industry that ships up to 10 billion board feet of old-growth logs to the United States annually. This trade has been directly linked to species declines throughout Canada. Ironically, much of the habitat destruction due to logging and other natural resource development is being driven by American demand for cheap American commodities and coaxed by the mantra of "free" trade.
"Without endangered species legislation and without more sensible logging practices, Canada's chief export will soon be species extinction," said Patti Goldman, an attorney with Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund in Seattle, Wash. Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund is representing Defenders and NWEA in both the Pelly petition being filed today and the SWLA lawsuit.
Last year, proposed endangered species legislation in Canada died in Parliament despite overwhelming public and scientific support in Canada. Just recently, more than 600 Canadian scientists signed a letter expressing the need for a strong endangered species statute. However, with strong resistance from provincial governments and industry, the Liberal Party government at the federal level has not pushed the legislative effort despite campaign promises to the contrary. New legislation in the pipeline, like last year's bill, provides no habitat safeguards, no protection for cross-border species, and no protection for species outside federal lands (which only comprise about 5 percent of Canada's land tenure).
B-Roll footage and photographs available upon request from Defenders and NWEA. Copies of the Pelly petition are available from Earthjustice.