Sierra Club: The Planet--1996
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The Planet
Canada Set to Pass First Endangered Species Act

While the U.S. Congress was busy last year trying to dismantle its 23-year-old Endangered Species Act, the Sierra Club of Canada was pushing its national government to draft endangered species legislation for the first time. Within the next few months, the Cabinet will deliberate on that proposed legislation, and the Sierra Club of Canada is urging members to send cards and letters to key Cabinet ministers to ensure they pass an effective and comprehensive law.

The fight to save Canada's estimated 8,000 at-risk species got a jump-start in 1992 when Canada became the first industrialized country to sign and ratify the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity. In signing the treaty, the federal government committed to "develop or maintain necessary legislation and/or regulatory provisions for the protection of threatened species and populations."

The provinces got first crack at developing legislation and came up with the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy, which placed the protection of biodiversity in the hands of provincial governments, but didn't contain any deadlines or commit to passing any legislation. The Sierra Club of Canada spoke out against this piecemeal approach because wildlife does not respect provincial boundaries.

In 1994, the Sierra Club of Canada helped form the Canadian Endangered Species Coalition to push for national legislation ensuring minimal protection of at-risk species and habitats. Responding to coalition pressure, Sheila Copps, then Canada's minister of environment, announced the federal government's intention to develop and pass endangered species legislation and released a draft in August 1995. However, environmentalists savaged the draft because it proposed protecting only those species found on federal lands south of the 60th parallel - roughly 4 percent of the land area in Canada. The habitat of most endangered species would not be protected.

The Canadian government is now working on a second draft. "This time," says Tom Nichols, conservation chair of British Columbia's Lower Mainland Group, "we're hoping the government addresses species in need, regardless of whether they live on federal lands."

If the act does not include private lands, says Nichols, the agricultural and urban development will continue to encroach on natural habitat at the rate of roughly 240 hectares (almost one square mile)every minute. According to a report released by Environment Canada, more than 130 of the nation's 177 identified land-based regions are at significant risk of losing biodiversity, including original tallgrass prairie, British Columbia's old-growth Douglas fir forest, the Carolinian forests of southern Ontario and the Atlantic coast. Government spending cutbacks are also a real and immediate concern as adequate funding may not be in place to ensure species recovery or to protect the large, interconnected wilderness areas required for their survival.

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