Environmental groups are taking the Canadian government to court over its alleged failure to abide by the Species at Risk Act to protect endangered wildlife threatened by a number of projects, including the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline and tanker route.
The case will be heard by the federal court in Vancouver on January 8-9, 2014.
“The federal government’s chronic delays in producing recovery strategies for Canada’s endangered wildlife are forcing species already struggling to survive to wait even longer for the protection they desperately need,” said Devon Page, Ecojustice executive director, speaking in a statement to media. “Worse, not having these recovery strategies in place makes it impossible for regulators to consider the full environmental impact of major projects like the Northern Gateway pipeline,” he added.
The lawsuit challenges the federal government’s multi-year delays in producing recovery strategies for four species — the Pacific Humpback Whale, Nechako White Sturgeon, Marbled Murrelet and Southern Mountain Caribou. The habitat for all four species would be impacted by the construction and operation of the Northern Gateway pipeline, among other proposed developments.
By delaying the recovery strategies — and therefore delaying identification of the critical habitat it must then protect — the federal government is making it easier for projects like Northern Gateway pipeline to speed through regulatory review without a full understanding of their long-term impacts on these wildlife species and their habitat.
For instance, the federal government released its final recovery strategy for the Pacific Humpback Whale in October, more than four and a half years past its due date and too late for consideration by the Joint Review Panel (JRP), which recommended in December that Cabinet approve Northern Gateway. That recovery strategy identifies toxic spills and vessel traffic as two threats to the humpbacks’ survival and recovery. The recovery strategy also shows how the whales’ critical habitat overlaps significantly with the proposed tanker route for the Northern Gateway pipeline — all pertinent information that should have been considered during the review hearings.
“This recovery strategy clearly demonstrates that Northern Gateway would have a significant impact on humpback whales and their habitat, yet by the time this science was released it was too late for it to be considered by the JRP, which calls into question the credibility of the review process,” said Caitlyn Vernon, campaigns director with Sierra Club BC.
“The federal government is now required to legally protect humpback whale critical habitat by April of this year, which makes any proposal to route tankers through their north coast habitat unviable,” Vernon added.