Sask. law falls short when it comes to protecting wildlife: prof

Saskatchewan's Wildlife Act turns 20 this year but one professor says it fails in making habitat a priority.

Wildlife Act turns 20 this year but remains largely unchanged, says Andrea Olive

In 20 years, Saskatchewan has not updated its endangered and threatened species list. (James Villeneuve/Nature Saskatchewan)

It's been 20 years since Saskatchewan's Wildlife Act was passed and one professor says it's well overdue for an update. 

Saskatchewan has changed since the legislation was introduced in 1998, but the act as it pertains to habitat protection and endangered species remains largely untouched.

That is a problem, according to Andrea Olive, professor of political studies and environmental policy at the University of Toronto. She's originally from Saskatchewan.

"It fell really short of where it needs to be," Olive said of the act. 

In 1999, an amendment was made to the Wildlife Act to include the Wild Species at Risk Regulations, which listed the endangered and threatened animal and plant species in the province.

If it doesn't have habitat, it doesn't have anything. That's where Saskatchewan, like the western provinces, is really failing.- Andrea Olive

"In Canada we have an independent committee of scientists that assess flora and fauna across the country, and they have said that there's well over 50 endangered and threatened species in Saskatchewan," Olive said.

The amendment only lists nine endangered animal and plant species and one threatened species and has remained untouched since its inception.

"We're simply not interested in listing new species partly because it's not funded, there's not enforcement for it, and partly not being able to protect the habitat," Olive said.

Olive said that listing the species isn't enough: government must take steps to protect the habitat of endangered or threatened species.

"If it doesn't have habitat, it doesn't have anything. That's where Saskatchewan, like the western provinces, is really failing."

Where Sask. stacks up

Even solely just looking at the lists of endangered and threatened species, Saskatchewan has a significantly lower number than both Alberta and Manitoba. 

According to the Government of Alberta's website, they have 17 endangered species and 16 threatened species. The document appears to have been updated in 2014. 

Manitoba has 33 endangered species on its list and 23 threatened species. 

This banded piping plover 0K from P.E.I. was re-sighted in Bermuda. (Submitted by Andrew Dobson)

Saskatchewan's list is as follows: 

Endangered: 

  • Burrowing Owl
  • Piping Plover
  • Sage Grouse
  • Whooping Crane
  • Swift Fox 
  • Sand Verbena 
  • Western Spiderwort
  • Tiny Cryptanthe 
  • Hairy Prairie-clover

Threatened:

  • Slender Mouse-ear-cress 

Province doesn't want to double up

A Swift fox (Vulpes velox). (Shutterstock)

The province says it doesn't want to do a "double effort" in making a specific provincial list. They have adopted the federal listings of endangered and threatened species and use them as a guideline, though a spokesperson said they do debate the usefulness of updating their own list. 

"There used to be a [provincial] committee that would look after listing new species, but nothing was updated. That committee was dissolved in the 2000s," said Beatriz Prieto, a terrestrial ecologist with the Ministry of Environment. 

Prieto said her department reports to the national database for endangered species. 

"They get that information from our conservation data centre with all the updated information on where species are and population data that we have," she said.

The province has two main focuses right now with regards to habitat conservation; one project involving woodland caribou and another involving species at risk in southwestern Saskatchewan. 

Protection lies mostly with provinces, not feds

The sage grouse is listed as one of Saskatchewan's endangered species. (Jerret Raffety/Rawlins Daily Times/AP)

The federal budget allocated more than $1 billion for conservation efforts over the next five years.

In reality, Olive said the feds don't have a lot of power to protect land in the country.

Creating national parks on federal land only goes so far, she added.

"They really need the provinces to start protecting provincial land. Saskatchewan is, again, really not doing well."

She said Saskatchewan is sitting well below the goal of 17 per cent protected land. She estimated protected lands in the province are sitting between six and seven per cent.

Olive had one suggestion to improve the outlook for Saskatchewan's wildlife: "Update the legislation and fund it."

With files from CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning