For the first time, Environment Canada will issue an emergency order to protect an endangered species, a rare Prairie bird called the greater sage grouse.
Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced Tuesday that the order will be issued in the coming months and will impose restrictions to protect the habitat of the sage grouse on provincial and Crown lands in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
According to Environment Canada, fewer than 150 of the birds remain in the two Canadian provinces where they are found, Alberta and Saskatchewan, and the bird’s population has fallen 98 per cent since 1988. The sharp decline has been blamed on the destruction of its habitat by industry, especially the oil and gas industry.
The new proposed restrictions will not affect activities on private land. Nor will they restrict animals from grazing on provincial and Crown lands, said an Environment Canada news release.
An emergency order can be issued under Canada’s Species At Risk Act when a species faces “imminent threats to its survival” and existing protection measures are deemed inadequate. However, this would be the first time since the act went into effect in 2002 that such an order has been issued.
The announcement comes after environmental groups represented by Ecojustice took the government to court in an effort to force it to issue an emergency order to protect the bird.
Oil and gas industry affected
Ian Davidson, executive director of the conservation group Nature Canada said in a statement that he and his colleagues are treating the announcement as a "very positive development" even if some of details are still unknown.
He added that the precedent set by the order makes the Species at Risk Act a stronger piece of legislation.
Cliff Wallis, a spokesperson for the Alberta Wilderness Association, one of the groups that took part in the lawsuit, said environmentalists are working with the oil and gas industry to clarify the implications.
“There may be some areas where they're contained in a very small part of the landscape and activities can continue,” he said. “But we would presume a) there would be no new activities and b) that some of their existing structure actually would be unbuilt.”
In a statement, he added that new money would "obviously" be needed to fund implementation of the order.