Nova Scotia

Species at risk recovery plans sit in limbo, says environmental group

The number of recovery plans waiting to be put in place for species at risk continues to grow, show documents obtained under a freedom of information request.

Environmental groups optimistic things will improve under the new federal government

The provinces and territories are supposed to have recovery plans in place by 2017 for woodland caribou. (Garry Beaudry/B.C. Forest Service/Associated Press)

The number of recovery plans waiting to be put in place for species at risk continues to grow, show documents obtained under a freedom of information request.

In 2013, the federal auditor general admonished Environment Canada for its backlog of about 150 cases. As of June 2014, the number had grown to 174.

With 316 species waiting for an at-risk designation, the number of recovery plans in the backlog could soar.

The species at risk advisory committee used to help develop those recovery plans, but Ottawa cancelled the meetings last year.

"While they sit in that limbo of not being listed, nothing else happens. At least when a decision is made, then it triggers Fisheries Act measures or Species At Risk Act measures," said Susanna Fuller, the marine co-ordinator at the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax and a member of the species at risk committee.

In the documents obtained under access to information, the only reason given for cancelling the meetings was "there were concerns that not all interested parties are represented in the current structure of the committee."

Environmental groups blame the Stephen Harper government for the problems.

However, Ted Laking, spokesperson for outgoing Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, denies that. 

He reached out in an email after CBC made several attempts to get a statement from Environment Canada.  

"Our government has made significant investments to support species at risk and thanks to our efforts we are making significant progress. Since 2006, our Government has posted 352 recovery strategies," wrote Laking in an email.

"In fact, last year, we posted recovery strategies for 39 species, which is a record for one calendar year. Our Government also launched the National Conservation Plan, which includes over $250 million for a variety of new conservation initiatives."

Laking also stated that Environment Canada develops recovery plans, not the at risk advisory committee.

Better days ahead?

There is hope that better days are ahead. Scientists and special interest groups are anxiously waiting to see the approach Environment Canada takes under prime-minister designate Justin Trudeau's government. On Wednesday, Trudeau will name his cabinet.

"We are very much looking forward to seeing what tomorrow brings. I mean it's not all going to happen tomorrow," said Kate Lindsay, the director of conservation biology with the Forest Products Association of Canada.

Species at risk experts say there is a lot of work to catch up on quickly, which will cost more money.

The next list of animals, fish, plants and insects at risk will be made at the end of this month.

Environment Canada said no meetings of the at risk advisory committee have been scheduled. 

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