Science

Federal government moves to protect Quebec frogs threatened by development

A little brown frog at the heart of a prolonged legal battle is on the way to receiving emergency protection in Quebec, the federal government announced Saturday.

Species listed as 'globally secure' but threatened in Canada due to habitat loss and degradation

The western chorus frog is a small olive or brown-coloured amphibian that grows to a length of about 2.5 cm. It breeds in wetlands, which are threatened by urban development and agriculture. (Etienne Plasse/Un monde inaperçu)

A little brown frog at the heart of a prolonged legal battle is on the way to receiving emergency protection in Quebec, the federal government announced Saturday.

Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says she favours an emergency protection order for a Quebec population of the western chorus frog and its habitat in La Prairie, a suburb of Montreal.

The announcement represents a victory for the environmental groups who have been fighting for a protection order since 2013 in order to halt the construction of a housing development they say threatens La Prairie's frog population.

"This might be just a little frog, but this symbolizes a huge step forward for threatened species," said Christian Simard of Nature Quebec.

The western chorus frog is a small olive or brown-coloured amphibian that grows to a length of about 2.5 centimetre. It breeds in wetlands, which are threatened by urban development and agriculture.

Although the species is "globally secure," the frog has been listed as threatened in Canada since 2010 largely due to habitat loss and degradation. Environment Canada estimates the frog now occupies just 10 per cent of its former range.

Protection refused by Conservatives in 2013

Nature Quebec and the CQDE, an environmental law group, asked former environment minister Leona Aglukkaq for the emergency protection order for the La Prairie population in 2013, hoping to halt the construction of a 1,400-home residential complex in what they say is western chorus frog breeding ground.

After Aglukkaq refused the request on the grounds that the housing development did not threaten the survival of the species overall, the groups contested the decision in court, arguing it contravened the former Conservative government's own species-at-risk legislation.

A construction project would see 1,400 new housing units built in a wooded area of La Prairie, on Montreal's South Shore, home to the western chorus frog. (CBC)

In a decision rendered this summer, Federal Court Judge Luc Martineau gave the federal government six months to restudy the file. In his decision, he described the government's reasoning as "illogical."

McKenna says her officials will meet with those involved in the matter in the coming weeks to gather information to determine the scope of an emergency protection order.

Simard described Saturday's announcement as a "crucial decision for the future of the species."

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