Canada: Save the Sage-Grouse

  • by: Ecojustice
  • recipient: Environment Minister Peter Kent, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) president David Collyer, CAPP vice president of policy and environment Tom Huffaker
The Greater sage-grouse is on the brink of extinction in Canada. Recent scientific research suggests their decline is due to the damage oil and gas and other industrial development has done to the habitat sage-grouse need to live, breed and raise their young.

Canada's few remaining sage-grouse are in Alberta and Saskatchewan -- but without emergency protection for their grassland habitat, sage-grouse are expected to disappear from Alberta as soon as next year and from Saskatchewan within ten years.

Under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), Canada's Environment Minister must recommend emergency protection for sage-grouse when there are clear and imminent threats to its survival. Given the alarming rate of this iconic bird's decline, it's time to call on the Minister to stand up for the species he's legally bound to protect.

Ask Environment Minister Peter Kent to help stop the sage-grouse from going extinct in Canada by protecting the habitat they require to survive and recover.
Dear Minister Kent,

The sage-grouse (which, in Canada, now lives only in Alberta and Saskatchewan) is an endangered species under both provincial and federal laws. Sage-grouse is currently on the brink of extinction from Canada (i.e. extirpation), having experienced extreme recent population declines and serious, ongoing habitat degradation and loss.

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From 1988 to 2006 the total Canadian population of sage-grouse declined 88 per cent. As of 2010, there were only 42 males at two active breeding grounds of "leks" in Saskatchewan. In Alberta, only 13 males remain, with the total provincial population estimated at approximately 30 birds in 2011. There have also been significant declines in the number of active leks, with a 63 per cent decline from 1996 to 2010. Leks are critical courting and breeding areas for sage-grouse, and act as central hubs for essentially all of their activities.

The population decline of Canada's sage-grouse has exceeded scientific predictions. Based on the current trajectory of decline, sage-grouse scientists predict that without meaningful protection the Alberta population will be extirpated by 2012 or 2013 with the Saskatchewan population being extirpated by 2021.

The primary threat to sage-grouse survival and recovery in Canada is ongoing habitat loss, disturbance, and degradation as a result of oil and gas development and other industrial development. However, the laws of Alberta and Saskatchewan are not protecting sage-grouse individuals and their habitat from the imminent threats posed by these activities.

Under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), you have a mandatory duty to prepare a recovery strategy for sage-grouse that identifies its critical habitat to the extent possible. Although some critical habitat has been identified in the species' recovery strategy, the federal government admits that the amount of habitat identified is insufficient for the species' survival and recovery. The federal government is in possession of the information necessary to designate further critical habitat for sage-grouse, but it has failed to do so.

Under SARA, you also have a mandatory duty to recommend the Cabinet make a federal emergency order to protect sage-grouse if you are of the opinion that the species faces "imminent threats to its survival or recovery." To provide meaningful protection for sage-grouse habitat, any emergency order must be based on the best available scientific information about what sage-grouse need, which includes:

- a 1.9 kilometre setback of all future industrial activity/development from known sage-grouse critical habitat;
- a 6.4 kilometre setback of all future industrial activity/development from all sage-grouse leks; reclamation and restoration of known sage-grouse habitat that is already degraded or disturbed by existing development.

In light of the circumstances set out above, sage-grouse unquestionably faces imminent threats to its survival in Canada. I urge you to recommend an emergency order and to ensure that the federal government immediately identifies and meaningfully protects all critical habitat necessary for the survival and recovery of the sage-grouse. You have the power and duty to prevent this magnificent bird from becoming extinct in Canada.
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