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Backgrounder

Canada’s Species at Risk Act: Taking Action for Greater Sage-Grouse in Canada

The Species at Risk Act came into force in 2003. The purpose of the Act is to:

1.    prevent wildlife species from becoming extinct or lost from the wild in Canada;

2.    help recover species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened;

3.    ensure species of special concern do not become endangered or threatened.

Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and Parks Canada implement the federal Species at Risk Act, complementing the work being done through provincial and territorial laws.

Under the Species at Risk Act, species are assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), a group of government and non-government scientific experts. The government then decides if the species should be added to the Species at Risk Act list. The government’s decision process takes into account COSEWIC recommendations, and also considers the social and economic implications of listing a species. Once a species is listed as Endangered or Threatened, the responsible department prepares a recovery strategy for that species. The recovery strategy includes information on the species status, threats, critical habitat, population and distribution objectives, and broad strategies to meet the objectives.

Sage-Grouse were identified as endangered on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act when the Act was proclaimed in 2003. A recovery strategy was produced in 2008 and the known critical habitat was identified in 2009. Additional critical habitat throughout the range of the Sage-Grouse will be posted for public consultation in the Amended Recovery Strategy for Greater Sage-Grouse in Canada this Fall.

The Greater Sage-Grouse is a gravely endangered grassland species that is at risk of extirpation (a species that no longer exists in Canada, but exists elsewhere in the wild). It is the largest grouse species in North America. It recently became the rarest endangered bird species in Canada. There are an estimated 70 adult birds in Saskatchewan and a maximum of 60 in Alberta. They have experienced a 98% decline in population between 1988 and 2012. The causes of their decline include: loss or degradation of habitat, predation, and disease. Because there are so few individual birds left, the species in Canada is vulnerable to extreme weather events.

Population Estimates for Greater Sage-Grouse in Canada

Long description:

  • Estimate population for Greater Sage-Grouse in Canada in the 1980’s: 2491
  • Estimate population for Greater Sage-Grouse in Canada in the 1990’s: 968
  • Estimate population for Greater Sage-Grouse in Canada in the 2000’s: 743
  • Estimate population for Greater Sage-Grouse in Canada in 2012: 138

An Emergency Protection Order under section 80 of the Species at Risk Act is only considered when a species faces imminent threats to its survival or recovery and current protection measures are deemed inadequate. The rapid decline in the Sage-Grouse population has led the Minister of the Environment to determine that the species is facing an imminent threat.

An Emergency Order for Greater Sage-Grouse would protect the habitat necessary for the survival of the species. This would be the first time since the Act’s inception that this section is being invoked.

Some constraints would applied to land use on approximately 1200 km2 of crown land in Saskatchewan and Alberta. The intent is toaddress seasonal noise, destruction of habitat, disturbance of breeding sites, and the creation of new structures without imposing restrictions on activities on private land, nor on grazing on provincial or federal crown lands. Our goal is to achieve the best protection for the Sage-Grouse while minimizing impacts on agricultural producers.

The Government of Canada has already been taking action to protect the Greater Sage-Grouse. We are partnering with the Government of Saskatchewan and other stakeholders to finalize processes to protect the Sage-Grouse through the development of the “South of the Divide Action Plan”. The Government of Canada is also collaborating with the Calgary Zoo and the Government of Alberta on a captive breeding program for Sage-Grouse designed to support the long term recovery of the Sage-Grouse populations.

The Government of Canada will be pursuing stewardship opportunities to benefit the Greater Sage-Grouse. The Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk (HSP) provides funding for projects that conserve and protect species at risk and their habitats. Over the past 13 years, the HSP has supported over 2,100 projects across Canada, contributing over $125 million towards on-the-ground conservation action by partners and stakeholders. The HSP continues to be available to assist individuals and groups seeking to implement actions for the conservation and protection of this species.

We invite interested parties to submit applications for the 2014/2015 call for proposals for the Habitat Stewardship Program. Additional information and a link to the application process can be found on Environment Canada’s Web site.