Species at Risk Act

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The Species at Risk Act (SARA) is a piece of Canadian federal legislation which became law in Canada on December 12, 2002. It is designed to meet one of Canada's key commitments under the International Convention on Biological Diversity. The goal of the Act is to protect endangered or threatened organisms and their habitats. It also manages species which are not yet threatened, but whose existence or habitat is in jeopardy.

SARA defines a method to determine the steps that need to be taken in order to help protect existing relatively healthy environments, as well as recover threatened habitats. It identifies ways in which governments, organizations, and individuals can work together to preserve species at risk and establishes penalties for failure to obey the law.

The Act designates COSEWIC, an independent committee of wildlife experts and scientists, to identify threatened species and assess their conservation status. COSEWIC then issues a report to the government, and the Minister of the Environment evaluates the committee's recommendations when considering the addition of a species to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk.

Boreal caribou[edit]

When Environment Canada (EC) introduced the new South Athabaska Sub-regional Strategic Environmental Assessment, it was partly in response to the cumulative effect of oil sands development on the habitat loss of the boreal caribou also known as Woodland Caribou (boreal), Rangifer tarandus caribou.[1] The caribou is iconic and the caribou design on the Royal Canadian Mint quarter was first used in 1937.[1] Ecosystem degradation of the "stands of old growth forest", for example, are caused by "mining, logging, oil and gas exploration and even excessive motorized recreation" which result in "a fragmented and altered landscape often leading to increased populations of deer, moose, elk, and their predators. Caribou require large areas of land with low densities of predators" caused by the cumulative effect[2] of oil sands development, was one of the topics discussed.[3] It was noted that,[3]

"The science is clear-all Alberta's boreal caribou are at elevated risk of becoming extirpated (locally extinct), including those in the oil sands region."

—ER, 2013

In June 2007 a national recovery strategy for boreal caribou was to be posted on the Species at Risk Public Registry[4]

Since the fall of 2010, the Alberta government working closely with the federal government, through Major Projects Management Office (MPMO) on system-wide improvements in regulatory activities to align with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) and to engage Alberta on energy and environment issues. On 3 February 2013, a joint Canada-Alberta world-class, comprehensive and integrated monitoring system of the oil sands was announced. Through the South Athabaska Sub-regional Strategic Environmental Assessment, the Government of Canada and Alberta will "further align regulatory processes, while addressing cumulative effects by employing an ecosystem-based approach."[5]

On 11 May 2012, the briefing notes for the meeting with Suncor VP and Environment Canada included EC's concerns for the cumulative effects of oil sands development.[4][6][7]

"Environment Canada is not only concerned with the environmental impacts of individual oil and gas projects, it is concerned with the cumulative effects of development, especially in the oil sands and urban centers. Impacts are not limited to air emissions. Terrain disturbance, disruption of groundwater regimes, and contamination of surface waters are all concerns, particularly with the accelerated pace of development."[8][6]

By February 2013, Suncor was aware of the 's March report reflects their concerns with the Species at Risk Act (SARA), in particular on the implications of the Proposed Recovery Strategy for Woodland Caribou.[9] Suncor reported[10] that,

"A number of statutes, regulations and frameworks are under development or have been issued by various provincial regulators that oversee oil sands development, including the recently announced Joint Canada-Alberta Implementation Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring, and the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan (LARP) that implements a cumulative efforts management regime in the Athabasca oil sands region. These statutes, regulations and frameworks relate to such issues as tailings management, water use, air emissions and land use. While the financial implications of statutes, regulations and frameworks under development are not yet known, the company is committed to working with the appropriate regulatory bodies as they develop new policies, and to fully complying with all existing and new statutes, regulations and frameworks as they apply to the company’s operations."

—Suncor, 2013

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