Sage-Grouse petition ignored by federal government

January 18th, 2012 by Laura Bowman

Ecojustice filed a petition in November demanding that federal Environment Minister Peter Kent issue an emergency order to protect a sagebrush prairie bird from extirpation from Canada.  They relied on provisions in the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) (section 80(2)) allowing the Minister to recommend emergency protection of the endangered Sage-Grouse and stop further human disturbance in the habitat the birds need to survive. The petition, sent on behalf of an international coalition of 12 environmental groups, demanded that the Minister respond by Jan. 16.

Sage-Grouse are severely impacted by conventional oil and gas development in Southern Alberta, and to a lesser extent Saskatchewan.  The remaining number of birds is tiny.  As of 2010, there were only 42 males at 2 active breeding grounds or “leks” in Saskatchewan.  In Alberta, there were only 13 males remaining with the total provincial population estimated at approximately 30 birds in 2011.

Sage-Grouse are magnificent birds, whose mating dance is legendary.  Males construct mound-like stages called “leks” upon which they perform this ritual.

Extensive research on the birds indicates that conventional oil and gas development in Sage-Grouse habitat causes males to abandon their leks, often never to return.  These developments also increase loss of food, sage shelter for raising young, predation and deaths from collision with vehicles.  Although setbacks have been recommended by scientists to avoid disturbing the birds, the setbacks in place in Alberta and Saskatchewan are far too close for the birds to breed or for their chicks to survive and are guidelines not law.

Under SARA, the Minister has 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 this habitat is not sufficient for the species’ survival and recovery.  Although the threats to the survival and recovery of Sage-Grouse are clearly imminent, Minister Kent apparently could not be bothered to respond to the petition for emergency protection of the birds, which has thousands of signatures, by yesterday’s deadline.

Ecojustice and its clients, which include Sierra Club Prairie Chapter, are examining opportunities for legal action.

Filed in: Energy and Resources, Environment