Monday, July 20, 2009

Decision on Sage Grouse to be celebrated . . . with caution!

It has been about two weeks since the Federal Court ruled that Ottawa acted unreasonably by not identifying critical habitat in a recovery plan for the endangered Greater Sage Grouse.

The population of this large, sage-brush - grassland grouse with one of the most spectacular courtships in the bird world, has plummeted over 90% in the past two decades from 5000 to less than 500 individuals. These birds are confined to extreme south-eastern Alberta and south-central Saskatchewan. They have been extremely well-studied in Canada – all of their communal display areas (called leks) are well-known and have been monitored by naturalists for dozens of years.

Their habitat requirements and ranges have been carefully documented, studied and described by researchers, particularly Dr. Cameron Aldridge, who is the world expert on this species. Despite this detailed knowledge, the Canadian government refused to identify critical habitat for this species in its recovery strategy – an obligation under the federal Species as Risk Act.

Several groups including Ecojustice and two of our Canadian Nature Network affiliates, the Federation of Alberta Naturalists and Nature Saskatchewan, along with the Alberta Wilderness Association, Grasslands Naturalists, and Western Canada Wilderness Committee took the federal government to task in launching the legal action. While Nature Canada did not directly participate in this suit, we provided an affidavit to the court as we were instrumental in drawing attention to the flawed recovery strategy that was posted on the public registry.

Before we rejoice in this victory, let’s ensure that the habitat actually gets protected. Much of it is on community pasture, owned by either federal or provincial governments and threatened by potential gas wells, irrigation projects, and wind farms.

Ted Cheskey