A national environmental law group concerned about new rules to protect piping plover habitat is taking the federal government to court.
Ecojustice Canada, representing Nature Nova Scotia and East Coast Environmental Law, has filed a lawsuit asking for a judicial review from the federal Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Steven Guilbeault.
The group is concerned about changes to the government's recovery strategy for piping plovers, which in the past protected entire beaches where the birds nest, including 49 beaches on Prince Edward Island.
The updated strategy, approved this year, now uses what's referred to as a "bounding box" approach, essentially identifying smaller parts of the beaches considered critical habitat instead of the entire beach.
"Piping plover will often nest in one place on the beach but they'll change position because they nested disturbed areas and often the beaches change," said Bob Bancroft, president of Nature Nova Scotia, who has studied piping plovers.
"We need the whole beach protected from a plover perspective," Bancroft told Laura Chapin on Island Morning.
The number of plovers on P.E.I. declined this year to just 51 adult birds, down from 69 counted in 2021.
The shore bird has been listed as endangered by the Committee on the Status of Wildlife in Canada since 1985.
Rest of beach 'vulnerable'
Ecojustice lawyer Sarah MacDonald told Chapin the bounding box approach is problematic.
"Any critical habitat protections that could be given to the plover in light of this approach to identification would be insufficient and wouldn't support their survival and recovery like the legislation is supposed to do," said MacDonald.
One of the issues, she said, is that by protecting smaller areas, the rest of the beach is exposed.
"It leaves the rest of the beach vulnerable to development and to all the activities that we know are harmful to piping plover like mining and quarrying and pollution and that sort of thing," said MacDonald.
She also pointed out that beaches change, such as the shifting of dunes after post-tropical storm Fiona.
"Who's to say that, you know, in one year there's critical habitat in this one area of the beach and so another area gets developed," she said.
In an email to CBC News, Environment and Climate Change Canada said it's unable to comment on this specific case.
It did say, however, that the updated recovery strategy will improve the application of legal protection and prohibitions.
"The updated critical habitat adds new sites, more precisely identifies critical habitat areas and accommodates the shifting nature of these coastal habitats," a department spokesperson wrote.
The email also said the department is committed to protecting the piping plover and its critical habitat.