Environmental groups say province not doing enough to protect at-risk species

·4 min read
Environmental groups are threatening to take the government of New Brunswick to court, arguing it's not doing enough to protect species at risk. (Submitted by Dwaine Oakley - image credit)
Environmental groups are threatening to take the government of New Brunswick to court, arguing it's not doing enough to protect species at risk. (Submitted by Dwaine Oakley - image credit)

New Brunswick environmental groups say the minister of natural resources and energy development isn't doing the job he's required to do to protect vulnerable species.

In a letter to the minister, Mike Holland, the groups say the department is in violation of the Species at Risk Act.

The letter was sent by groups that include the Maliseet Conservation Council, the Nature Trust of New Brunswick, the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, WWF-Canada and Nature NB.

"We have to see progress by September and definitely by the end of the year," said Lois Corbett, executive director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick.

Corbett said the groups sent a similar letter to Holland last November but have not seen much action since then.

"We're a bit worried that it's fallen off the minister's desk," Corbett said.

Lois Corbett, executive director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, says the province is required to do assessments of species at risk and develop plans for their recovery.
Lois Corbett, executive director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, says the province is required to do assessments of species at risk and develop plans for their recovery. (Jon Collicott/CBC)

The Species at Risk Act has been in effect in New Brunswick since 2012, but Corbett said little progress has been made implementing it.

"We want the minister to meet the requirements laid out in the Endangered Species Act," said Corbett. "The requirements of that are pretty simple."

The province has to do assessments of which species are in trouble, then develop management and recovery plans for them, she said.

In the letter, the groups ask for management plans within six months for the eastern wood-pewee, Atlantic salmon (the Gaspé-Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence population) and the horned grebe.

They also want feasibility of recovery assessments made public for the Canada lynx, barn swallow, and Atlantic salmon (outer Bay of Funy population) within six months, as well as protection assessments for other species such as the roseate tern and butternut trees.

"It's the minister's duty, not just because he's a good guy or because that's his job, but because that's the law," said Corbett.

But management and recovery plans that protect at-risk species can have big implications for industry.

"There are competing interests," said Corbett. "And I understand that as well as everyone in New Brunswick understands that — we've got to put the layer that protects the species in place before road building and clear cutting is allowed."

Corbett says that if things don't change soon, the groups will be taking the minister to court.

Last year, a Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice found that that province failed to live up to its legal obligations to protect species at risk and ordered the minister of lands and forestry to fulfil them.

"Considering how successful the Nova Scotia litigation was, I don't see why we would not try to do the same thing in New Brunswick," said Sarah McDonald, a lawyer with Ecojustice. She's also representing the New Brunswick environmental groups.

"We gave the minister a deadline for each of the items that we asked him to complete, and if he doesn't complete those items within the deadlines that we've set out in our letter, we certainly intend to consider our legal options," McDonald said.

Speaking on CBC's recent Political Panel, Holland said past governments have for years done "minimal or limited" work to address the protection of species at risk.

New Brunswick Natural Resources and Energy Development Minister Mike Holland says his government is taking steps to protect species at risk, including creating a committee on the status of species at risk.
New Brunswick Natural Resources and Energy Development Minister Mike Holland says his government is taking steps to protect species at risk, including creating a committee on the status of species at risk.(CBC)

"And we've decided very shortly after taking office, that that had to change," Holland said.

"Species at risk is something that is a priority, and it began with the forging of the COSAR committee — the committee on the status for species at risk."

Holland said the committee's role is to perform assessments of the status of a variety of species in the province, then report back to his office.

"And it's really a three-pronged approach from taking that assessment, to recovery, and then protection plans.

"And we've been very active since the fall of 2020, and staff have been given some very clear direction to ensure that that this becomes a daily project, to ensure that we fully commit to achieving the full implementation of our requirements under the act."

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