Federal land managers and the Species at Risk Act

Information Note

This section of the SARA Registry has been prepared for information purposes and convenience of reference only, and has no official sanction. It is not a substitute for the Species at Risk Act or any regulation under this Act. In the event of an inconsistency between the information included here and the Act or its regulations, the latter would prevail. Official or more detailed information can be found in the legal text of SARA.

Many federal properties are exceptionally rich in wildlife and undisturbed habitat. As such, federal land managers have an important role to play in protecting species at risk. The following sections will help you, as a federal land manager, to:

  • identify your responsibilities under the Act
  • determine if species at risk are found on the property you manage
  • take action to comply with the Act and
  • protect species at risk and their habitat

For additional information on SARA, please contact us directly.

How is federal land defined under SARA

Under SARA, the definition of federal land includes, but is not limited to:

  • Canada's oceans and waterways
  • national parks
  • military training areas
  • national wildlife areas
  • some migratory bird sanctuaries and
  • First Nations reserve lands

How does SARA protect species at risk on federal lands

To ensure the protection of species at risk, SARA contains prohibitions that make it an offence to:

  • kill, harm, harass, capture, or take an individual of a species listed in Schedule 1 of SARA as endangered, threatened or extirpated
  • possess, collect, buy, sell or trade an individual of a species listed in Schedule 1 of SARA as endangered, threatened or extirpated
  • damage or destroy the residence (e.g. nest or den) of one or more individuals of a species listed in Schedule 1 of SARA as endangered, threatened or extirpated, if a recovery strategy has recommended the reintroduction of that extirpated species

These prohibitions apply on all federal lands in a province and all federal lands in a territory under the authority of the Minister of the Environment or the Parks Canada Agency.

By way of an order, SARA can also protect a wildlife species not listed in SARA that occurs on federal land if the species is designated endangered or threatened by a provincial or territorial government. These prohibitions only apply to the species, residences and habitats targeted, as well as the lands or sections of lands designated in the order.

Please note that while Schedule 1 lists species that are extirpated, endangered, threatened and of special concern, the prohibitions do not apply to species of special concern.

What is critical habitat and how is it protected on federal lands

Critical habitat is the habitat necessary for the survival or recovery of a listed endangered, threatened or extirpated species on Schedule 1 of SARA. Critical habitat will be identified in recovery strategies or action plans as they are developed. To the extent possible, these strategies and plans are developed in co-operation with various agencies and groups and, to the extent possible, in consultation with people who a competent minister considers directly affected by the strategy or plan.

SARA requires that the critical habitat of all listed species, when found on federal lands, be legally protected within six months after it is identified in a finalized SARA recovery strategy or action plan.

SARA contains a prohibition against destroying any part of critical habitat. To protect critical habitat located on federal land that is a national park, a marine protected area, a migratory bird sanctuary, or a national wildlife area, the SARA critical habitat prohibition applies without a ministerial order.

In respect of other federal land, critical habitat must be protected by one of the following methods: the application of the SARA critical habitat prohibition by ministerial order; other legal means under SARA such as a conservation agreement; or by other federal legislation.

How are species at risk considered in the environmental assessment process

SARA includes the following provisions that directly relate to the environmental assessment (EA) process:

  1. All EAs conducted under federal legislation, such as Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, must identify any species at risk listed under SARA, or critical habitat that is likely to be affected by the project
  2. If the project is likely to affect a listed species or its critical habitat, SARA requires that the competent minister(s) be notified, in writing, without delay. For aquatic species, Fisheries and Oceans Canada must be notified. For species and their critical habitat found exclusively or partly in or on federal lands administered by the Parks Canada Agency, Parks Canada must be notified. For all other species, the Environment Canada must be notified. Two notifications might need to be sent if the affected species falls under the responsibility of two ministers. For example, for aquatic species found on the lands you manage and on lands administered by the Parks Canada Agency, notification should be sent to the Parks Canada Agency as well as to Fisheries and Oceans Canada. There are existing regional EA contacts within each department and notification should be sent through these contacts. Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency regional offices can provide contact information
  3. SARA also requires that when an EA is being carried out on a project that may affect a listed species or its critical habitat, the potential adverse effects be identified and if the project is carried out, that measures be taken to avoid or lessen and monitor those adverse effects. Such measures must be consistent with any applicable recovery strategies, and action plans for those particular species
  4. SARA also amends the definition of "environmental effect" under CEAA to clarify, for greater certainty, that environmental effects include any change the project may cause to a listed wildlife species, its critical habitat or the residences of individuals of that species

Please note that while the prohibitions only apply to species listed as endangered, threatened or extirpated in Schedule 1 of SARA, the provisions related to EAs apply to all species listed in Schedule 1, including species of special concern.

In addition to identifying the adverse effects of your project on all species listed in Schedule 1, it is recommended that all other species at risk also be considered, including:

The Environmental Assessment Best Practice Guide for Wildlife at Risk in Canada (PDF version, 400 KB) is an excellent resource for those conducting EAs.

Are there any exceptions to the prohibitions

SARA includes a number of exceptions in a variety of circumstances. For example, activities related to public safety, health or national security may, under certain circumstances, be exempted.

Can I apply for a permit under SARA

Yes. Under SARA, permits may be issued or agreements may be entered into to authorize certain activities that would otherwise contravene the general or critical habitat prohibitions, if certain conditions are met. These authorizations are sometimes called "Section 73 Permits", referring to the section of the Act that deals with authorizations.

The SARA Public Registry has information on how to apply for a permit.

How can I find out if there could be species at risk on land that I manage

There are a number of resources that may be able to assist you in finding out whether species at risk, their residences or critical habitat might be the present on the land you manage:

  • The SARA Public Registry Advanced Search tool allows you to search for species listed under SARA
  • The Species at Risk Public Registry offers general biological information about species at risk in Canada, including their distribution and habitat requirements
  • Environment Canada's Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) regional offices can access databanks on species at risk found on federal lands;
  • NatureServe Canada provides links to the Conservation Data Centers, which in some cases offer the possibility to search for the occurrence of species at risk in particular areas of the province / territory and
  • Parks Canada maintains a national database of species found in the areas it administers; if the land you manage is near an area administered by Parks Canada, this park or other area may have information that could help you
  • Fisheries and Oceans Canada maintains databanks on aquatic species at risk and can also assist you in correctly interpreting information from other databanks

Keep in mind that while a species may be found within a certain geographical range, the species may not be present on the land you manage because the habitat may not be suitable.

If the land you manage has potential habitat or previous occurrences of species at risk, it is recommended that you perform an inventory on the property. Taking stock of rare species is a complex task, however, and should be conducted by specialists.

Please notify your Canadian Wildlife Service regional office of any new information regarding species at risk on the land you manage. This information is highly valuable to recovery teams.

What steps can I take to comply with the Act

Once you have determined that species at risk may live on or pass through the land that you manage or if you are aware that residences or critical habitat exist on the land you manage, you should:

  • ensure that any activities (including research, resource exploitation, and/or maintenance) carried out on these lands comply with SARA requirements
  • notify the competent department or agency if a project (as defined in subsection 2(1) of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act) of yours that requires an assessment of environmental effects is likely to affect a SARA listed species or its critical habitat
  • apply for a permit in advance if a proposed activity could contravene a SARA prohibition
  • take SARA requirements into account when you:
    • sign agreements with contractors or subcontractors working on federal lands
    • fund activities affecting species at risk and
    • grant permits or authorizations under legislation other than SARA
  • provide your partners with accurate and reliable information on the Species at Risk Act, using available official information available from your Canadian Wildlife Service regional office and
  • consult the Public Registry regularly for:

How else can I help conserve species at risk

All Canadians share the challenge of protecting and recovering species at risk. As a federal land manager you can:

  • promote recovery projects and inform your colleagues about the Species at Risk Act
  • promote the Species at Risk Act and the Habitat Stewardship Program with communities served by your department and
  • participate in public consultations
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