A guide to your responsibilities under the Species at Risk Act

The Species at Risk Act (SARA) is one of three major components in the Government of Canada Strategy for the Protection of Species at Risk. The other two components are the Habitat Stewardship Program, and the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk endorsed by the provinces, territories and the Government of Canada. Currently, there are over 300 wild plant and animal species protected under the Act.

What is the Species at Risk Act

SARA is designed as a key tool for the conservation and protection of Canada’s biological diversity and fulfils an important commitment under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. The Act complements existing federal, provincial and territorial legislation protecting wildlife.

The purpose of SARA is to:

  • prevent wildlife species from becoming extinct or extirpated (lost from the wild in Canada)
  • help in the recovery of extirpated, endangered or threatened species; and
  • ensure that species of special concern do not become endangered or threatened

Consultation and cooperation with Canadians are essential to the protection of wildlife species in Canada. As such, provisions for consultation and cooperation are key elements of SARA.

How are species designated at risk

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), an independent group of experts, assesses the status of wildlife species and recommends a classification for their legal protection. COSEWIC's assessment process is based on a rigorous criteria system that not only recognizes scientific sources but also places a significant emphasis on information from the people who live on the land and have an intimate familiarity with the animals and plants around them. COSEWIC is not part of the federal government, but rather offers the government independent advice based on the best available biological information, including scientific knowledge, community knowledge and Aboriginal traditional knowledge.

After receiving a recommendation from COSEWIC, the government consults with concerned ministers, relevant wildlife management boards and the public to consider many factors, including possible social and economic implications of listing the species. The government then decides whether to add the species to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk (Schedule 1 in the Act). Once a species is listed, the provisions under SARA apply to protect and recover the species. The List will continually evolve as species are added or removed or their status changes.

What does Schedule 1 of SARA mean

The Act establishes Schedule 1 as the official List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Once a species is listed, the measures to protect and recover a listed wildlife species apply.

Do I have responsibilities under the Act

All Canadians have a shared interest in protecting species at risk and ensuring healthy ecosystems for future generations.

You may have specific responsibilities under SARA if you manage or have administrative control over federal lands, live on federal lands, work on federal lands or visit federal lands.

What are considered federal lands

Federal lands include:

  • national parks
  • national wildlife areas
  • some migratory bird sanctuaries
  • Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration pastures
  • First Nations reserve lands; and
  • military training areas

You may also have responsibilities under the Act if you own private lands, manage provincial lands or manage or live on lands within a territory where listed aquatic species or migratory birds occur. In some cases, however, species at risk are able to inhabit these areas because current practices make them suitable. Therefore, while the Act may apply to species on these lands, in certain circumstances, the practices you undertake on them may not need to be altered significantly.

How does the Act protect species at risk

SARA contains prohibitions against the killing, harming, harassing, capturing, taking, possessing, collecting, buying, selling or trading of individuals of endangered, threatened and extirpated species listed in Schedule 1 of the Act. The Act also contains a prohibition against the damage or destruction of their residences (e.g. nest or den).

These prohibitions apply to:

  • all endangered, threatened and extirpated species listed in Schedule 1 of SARA when found on federal lands in a province, or lands under the authority of the Minister of the Environment or the Parks Canada Agency in a territory
  • all endangered, threatened and extirpated migratory birds listed in Schedule 1 of SARA and protected by the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, anywhere they occur, including private lands, provincial lands and lands within a territory; and
  • all endangered, threatened and extirpated aquatic species listed in Schedule 1 of SARA, anywhere they occur, including private lands, provincial lands and lands within a territory

The Act also has a provision to protect species designated as endangered or threatened by a provincial or territorial government when found on federal lands.

In addition, in certain circumstances, SARA prohibitions may be applied to protect any other species listed in Schedule 1 of SARA when found on private lands, provincial lands or lands within a territory, if provincial/territorial laws do not effectively protect the species or its residence. Consultations would first be held with the affected provincial or territorial governments and relevant wildlife management boards.

Critical habitat

SARA recognizes that protecting the habitat of species at risk is key to their conservation. Critical habitat is defined as the habitat necessary for the survival or recovery of an endangered, threatened or extirpated species listed in Schedule 1. Critical habitat is identified in species recovery strategies and/or action plans. The development of these strategies and plans is a collaborative process that involves consultation or cooperation with a variety of stakeholders as well as the public.

The intent of SARA is to protect critical habitat as much as possible through voluntary actions and stewardship measures. If these measures are unable to protect the critical habitat, prohibitions against the destruction of that particular critical habitat may be applied.

SARA contains a prohibition against destroying any part of critical habitat. The Act requires that critical habitat on federal lands, or for aquatic species anywhere, be legally protected by stewardship agreements under SARA, by other legal means under SARA, by other federal legislation or by the SARA prohibition within six months after it is identified.

When critical habitat, other than that referred to above, is located on private lands, provincial lands or lands within a territory and is not protected through stewardship agreements under SARA or other federal legislation or provincial/territorial laws, the prohibition may be applied.


SARA provides for a number of exceptions in a variety of circumstances. For example, activities that are undertaken in accordance with conservation measures for wildlife species under a land claims agreement are exempt from the application of SARA prohibitions. Activities related to public safety, health or national security may also be exempted.

SARA also allows for permits to be issued or agreements to be entered into under certain conditions, to authorize certain activities that would otherwise contravene the Act. The Minister issuing the permit must be of the opinion that the proposed activity qualifies as one of the following:

  • the activity is scientific research relating to the conservation of the species and conducted by qualified person
  • the activity benefits the species or is required to enhance its chance of survival in the wild; or
  • the effect(s) on the species is incidental to the carrying out of the activity

The Minister issuing the permit must also be of the opinion that all of the following conditions are met:

  • all reasonable alternatives to the activity that would reduce the impact on the species have been considered, and the best solution has been adopted
  • all feasible measures will be taken to minimize the impact of the activity on the species or its critical habitat or the residences of its individuals; and
  • the activity will not jeopardize the survival or recovery of the species

Environmental assessments

When you are required to ensure that an environmental assessment of a project is conducted under federal legislation such as the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, SARA requires that you notify the competent minister or ministers in writing if the project is likely to affect a species listed in Schedule 1 or its critical habitat.

SARA also requires, among other things, that you identify the adverse effects of your project on all species listed in Schedule 1 or their critical habitat. In addition, if the project is carried out, you must ensure that measures are taken to avoid or lessen the effects on the listed species and its critical habitat and to monitor the effects. The measures must be taken in a way that is consistent with applicable recovery strategies and action plans.

What steps can I take to comply with the Act

1. Determine the potential for the presence of Species at risk on your property

Visit the SARA Public Registry to determine which species listed under the Act occur in your province or territory. Visit the Species at Risk web site (www.speciesatrisk.gc.ca) and NatureServe Canada to determine those species' ranges within your province or territory as well as their specific habitat requirements. Next, evaluate the potential for the presence of those species on your property. Compare each species' range and habitat requirements with the location and ecological characteristics of your property.

2. Find out more about your specific responsibilities

If your property has a high potential for the presence of a species at risk, visit the SARA Public Registry to find out more about how to confirm their presence. Should you confirm the presence of a species at risk on your property, the Registry will also provide you with information to help you determine whether the prohibitions contained in SARA apply in your case as well as the steps you can take to comply with the Act.

3. Consult the SARA Public Registry regularly

The List of Wildlife Species at Risk (Schedule 1) will continue to evolve as species are added or removed from the List or their status changes. Amendments will be posted on the SARA Public Registry. As recovery strategies and action plans are developed, critical habitats for listed species will be identified. In addition, new regulations and orders affecting species at risk, their residences and critical habitat may come into effect and will also be posted on the Registry. Being aware of new information will help ensure that you are continuing to comply with SARA.

What else can I do to help protect species at risk

As part of the National Strategy for the Protection of Species at Risk, the Government of Canada established the Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk. Stewardship refers to the wide range of voluntary actions that Canadians take to care for the environment. These types of conservation activities, particularly those that protect habitat, are essential to the recovery of species at risk. Stewardship activities are also instrumental in preventing other species from becoming at risk.

The Habitat Stewardship Program allocates up to $10 million per year to individual Canadians and stewardship organizations to implement partnership-based activities that protect or conserve habitats for species designated at risk by COSEWIC. Find out more about how you can get involved by visiting the Habitat Stewardship Program web site.

Under Section 93, "any person who is a resident of Canada and at least 18 years of age may apply to the competent minister for an investigation of whether an alleged offense has been committed or whether anything directed towards its commission has been done." The competent minister would be required to investigate all matters that he or she considers necessary to determine the facts relating to the investigation.

SARA also contains provisions allowing a person who reports an alleged offence under the Act to request that his/her identity not be disclosed. Section 96 specifies that the report on the investigation must not disclose the name, the address or any other personal information about the person who reported the alleged infraction.

Where can I learn more

To find out more about the Species at Risk Act and how you can help protect species at risk in Canada, please contact us directly at:

Environment Canada's Inquiry Centre



You can also visit the following web sites for more information:

  • Fisheries and Oceans Canada's Species at Risk provides information on aquatic species at risk in Canada, including fish, reptiles, marine mammals and molluscs
  • Parks Canada's Species at Risk Recovery provides information on Parks Canada's role in the recovery of species at risk
  • 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


This document 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 the Species at Risk Act.

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