Species at Risk Act (SARA) permits: general questions and answers
Can I apply for a permit to engage in activities which would otherwise contravene SARA?
What activities are eligible for a SARA permit?
To be considered eligible for a permit, the proposed activity must:
- be scientific research relating to the conservation of the species and conducted by qualified people; or
- be an activity that benefits the species or is required to enhance its chance of survival in the wild; or
- have an effect(s) on the species that is incidental to the carrying out of the activity
In addition, all of the following pre-conditions must be 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
Please note, however, that permits will be considered on a case-by-case basis, and the decision to authorize the activity is science-based. Existing recovery strategies and action plans will be taken into consideration when applications are reviewed. A competent minister is not required to authorize a proposed activity even if the proposed activity is eligible and meets all of the three pre-conditions.
When might I need a SARA permit?
Permits are required by anyone who wants to conduct an activity that would otherwise violate SARA’s prohibitions. 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 individuals of such SARA-listed species that are:
- found on federal lands in a province, or on lands in a territory under the authority of the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change or of the Parks Canada Agency
- migratory birds protected by the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, anywhere they occur, including private lands, lands in a province and lands in a territory; and
- aquatic species anywhere they occur, including private lands, lands in a province and lands in a territory
SARA also contains a prohibition against destroying any part of the critical habitat of any listed endangered or threatened species, or of any listed extirpated species if a recovery strategy has recommended its reintroduction, if:
- the critical habitat is on federal land, in the exclusive economic zone of Canada or on the continental shelf of Canada
- the listed species is an aquatic species; or
- the listed species is a species of migratory birds protected by the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994
For example, if you operate a business giving boat tours and are likely to encounter an endangered or threatened whale, you may require a permit.
Or, if you are a scientist and would like to conduct research on a listed species found on federal lands administered by the Parks Canada Agency, you may similarly require a permit.
These are only two examples of when you may require and be eligible for a permit under SARA. If you are in doubt, please contact the local office of the department or agency responsible for issuing permits for the species concerned.
How do I apply for a SARA permit?
Depending on the species and the location of your proposed activity, applications should be directed to the appropriate Department or Agency.
If your activity may affect one or more listed species, including aquatic species, their residences or critical habitat, found in / on federal lands or waters administered by the Parks Canada Agency, you must apply through Parks Canada.
If your activity may affect listed aquatic species or their critical habitat found on lands or in waters outside those administered by the Parks Canada Agency, applications should be directed to Fisheries and Oceans Canada. “Aquatic species” means a wildlife species that is a “fish” or a “marine plant”, as defined in the Fisheries Act. To learn more about SARA permits for aquatic species, please visit the Fisheries and Oceans Canada aquatic species at risk website. You can also contact your local Fisheries and Oceans Canada office.
For all other listed species and their critical habitat, Environment Canada is responsible for issuing permits.
You can find more detailed information on how to apply for a SARA permit on the SAR Public Registry.
If I am required under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 to conduct an environmental assessment, do I also require a SARA permit?
Not necessarily. You only require a SARA permit if your activities may contravene SARA’s general or critical habitat prohibitions. If you are proposing an activity in an area under the authority of the Parks Canada Agency that requires both a SARA authorization and an environmental assessment under CEAA 2012, it may be possible to combine the two processes because SARA allows other authorization schemes to act as SARA authorizations as long as all the preconditions for a SARA permit are met. These are often called “Section 74 permits” referring to the section of the Act that deals with this kind of authorization.
What information will I need to provide in the application?
You will need to provide your name, the organization’s name, contact information, the location and description of the proposed activity and the species that are anticipated to be affected.
Your application must include information demonstrating that:
- the activity is scientific research relating to the conservation of the species and is conducted by qualified persons
- the activity benefits the species or is required to enhance its chance of survival in the wild; or; that
- affecting the species is incidental to the carrying out of the activity
Your application must also include information demonstrating that all reasonable alternatives to the activity that would reduce the impact on the species have been considered and the best solution has been adopted; that all feasible measures will be taken to minimize the impact of the activity on the species, its critical habitat or its residences; and describing any changes that the activity may cause to the listed wildlife species, its critical habitat or the residences of its individuals, the possible effects of those changes and the significance of those effects.
How long will it take to get a permit?
You will receive a decision on your permit application within 90 days. This 90-day time line will be paused, however, if required documentation is missing. The 90-day timeline will be restarted again once all the required information has been received. The 90-day timeline may not apply in a few circumstances:
- where additional consultations are required (e.g. consultations with Aboriginal people)
- where another Act of Parliament or land claim agreement requires that another decision be made before the permit can be issued or refused (e.g. where an environmental assessment needs to be completed prior to a decision being made with respect to a SARA permit application)
- where the terms and conditions of a permit previously issued to the applicant under s. 73 of SARA have not been met (e.g. if required reports related to earlier permits have not been received by the issuing department/agency)
- where the applicant requests or agrees that the time limit not apply; or
- where the activity described in the permit application is modified before the permit is issued or refused
How long will my permit be valid?
Permit duration will be determined on a case-by-case basis, with a consideration of the status of the species anticipated to be affected, the conservation risk, and many other factors. There is no set minimum or maximum duration.
What information will the permit contain?
It will include the name of the applicant, the name of the species concerned, a description of the authorized activity, the length of time the permit is valid and any terms and conditions governing the activity that are considered necessary for protecting the species, minimizing the impact of the authorized activity on the species and / or providing for its recovery.
Do I have to follow the Terms and Conditions listed on my permit?
Yes, the terms and conditions listed on your permit are mandatory and fully enforceable under the Act. If a term or condition is not respected, it is considered an offence under SARA, and the enforcement measures outlined in the Act could be applied.
Can a SARA permit be amended or revoked?
Yes. A permit may be revoked or amended at any time to ensure the survival or recovery of a species. In addition, the competent minister must review the permit if an emergency order is made with respect to the species. If you would like to amend your permit, please contact the office that issued the permit to you.
Does the minister conduct consultations prior to issuing a permit?
The decision to authorize the activity is science-based. Scientists will evaluate what, if any, risk the proposed activity poses to the recovery of the species and if it can be tolerated without compromising the survival or recovery of the species.
If the species is found in an area where a wildlife management board is authorized by a land claims agreement to perform certain management functions related to wildlife species, then the competent minister must consult the wildlife management board before authorizing an activity concerning that particular species in that area.
If the species is found in a reserve or any other lands that are set apart for the use and benefit of a band under the Indian Act, the competent minister must consult the band before authorizing an activity concerning that species in that reserve or those other lands.
The competent minister may also consult with other federal departments or agencies, or provincial or territorial governments that have an interest in the species concerned.
If I have received authorization under other federal legislation do I still need a separate SARA permit?
Activities that could contravene SARA general or critical habitat prohibitions always require a permit under SARA. If you are proposing an activity that requires both a SARA authorization and another federal authorization, in some cases, it may be possible to combine the two processes. SARA allows other federal authorizations to act as SARA authorizations provided that all the preconditions for a SARA permit are met and that they are issued by one of the SARA “competent ministers”. These are often called “Section 74 permits” referring to the section of the Act that deals with this kind of authorization.
SARA’s competent ministers (Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Minister responsible for the Parks Canada Agency, or Minister of Fisheries and Oceans) may issue permits under other federal Acts and SARA allows those permits to act as SARA permits, providing they also comply with the requirements for permits under SARA. In other words, Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Parks Canada Agency can use their existing permit processes to issue SARA-compliant permits. For example, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans can issue Fisheries Act Authorizations that also act as SARA permits. These Fisheries Act Authorizations are acceptable as SARA permits because they are issued by a SARA competent minister and meet the requirements for permits under SARA.
Can I find out about permits that have been issued under SARA?
Yes. If a permit is issued under SARA, the competent minister must post an explanation on the SAR Public Registry. The explanation will address why the permit was issued and confirm that the permitting conditions have been met.
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