Species at Risk Act annual report for 2016: chapter 8

8 Enforcement

Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and Parks Canada Agency (PCA) work jointly and in partnership with Indigenous, provincial, territorial and international authorities to protect Species at Risk Act (SARA)-listed species and their critical habitat.

In 2016, ECCC focused on two priorities:

  • Canadian species at high risk for conservation and/or at high risk for non-compliance, such as illegal hunting or trade
  • habitats or protected areas at high risk for conservation and/or at high risk for non-compliance, such as destroying nests or polluting land  

ECCC is responsible for recovery planning for 334 species out of 531 species under SARA (491 of which are protected by the prohibitions). Prohibitions, emergency protection orders and permit conditions are enforced throughout Canada in the case of migratory birds, and for terrestrial species on federal lands noting a special focus in ECCC’s 146 protected areas (national wildlife areas and migratory bird sanctuaries).

In 2016, ECCC was operating with 78 front line wildlife enforcement officers and 15 criminal intelligence staff to ensure compliance with SARA, as well as the MBCA, 1994, the Canada Wildlife Act, the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act (WAPPRIITA) and the Antarctic Environmental Protection Act.

As an example of work to protect Canadian species at high risk for non-compliance ECCC piloted an approach for tracking Polar Bear hides in trade. The implementation of this approach involved: partnership with territorial and provincial jurisdictions, engagement with local stakeholders and communities, and training of jurisdictional conservation officers and ECCC wildlife enforcement officers.

As another example, ECCC developed and delivered field training specifically-tailored to the needs of the enforcement officers on the protection of populations of wild American Ginseng, a Canadian species at high risk, including techniques to recognize its illegal harvesting.

ECCC enforcement officers patrol national wildlife areas, migratory bird sanctuaries and other lands to ensure compliance with SARA. The protection of these habitats, which include critical habitat identified in SARA recovery strategies, is important given that these habitats are deemed necessary for the conservation and/or recovery of key species.

Enforcement coastal patrols and multi-agency blitz operations target areas with a high level of human wildlife interaction in order to prevent and deter illegal activities disrupting the habitat of these species, as well as to educate and engage the public. This approach has proved to be largely successful in helping to protect SARA-listed species while collaborating with other government organizations and local communities.

Recognizing that the illegal destruction of listed plant or animal specimens comes too late to avoid the conservation damage, ECCC has been increasingly focusing its enforcement approach to preventing crime that harms species. While this report speaks to actions taken under the SARA, ECCC has increasingly been using other laws to protect species at risk before they are uplisted to the levels where the prohibitions in SARA apply. This involves proactive activities under legislation other than SARA but focused on Species of Special Concern, which are not subject to SARA prohibitions. So while this report captures the enforcement activities proper to SARA, it is not necessarily indicative of all work undertaken to protect species at risk.

In 2016, ECCC conducted 143 inspections under SARA: 21 (15%) were inspections concerning Canadian species at high risk for conservation and/or at high risk for non-compliance; and 122 inspections (85%) were related to habitats or protected areas at high risk for conservation and/or at high risk for non-compliance. Inspections focused on enforcing the emergency protection order which came into force in July 2016 for the protection of the Western Chorus Frog in Quebec (Great Lakes / St. Lawrence – Canadian Shield population) and the ongoing Greater Sage-Grouse Emergency Protection Order. Inspections also focused on continued efforts to protect Piping Plovers and their critical habitat in Atlantic Canada, Quebec and Ontario regions. In the case of inspections, some can be of very short duration (minutes) while others can be spread out over many days or weeks.

As a result of these inspections, 146 violations of SARA were recorded. Two investigation files were opened in 2016.

Since 2007, there have been 27 convictions in total, by federal enforcement agencies in 19 different cases. In 2016, ECCC’s Enforcement Branch efforts brought two convictions under SARA and they resulted in court orders, forfeitures and fines at the total amount of $9,000.

ECCC SARA enforcement highlights

ECCC training session / Photo: Katherine Bemben © Environment and Climate Change Canada
ECCC training session / Photo: Katherine Bemben

3-Pronged Approach for Tracking Polar Bear Hides in Trade

Trade in Polar Bear hides is highly regulated, as Polar Bears (Ursus maritimus) are listed as species of special concern under SARA, therefore the Act’s prohibitions do not apply. Nonetheless, an innovative project was developed using other legislative authorities to help protect both the species and its sustainable trade. ECCC is collaborating with relevant provinces, territories, and Indigenous communities to implement the new Polar Bear 3-Pronged Approach pilot project, to improve the traceability of hides in trade - from harvest to auction to export, therefore enabling better enforcement of international trade laws.

The pilot project complements the use of harvest tags—the traditional method of identifying Polar Bear hides. Under the pilot approach, when a Polar Bear is harvested and brought to a local conservation officer (or similar authority), a Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tag is inserted into the hide and samples are collected for DNA and Stable Isotope analyses. When a hide is destined for export, the PIT tag provides a quick means of identifying the hide: if no PIT tag is detected, DNA and Stable Isotope samples can be used to help verify the origin of the hide to ensure it was harvested and transported legally. This increases confidence in the supply chain by showing that specimens in trade are legally harvested and helps ensure the ongoing sustainable trade which provides income to harvesters and processors.

In 2016, ECCC conducted training of approximately 50 conservation officers in three northern regions (Nunavut, Nunatsiavut (Newfoundland and Labrador) and Inuvialuit (Northwest Territories)), followed by implementation of the pilot Polar Bear 3-Pronged Approach in 18 communities.

American Ginseng: training in Quebec Region

American Ginseng Photo: JF Dubois © Environment and Climate Change Canada
American Ginseng / Photo: JF Dubois
© Environment and Climate Change Canada

American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is listed under SARA as endangered in Canada. It is an extremely slow-growing plant that takes seven to ten years to reach reproductive maturity, therefore illegal harvesting of the wild American ginseng is exceptionally detrimental to the reproduction rate of these species.

In July and August 2016, training sessions were organized for wildlife enforcement officers in Quebec Region and for National Capital Commission conservation officers in Gatineau. The officers practiced in the field how to identify the wild American Ginseng in its natural habitat and recognize the signs of poaching and tools poachers use. The training also focused on the threats to these species, methods used to mark the plants to protect the populations from poaching, and ways to support prosecutions.

Emergency Order for the Protection of the Western Chorus Frog: Quebec Region

The Emergency Order for the Protection of the Western Chorus Frog Great Lakes / St. Lawrence – Canadian Shield (GLSLCS) population provides protection to the species by addressing the imminent threats to its recovery, including protection of habitat identified in the order to stabilize the metapopulation. The Order came into force on July 8, 2016. It covers an area of approximately 2 km of partially developed privately-owned land in Quebec, in the municipalities of La Prairie, Candiac and Saint-Philippe in suburban Montréal.

Examples of properties that encroach (above the red line) on the land identified under the Order  Photo: © Environment and Climate Change Canada
Examples of properties that encroach (above the red line)
on the land identified under the Order
Photo: © Environment and Climate Change

More than 40 patrols took place to verify compliance with the Emergency Order between the date of its entry into force and the end of November 2016. Almost 140 violations of the order, including sheds, gardens and other installations built in the protected territory, were documented and validated. Several aerial photos were analyzed to locate the land encroachments, and ECCC validated the violations during a three-day inspection on the territory. Infractions were observed as far as 100 meters inside the protected area.

One of ECCC’s goals is to secure voluntary compliance with the provisions of the Order. ECCC met with homeowners and provided information to help them understand the Order, its benefits to conservation as well as their obligations. Corrective measures, where needed, were undertaken proactively by residents during winter months when damage to the habitat would be minimized. In the event of continued non-compliance, enforcement officials have opened inspections and investigations. Violations are expected to be reduced for 2017, given the local residents’ heightened knowledge of the provisions of the Order.

DFO’s enforcement actions for species at risk are carried out by fishery officers who have been trained and designated as enforcement officers under SARA and who incorporate SARA enforcement activities alongside their duties under the Fisheries Act and other federal statutes and regulations.

In 2016, DFO’s fishery officers dedicated almost 10,000 hours to patrols, inspections, investigations, court cases, public relations and other duties related to enforcing the prohibitions of SARA. The Department recorded a total of 48 SARA violations involving species at risk that resulted in fines, seizures, charges and warnings. Fishery officers initiated 81 investigations and spent over 1,800 hours on investigative work related to species at risk. As well, a number of actions were taken to support the goals of SARA:

  • Sessions were organized across the country to train fishery officers on ways to safely assist experts during large marine mammal disentanglement response and to respond to Leatherback Sea Turtle strandings or entanglements.
  • Fishery officers provided assistance to experts during several responses to entanglements of SARA-listed marine mammals on the east and west coasts of Canada. In June 2016, DFO and PCA staff supported a DFO expert in freeing a Humpback Whale entangled in fishing gear off Vancouver Island. It took about two hours to successfully cut off the gear and free the whale.
  • An online refresher course on SARA was made available to fishery officers.
  • In August 2016, a BC Provincial Court judge ordered NG Fung Enterprises (1999) Ltd.to pay a fine of $77,500 for three SARA violations and one Fisheries Act violation.

PCA’s Law Enforcement Branch is responsible for enforcing all legislation related to the Agency’s mandate, including SARA, on all lands and waters administered by the Agency. In 2016, there were 90 park wardens dedicated to law enforcement activities in PCA protected heritage areas. PCA’s SARA-related enforcement activities included targeted patrols and investigations of reported violations of the SARA prohibitions. Park wardens recorded a total of 9 law enforcement incidents related to the protection of species at risk in protected heritage areas. These incidents led park wardens to issue 6 warnings under SARA as well as to lay four charges under other legislation.

Case study
Pro-active enforcement – Striped Bass in the St. Lawrence

Park wardens in Tadoussac / Photo: Frédéric Deland © Environment and Climate Change Canada
Park wardens in Tadoussac / Photo: Frédéric Deland
© Environment and Climate Change Canada

The Striped Bass (St. Lawrence Estuary population) has been gradually reintroduced since 2002 including within PCAs Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park (SSLMP). This species had disappeared in the mid-1960s and is designated as extirpated under SARA. Sport and commercial fishing of the species is banned and signage to that effect has been widely installed by provincial authorities. However, among the large fishing community of the SSLMP, some individuals catch and retain the Striped Bass intentionally.

In 2016, park wardens from the SSLMP law enforcement detachment in Tadoussac assisted provincial wildlife protection officers and federal fishery officers in three operations regarding the illegal fishing of Striped Bass. A total of seven officers took part in the operations which concluded with inspections at the two fishing tournaments in the Tadoussac / Anse de Roche area. This teamwork helped raise awareness about the precariousness of certain species and the fragility of their marine ecosystems. In addition, officers issued two tickets for non-compliance with the Fisheries Act.

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