Species at Risk Act annual report for 2017: chapter 6

6. Enforcement

Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), Parks Canada Agency (PCA) and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) 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 2017, ECCC focused on two priorities:

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

ECCC is responsible for recovery planning for 334 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 2017, ECCC operated with 73 front line Wildlife Enforcement Officers and 15 intelligence staff to ensure compliance with SARA, as well as related conservation statutes: the Migratory Birds Convention Act (MBCA), the Canada Wildlife Act, the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act (WAPPRIITA) and the provisions of the Antarctic Environmental Protection Act concerning wildlife.

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 and survival 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 activity involving the destruction of listed plant or animal specimens often impedes its conservation, ECCC has been focusing its compliance and promotion activities on preventing crimes that harm species. While this report speaks to actions taken under the SARA, ECCC relies on 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. For example, patrols to verify compliance and provide deterrence and crime prevention in protected areas (i.e. Long Point) and critical habitats (i.e. Roseate Tern) where several SARA species are found, inspecting and clearing regulated goods at border ports for Canadian SARA protected species found in trade (i.e. wild American ginseng, polar bear, spotted turtle). 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 2017, northern communities, where training on the 3-pronged approach for tracking Polar Bear hides that took place in the previous year, continued supporting compliance in harvest and trade of Polar Bears. Communities in Labrador and Nunavut used the Passive Integrated Transponders (PIT) to tag the harvested hides, and collected samples for DNA and Stable Isotope analyses (SIA), which were sent to the laboratories. 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.

In 2017, ECCC conducted 407 inspections under SARA. About 15% of the inspections were concerning Canadian species at high risk for conservation loss and/or at high risk for non-compliance and 85% were related to habitats or protected areas at high risk for conservation loss 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 in Alberta and Saskatchewan. 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, 21 violations of SARA were recorded. Two investigation files were opened in 2017. In 2017, there were no convictions and penalties issued under SARA.

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 2017, DFO’s fishery officers dedicated over 15,000 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 32 SARA violations involving species at risk that resulted in fines, seizures, charges and warnings. Fishery officers initiated 72 investigations and spent over 1,700 hours on investigative work related to species at risk. As well, a number of actions were taken to support the goals of SARA:

  • Fishery officers dedicated over 4,000 hours of effort in response to incidents related to the North Atlantic Right Whale and other marine mammals listed under SARA. This work included supporting external partners, such as the Campobello Whale Rescue Team, responding to entangled whale incidents.
  • In the Pacific region, Fishery officers worked with Vancouver Aquarium staff to respond to a Steller Sea Lion which was entangled in some twine, managing to free it successfully.

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 2017, there were 87 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 27 law enforcement incidents related to the protection of species at risk in protected heritage areas. These incidents led park wardens to issue 1 warning under SARA as well as to lay 3 charges and to issue 8 warnings under other legislation.

Success story
Sage Grouse Leks in Grasslands National Park

Grasslands National Park is host to several sage grouse leks, areas where sage grouse gather and conduct courtship displays. Sage grouse are sensitive to disturbance and rely on healthy sage brush to provide cover and protection for their nests.

Park Wardens work with Wildlife Officers from ECCC to patrol the areas surrounding the leks, ensuring compliance with the conditions of the Emergency Protection Order. Each spring ECCC visits leks in Grasslands National Park during the mating season. For the last two years, two Wildlife Officers and one Park Warden have conducted patrols in the West Block and the East Block of Grasslands National Park to monitor lek sites for signs of vehicle intrusion or other illegal activity.

These patrols show a united enforcement presence on the landscape and reinforce Parks Canada's mission to support the recovery of this species at risk. Law enforcement presence is limited in this part of Saskatchewan so the patrols also remind local landowners and partners that they are supported in their dedication and commitment to improving sage grouse habitat.

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