Species at Risk results-based management, accountability and audit framework: chapter 4

4. Risk Assessment and Management Summary

Risk refers to the uncertainty that surrounds future events and outcomes. The RBAF component of this framework identifies risk areas and corresponding mitigating strategies and management approaches.

Through risk identification, assessment, and development / refinement of strategies to mitigate the risks, program managers and core department senior management have an explicit and common understanding of SAR Program risks.

4.1 Risk Assessment Methodology

The risk assessment methodology includes the following steps:

  • Risk Identification: Identification of the key risk areas that could have an impact on the ability of the core departments to deliver the SAR Program and fully achieve the intended results.
  • Risk Response: Identification of existing mitigation measures and strategies and those that are under development.
  • Risk Assessment: An estimate of the likelihood and impact of risk-related issues arising even with risk mitigation measures and strategies in place (this includes existing measures and those under development). 

4.2 Program Risks

A number of program risks were identified through interviews with senior managers from the core departments, a one-day workshop, and a review of background documentation. The key program risk areas, along with strategies for risk mitigation and an assessment of impact, are shown in Table 12.

Table 12: Key Risk Areas, Mitigation Strategies and Assessment of Impact
Risk Area and Description Strategies for Risk Mitigation / Control Likelihood / Impact11

1. Partner Capacity and Cooperation/Support

The protection and conservation of wildlife is the joint responsibility of the federal, provincial and territorial (F/P/T) governments (as per the 1997 Accord). As a result, the capacity and level of cooperation and support within each of the P/Ts can have a significant impact on the implementation of the Act

The capacity for undertaking SAR related activities (e.g., assessing species (science), undertaking recovery planning, implementing recovery actions and enforcing legislation) varies by province. This is a particular challenge for smaller jurisdictions.  

Partner cooperation and support for SARA-related activities is essential to the successful implementation of the Act as P/Ts are responsible for implementing recovery strategies and plans for most species on P/T lands. Each P/T has its own set of programs and strategies to manage risks and set priorities to meet their legislative accountabilities and individual P/T guidelines may not be compatible or consistent with those under SARA (e.g., the approach used to define critical habitat or undertake socio-economic analyses). 

In the event that a P/T chooses not to respond to a listed species through their own actions (e.g., recovery strategy, action plans, implementation of specific actions), the federal government may impose the SARA safety net. The primary risks inherent in using the SARA safety net for general or critical habitat prohibitions are provoking F/P/T jurisdictional disputes and unanticipated outcomes, such as additional work and resources pressures.

Federal SARA recovery strategies and actions plans may identify priority actions on P/T and without partners’ cooperation recovery goals will not be met. 

A number of mechanisms and management strategies have been developed to improve coordination among Program partners and manage the gaps in P/T legislation. These include the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk, the National Framework for Species at Risk Conservation, bilateral agreements with the P/Ts, and appropriate leverage to bridge legislative gaps and encourage P/Ts to take actions compatible with SARA requirements and thus limit the need for safety net intervention. The Program’s governance structure is a critical component of the risk mitigation strategy and will help to build / strengthen partner relationships. Following the development of these mechanisms and management strategy, the core departments will focus on how to make them work to ensure cooperation and support for the implementation of the Act.

The Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk was established in 1996 and outlines commitments by federal, provincial and territorial (F/P/T) Ministers to designate species at risk, protect their habitats, and to develop recovery plans as well as complementary legislation, regulations, policies and programs.

The National Framework for Species at Risk Conservation was developed in cooperation with provinces and territories and endorsed by F/P/T Ministers in October 2006. The Framework expresses a consensus view on the management of species at risk and will guide the development of compatible policies and programs within the core federal departments and the P/Ts

Bilateral agreements between the federal and provincial or territorial governments will improve coordination between the two levels of government. For each Agreement, a Species at Risk Coordinating Committee (SARCC) (previously referred to as a regional implementation committee) will be established between the federal government and the provinces and territories to facilitate coordination of federal, provincial and territorial species at risk programs. These committees will help guide how capacity and resources are allocated to species conservation issues within each jurisdiction. Furthermore, bilateral agreements will be supported by joint work plans. The committees and joint work plans will help mitigate risks related to partner support.

The Interdepartmental Recovery Fund (IRF) has been developed to supports actions by other federal departments to identify species at risk on federal properties and undertake recovery activities.

The governance structure for the SAR Program was strengthened by reviewing and redefining the roles and responsibilities following the Formative Evaluation Committees such as the Canadian Endangered Species. The Conservation Council (CESCC), the Species at Risk Coordinating Committees (SARCCs), the REVIEW Working Group, and the National General Status Working Group (see Section 2.6) provide mechanisms for increased cooperation and communication between the federal and P/T governments.

Likelihood: High

Impact:  High

2. Aboriginal Capacity and Co-operation

The protection and conservation of wildlife also involves Aboriginal people. Aboriginal people's co-operation and support for SARA-related activities is essential to the successful implementation of the Act given that SARA applies to Aboriginal lands and Aboriginal people participate in the implementation of recovery strategies and action plans for certain species. 

Federal SARA recovery strategies and actions plans may identify priority actions on Aboriginal lands and, without Aboriginal people, co-operation recovery goals will not be met.

Land claim agreements in the territories have established wildlife management boards, which share responsibilities with governments on the management of SAR

The capacity of land claim agreement authorities and Aboriginal groups to participate in recovery planning and implementation has been identified as a risk to species protection and recovery on Aboriginal lands.


As part of the governance structure for the SAR Program, NACOSAR acts in an advisory role to the Minister on the administration of the Act and provides advice and recommendations to the CESCC. This advisory council was created under SARA to increase cooperation and communication between the federal government and Aboriginal people.

Furthermore, an Aboriginal engagement strategy is currently being developed. This strategy will provide a structure on how the federal government engages Aboriginal people regarding the implementation of SARA.

Aboriginal people are engaged for listing of species and for developing recovery strategies, action plans and management plans.

The Aboriginal Funds have been set up to help address capacity gaps and support Aboriginal participation in the management of species at risk (planning and implementation of stewardship activities on Aboriginal lands). 

The Habitat Stewardship Program provides funds to stewards for implementing activities that protect or conserve habitats for species at risk which take place on private lands, provincial Crown lands, Aboriginal lands or in aquatic and marine areas across Canada. The program also fosters partnerships among organizations interested in the recovery of species at risk. As such, it supports many organizations and individuals, including Aboriginal people, in their efforts to meet the requirements of the National Recovery Program and the Species at Risk Act.

Likelihood: High

Impact: High

3. Stakeholder Capacity and Cooperation

Recovery implementation relies extensively on stakeholders, through agreements with the federal government and independent activities, to take action to protect species and habitat. The willingness and ability (financial and otherwise) of stakeholders (industry, ENGOs, landowners) to implement recovery actions and reduce threats to species is a key determinant of SAR Program success. 

Stakeholders may not agree with / support listing decisions and related recovery strategies and plans (e.g., the range of critical habitat may be questioned). The use of the legislative authority granted by SARA may present a risk to the core departments’ ongoing relationships with its key stakeholder groups (which are essential to the achievement of other federal priorities / goals).

Stakeholders are not informed of the SARA permitting requirements and the SAR component of the CEAA authorization process and do not necessarily apply for all required permits.

The SAR Program supports stewardship activities by landowners, industrial resource sectors, and other federal departments through programs including the Habitat Stewardship Program (HSP) for Species at Risk, the Endangered Species Recovery Fund (ESRF), and the Interdepartmental Recovery Fund. The HSP is administered on a regional basis to ensure that local priorities and stakeholder needs are reflected in the funding decisions. The ESRF supports research and education efforts and is co-managed by EC and the World Wildlife Fund of Canada.

Consultations are a critical element of the SAR Program design and opportunities for stakeholder involvement are built in throughout the process. 

Public education and outreach tools, the SAR Public Registry and other online information sources will be used to increase Canadians’ awareness of, and involvement in species at risk protection. The SAR Public Registry provides a forum for stakeholders to submit comments on SARA documents including: regulations and orders made under the Act, COSEWIC’s criteria for the classification of wildlife species, status reports on wildlife species, and the List of Wildlife Species at Risk (Schedule 1). The Registry is an important tool for informing Canadians on species at risk issues and supporting public participation in decision making related to species at risk.

Ongoing efforts will be made to explain the SARA permitting requirements and the new SAR components of the CEAA authorization process to stakeholders.

Likelihood: Varies by stakeholder

Impact: High

4. Program Resources and Workload

The workload associated with implementing the Act grows steadily as species are added to the legal list. Once listed, there are ongoing reporting requirements and timelines. 

Experience has shown that the costs associated with consultations and socio-economic analyses can vary greatly depending on the location and distribution of the species, the associated threats, the complexity of the recovery planning processes, and the number and diversity of interested stakeholders. Managing consultations in remote and northern communities is especially challenging and costly.

Also, since the legislation was proclaimed, there has been a steady increase in the workload associated with monitoring species issuing permits and providing input into environmental assessments of projects that may affect a listed species or its critical habitat.

The core departments are at risk of not meeting the requirements of the legislation in future. Development and implementation of a growing number of strategies and plans, and subsequently enforcing prohibitions and regulations under the Act and monitoring and evaluating and reporting on compliance and species recovery, will put further demands on the Program. The Formative Evaluation noted that costs will increase significantly to meet mandatory legislative requirements.

These resource constraints present legal, biological and policy risks and liabilities. There is a risk that the growing workload will result in missed deadlines, compromised consultation processes, and missed opportunities for applying a strategic lens to species recovery (e.g., prioritization, multi-species approach).

SARA funding is managed through a number of priority-setting arrangements within the core departments. This ensures that the basic requirements of the legislation, timelines, essential activities and programs are implemented. The interdepartmental governance mechanisms (e.g., Deputy Head, ADM and DG Committees) identify priorities and monitor progress and performance vis-à-vis the expectations as set out under SARA. This allows regular realignment of resources towards the highest priority items

Furthermore, the core departments, through annual budgeting exercises, have the opportunity to realign resources to areas of highest priority. 

The core departments will reassess their financial resources needs in 2010-2011.

Although many measures are in place to reduce legal, biological and political risks and liabilities, the approach used to manage the SAR Program is risk-based. There will remain a significant residual risk of not managing the core departments’ legislative obligations and ultimately achieving the conservation and protection of species at risk.

Likelihood:  High

Impact: High

5. Meeting SARA Obligations for Federal Species and on Federal Lands

SARA’s specific requirements for recovery planning, protecting species and enforcing prohibitions for federally managed species (e.g., aquatic species, migratory birds) and for all species on federal lands (e.g., national parks, national wildlife areas) is the responsibility of the federal government. There is a risk that the federal government will not meet the obligations of the Act. Should the federal government’s legislative obligations with respect to listed species not be managed properly, the federal government’s ability to influence others in their work on species conservation will be at risk, as well as the federal government’s credibility.

Federal capacity will be strengthened and invested strategically, and contribution from partners, Aboriginal people and stakeholders will be fostered through development and implementation of bilateral agreements, contribution agreements with required leveraging, partnerships and other mechanisms. Funding is also available to other federal departments through the IRF to support species protection on federal lands. Parks Canada will continue to integrate species recovery and protection in their operations through the park management plans. 


Likelihood:  Medium

Impact: Medium

6. Legal Challenges to SARA

The Species at Risk Act creates expectations on the part of Canadians vis-à-vis the federal government’s ability to protect species at risk. However, the federal role is constrained by the extent that implementation of recovery actions often rely on program Partners, Aboriginal people and stakeholders. Federal decisions / actions are guided by scientific information as well as an analysis of the socio-economic impacts of proposed actions, the need to respect Aboriginal treaty rights, land claim agreements, and the roles and responsibilities of the provinces and territories. 

The result is the risk of legal action by ENGOs, industry and other stakeholders. The cost of responding to legal challenges reduces the resources available for Program implementation. Furthermore, legal challenges could lead to significant program implementation changes. There is therefore a residual uncertainty as to how the Program will be implemented, resulting in a risk regarding roles and responsibilities with respect to species conservation, not only for the core departments but also for partners and Aboriginal people who are involved in the Program.

SARA is a relatively recent piece of legislation and there is uncertainty around a number of the terms and concepts in the Act (e.g., the operational definition of "critical habitat", "effective protection", the extent of required consultations, etc.).

SARA allows the Minister of the Environment to provide fair and reasonable compensation for losses suffered as a result of any extraordinary impacts of the application of provisions protecting the habitat of a protected species. 

There is limited experience and understanding regarding compensation and the possible level of compensation. This could lead to the risk of legal challenges, given the differences in interpretation of the Act, risk to program financial resources needs, and risk regarding cooperation with partners, Aboriginal people and stakeholders.

The core departments are developing national policies and guidelines to address these risks. These policies and guidelines will be consistent with the National Framework for Species at Risk Conservation, will include the use of socio-economic analyses for making listing decisions and developing recovery strategies and action plans and will provide a mechanism to mitigate legal risk. Furthermore, the national policies and guidelines will help mitigate these risks by defining certain terms and concepts. The core departments will also develop their own operational guidelines, which will, in turn, be consistent with departmental operations and will take into account their requirements.

Regulations are being developed for the GIC regarding compensation. The key to mitigating federal risk in this area is to ensure that regulations permit compensation for loss suffered as a result of any extraordinary impacts only.

Any requests for compensation will be considered on an individual basis unless a significant number of claims emerge. The Minister of the Environment will report to Cabinet in the event that significant resources are required for such payments.


Likelihood:  High

Impact:  High

7. Information Gathering and Reporting

There is a limited knowledge within the core departments of available information and systems for the management of data regarding the SAR Program.

A lack of baseline data for performance and risk monitoring reporting is a risk to reporting on success of the SAR Program. This will also impact the opportunities to communicate the overall story of the Program.

There is risk that the data required for performance and risk monitoring reporting is unavailable due to some inadequate data systems. There is also a risk that, once the data is gathered, it may be difficult to determine the underlying causes of variance between expected and achieved results.

Furthermore, insufficient information on select species at risk and their habitats may limit the effectiveness of the SAR assessment and protection processes. The socio-economic analysis and consultation can only be as thorough as the data upon which they are based. Where data limitations/deficiencies exist, the analysis may be less than ideal. 

Coordinated systems and administration will be developed within each core department for collecting data for performance and risk monitoring reporting to enable the Program to extract the relevant information required when needed.

Performance reporting will include immediate and intermediate measures (as identified in this framework) to demonstrate progress made through stewardship programs (e.g., HSP) and the impact that prohibitions associated with SARA listing are having on species.

A number of partnerships are being developed to increase the availability and quality of species data. This includes efforts with provinces and territories, Nature Serve Canada, industry, core department science groups and others. 


Likelihood:  Medium - High

Impact:  Medium - High

8. Communication

Implementation of the SAR Program depends largely on communication because of the nature of the program, which is based on joint responsibility of the federal, provincial and territorial governments and cooperation with Aboriginal people and stakeholders.

There is a risk of a loss of internal and external support for the Program if the core departments do not communicate the story effectively regarding the SAR Program.

Activities and resources will be directed to work on communication to improve understanding of species conservation issues and the role of SARA by partners, Aboriginal people, stakeholders and Canadians.  

Core departments will develop mechanisms to identified opportunities to communicate with partners, Aboriginal people, stakeholders and Canadians. These mechanisms will also ensure consistent messaging across core departments and regions. 

Likelihood:  Medium

Impact:  Medium 

4.3 Risk Management Process

The Program Development and Management component of the SAR Program is allotted approximately 22% of the total program budget, which reflects the significant management investment required to fully develop and implement this (relatively new) interdepartmental, interjurisdictional program. The level of resources devoted to program management and governance reflects and responds to the number of significant key risk areas described above.

The governance structure shown in Section 2 involves the key Program partners and Aboriginal people at all levels of the core departments and partner organizations.

A key risk area is the level of involvement of program partners, Aboriginal people and stakeholders in the delivery of SARA objectives. The new National Framework for Species at Risk Conservation supports the coordinated implementation of the Accord and the Act by providing a set of common principles, objectives and overarching approaches for species at risk conservation. The objectives of the Framework are to

  • facilitate cooperation among jurisdictions involved with species at risk;
  • encourage greater national coherence and consistency in jurisdictional policies; and
  • provide context and common ground for federal/provincial/territorial bilateral agreements.

The identification of risks and assessment of the likelihood and impact has been a key input to the performance measurement strategy (see Section 5) and the evaluation strategy (see Section 6). A number of key performance indicators have been developed to both monitor the level of risk and assess the effectiveness of the risk mitigation strategies. These indicators are shown in bold in Table 13 of Section 5.1. Note that these bolded indicators serve as both performance and risk indicators and therefore the effort to collect and assess results achievement and risk is integrated and streamlined.

Furthermore, EC is currently developing a quality management system for regulatory programs, including the Species at Risk Act, in order to promote the clarity and transparency of decision-making, ensure consistent and efficient processes for seeking senior and ministerial approvals, and provide a benchmark for continuous improvement of decision making processes with respect to legislative programs at EC.

11 In some cases a range is given (e.g. Med – High). This has been done in cases where there is a degree of uncertainty around the level of likelihood or impact.

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