With all the news regarding the future of the European Union in the last week, you might have missed an important event here in Canada. Catherine McKenna, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change recently unveiled an emergency order against a proposed housing project in Quebec to protect the habitat of the Western Chorus Frog. This is a landmark event, because it is the first time the Federal Government has issued an emergency order pertaining to a project on privately owned land. The move has been criticized by the Quebec government, but hailed as a victory for species protection by many environmental groups. The emergency order goes into effect starting July 17th 2016, and covers an area of 2km2 in La Prairie, Quebec.
(An image of the Western Chorus Frog. Source: Montreal Gazette)
How does the federal government have power to make this decision?
The Species at Risk Act (SARA) of 2002 is the primary legislation in Canada that protects various species from extinction. The Emergency Order provision of this Act allows the federal government to create an emergency order when they feel a species is at imminent threat. In the case of the Western Chorus frog, the government stated that over 60% of the suitable frog habitat in the region was destroyed between 1992 and 2013. The federal government also felt that the current measures in place were not in accordance with those laid out in SARA and thus decided to step in.
The following actions are prohibited in the area of the emergency order:
- Removing the soil or any vegetation in the area
- Draining or flooding the ground
- Altering the surface water in any way
- Using Fertilizers or Pest Control in the area
- Operate a Vehicle off road
Failure to comply with the order can lead to various penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment.
The emergency order has been used once previously in the case of the Great Sage Goose in Alberta. The protections offered under that order only applied to federal and provincial crown lands, compared to private lands in this case. So it comes with no surprise that the Quebec government is unhappy with the decision. The Minister of Environment for Quebec David Huertal has said that the provincial government had already protected 83% of the area under the emergency order, and the federal government’s plan did not collaborate with the province. He also said that the government made its decision without using a balanced approach.
This map indicates the region of La Prarie, Quebec where the emergency order regarding the Western Chorus Frog will be in effect. Source: Species at Risk Registry
This might cause you to wonder, should the government impose a protection order on private land?
In my opinion, an emergency order should be kept as a last resort when all other methods to protect a species have been exhausted. The Species at Risk Act gives the government the power to step in when the provinces are not doing a good job at protecting species. The Species at Risk Registry, which contains information regarding wildlife species at risk, indicates that the frogs were expected to be extirpated from their habitats by 2030 if growth in the area was left unchecked. Thus the government had to make a decision if it wanted to protect the species. It should be encouraging to all of us that our government is looking out for species at risk and trying to protect them for future generations.
If you would like to get involved and help save species at risk, there are a number of things that you can do. You can visit the Species at Risk Public Registry and get informed about the species at risk in your area. After getting informed, you can make sure you are in compliance with any regulations that might be in effect in your area, and try to preserve the habitat of any species in danger. Habitat loss is a major cause of species going extinct and preventing it could go a long way in saving species. There are also public consultations held by the government where concerned individuals can give their input about how to ensure critical habitats are protected. Lastly, you can educate others about the species at risk and motivate them to also get involved.