November 25, 1999: "Canada was the first country to sign the Rio Convention on Biological Diversity in 1992. But it has yet to comply with the convention's basic requirement to give legal protection to endangered species and their habitat as many other nations have done, including the United States and Mexico." So write David Schindler and Geoff Scudder in this National Post commentary.
Canada's Environment Minister, David Anderson, intends introducing endangered species protection legislation in the House of Commons this winter. However, according to Schindler and Scudder, a number of provincial governments and resource industry groups are pressuring Ottawa to make the new law weak and discretion-laden. The ability of the government to stand up to such pressure will, they say, be a test of Mr. Anderson's strength as environment minister in a government whose record on environmental issues has until now been poor.
Mr. Anderson, a long-time advocate of environmental protection, assures us that he is up to the task. In a letter to naturalSCIENCE, he states that Environment Canada will work with the provinces, territories, wildlife management boards, Aboriginal people and stakeholders to protect endangered species. His aim is to achieve a cooperative national approach that will include a "clear, firm federal law." Once introduced in the Commons, the bill will be published on Environment Canada's Web site.
Advance details of what are purported to be the bill's contents have been published in a National Post article that quotes "secret cabinet documents." Among provisions of the proposed legislation are said to be criminal law powers to protect endangered species on all lands within Canada, and a $250-million "species at risk stewardship fund" to help compensate landowners for economic loss entailed in the protection of endangered species.
November 22, 1999: Vancouver's industry-supported Fraser Institute today released a paper entitled "Crying Wolf: Public Policy on Endangered Species in Canada," in which the Institute's Laura Jones argues that Canada has far fewer endangered species than is claimed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), which advises the Federal government. The reason for this is that many of the species classified by the committee as endangered are endangered only in Canada, not throughout their entire range. Also, the report states, COSEWIC classifies as endangered both subspecies and geographically defined populations that do not correspond to the generally understood definition of a species. The report concludes that reliance on private initiatives will be more productive than legislation in protecting Canadian biodiversity.
February 25, 1999: Earlier this month, 650 Canadian scienctists signed a letter to Prime Minister Chrétien asking for assurance that new legislation will give real protection to endangered species. In this interview, naturalSCIENCE asked David Schindler, a signatory of the letter to Mr. Chrétien, and one of Canada's most distinguished scientists, how endangered species are to be identified, how they should be valued, and what it will cost to protect them.