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Canada Takes First Step to Protect Species

18 June 2002 (All day)
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Wise decision? A new Canadian law will try to help endangered friends of this great owl.

OTTAWA, CANADA--Canada's House of Commons last week approved the country's first law to protect endangered species. But although federal officials say the legislation, which relies on incentives rather than punishments, sets a new standard for cooperation between public and private sectors, environmental groups grumble that the approach leaves much to be desired.

The parliamentary vote caps a decade-long debate over how best to protect Canadian plants and animals and their habitats (Science, 24 August 2001, p. 1417). Environmental Minister David Anderson appeased the rural caucus of his own Liberal party by promising that property owners will receive adequate compensation if their lands are declared protected areas. That money will come from federal payments--$29 million this year and $38 million next year--which he hopes will entice landowners and industry to do the right thing. But the legislation also provides for fines of up to $650,000 for those violating the law.

Anderson also mollified the environmental caucus with a pair of olive branches. The first gives slightly more power to scientists on the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). If the committee declares a species endangered, its decision will now be final unless politicians vote within 9 months to overturn it and put their reasons in writing. The second makes habitat protection mandatory on federal land (about 6% of Canada's land mass) and waters, and on all land north of the 60th parallel not governed by aboriginal land-claim agreements.

Others hold a decidedly less rosy picture of the bill. "I really don't think it will do the job," says ecologist David Schindler of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, who says that the legislation defers to the provincial governments, which have a mixed record of species and habitat protection. Complains Rick Smith, national director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare: "It will still leave the majority of species in the country without mandatory protection."

Related sites
COSEWIC
Threatened Animals of the World

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