Groups sue minister for failing to protect endangered fish - Scientists say feds ignored evidence to avoid protecting habitat

    VANCOUVER, Aug. 23 /CNW/ - Environmental groups have filed a lawsuit
against the federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans for refusing to identify
critical habitat - contrary to scientific advice - and, thus, gravely
weakening the recovery strategy for the Nooksack dace, an endangered fish that
lives in small streams in BC's Fraser Valley, east of Vancouver.
    At the same time, in an unusual move, three members of the
government-appointed Nooksack dace scientific recovery team are speaking out
publicly about the Minister's decision, arguing that it reflects a systematic
failure nationwide to adequately protect the habitat of endangered species.
    Under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA), identification of habitat
critical to a species' survival is required by law. Most species listed under
the Act have suffered severe habitat loss or destruction. SARA requires
critical habitat to be identified in recovery strategies to the fullest extent
possible. Despite this requirement, officials with the Department of Fisheries
and Oceans removed specific sections from a draft version of the recovery
strategy identifying the critical habitat of the Nooksack dace.
    "Protecting habitat is the single most important step in the recovery of
almost all species at risk - and for the dace this needs to be done now," said
Dr. Michael Pearson, lead author of the recovery strategy, and a biologist who
has spent ten years studying the Nooksack dace. "Unfortunately, as with other
endangered species, the federal government has chosen not to address critical
habitat identification in the strategy for Nooksack dace, despite having the
information and means to do it."
    The lawsuit, launched by Sierra Legal on behalf of Environmental Defence,
Georgia Strait Alliance, and the Wilderness Committee, argues that failure to
identify critical habitat in the recovery strategy represents a refusal by the
federal government to enforce SARA.
    Averaging less than 15 cm in length, the Nooksack dace is a freshwater
fish that spawns and resides in the lowland streams of the Fraser Valley and
about 20 streams in northwest Washington State. Studies over the last decade
indicate that gravel mining, agricultural drainage, the depletion of streams
for farm irrigation and residential use, and urban sprawl are all harming the
habitat of the dace. As a result, the fish has disappeared from tributaries in
Canadian watersheds where it was abundant as recently as the 1960s.
    "SARA recognizes that protecting endangered plants and animals starts by
identifying the places they need to survive," said Aaron Freeman, Policy
Director with Environmental Defence. "The government's refusal to do so
represents a brazen failure to enforce Canada's endangered species law."
    "If we don't act now to stop the destruction of this species' habitat, we
will have little chance to protect it and other species at risk," said
Christianne Wilhelmson of Georgia Strait Alliance. "The government's actions
are making the protection of habitat even harder than it already is."
    "Canada will lose endangered species unless the federal government starts
meeting its legal obligation to protect habitat," said Gwen Barlee of the
Wilderness Committee. "Endangered species are lined up to fall like dominos in
Canada because when it comes to protecting our wildlife, politics is trumping

    In September 2007, Sierra Legal will become Ecojustice Canada. For more
    information, please visit us at

For further information:

For further information: please visit (backgrounder
to be posted by 9 AM EST) or contact: Susan Pinkus, Staff Scientist, Sierra
Legal: (604) 685-5618, x 289, cell: (604) 313-3132; Christianne Wilhelmson,
Program Coordinator, Georgia Strait Alliance: (604) 633-0530, cell: (604)
862-7579; Gwen Barlee, National Policy Director, Wilderness Committee: cell:
(604) 202-0322; Aaron Freeman, Policy Director, Environmental Defence: (613)
564-0007, cell: (613) 697-7281; Dr. Mike Pearson, biologist, lead author of
dace recovery strategy: cell (604) 785-7246; Dr. Eric Taylor, UBC Professor of
Zoology: (604) 822-9152

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