PEI Species at Risk:

Species at risk ‘simply not protected’ on P.E.I., says new report

Three other provinces in Atlantic Canada have standalone laws to protect species at risk

Nancy Russell · CBC News · Posted: Mar 21, 2022 6:00 AM AT | Last Updated: March 21

Lisa Mitchell, executive director of the East Coast Environmental Law, said the federal government has legally listed 25 species in P.E.I. as endangered, threatened, or of special concern under the federal Species at Risk Act. (Parks Canada)

A new report from the East Coast Environmental Law is called Simply Not Protected, which is also how the group describes species at risk and their habitat on Prince Edward Island.

Two P.E.I. organizations, Nature P.E.I. and Island Nature Trust, said the report is right on target and are challenging the environment minister to respond immediately to the report’s recommendations. 

P.E.I. is the only province in Atlantic Canada without a standalone law to protect species at risk.

Instead, on P.E.I. that protection is supposed to come from the Wildlife Conservation Act, which has been in place since 1998.

In 2017, the bank swallow was listed as a threatened species in Canada, having experienced a 98 per cent population decline over the last 40 years. (Island Nature Trust )

“Not only has the minister not taken the steps that need to be taken to protect species in the province, the minister hasn’t even taken the most basic step of actually identifying the species that are at risk,” said Lisa Mitchell, executive director of the East Coast Environmental Law.

“You’ve got a law that’s been on the books for 23 years, and not one species has been designated for protection on P.E.I.”

Provincial protection needed

Mitchell said the federal government has legally listed 25 species in P.E.I. as endangered, threatened, or of special concern under the federal Species at Risk Act, including seven endangered species, eight threatened species, and 10 species of special concern.

You’ve got a law that’s been on the books for 23 years, and not one species has been designated for protection on P.E.I.​​​​​— Lisa Mitchell, East Coast Environmental Law

“There’s a certain role that the federal government can play when it comes to federal lands, like national parks, and specific species that they have jurisdiction over, like migratory birds, for example,” Mitchell said. 

“But all the other work that needs to be done to protect species and their habitat in the province has to be done by the provincial government, anything that’s going to be done on provincial lands, or privately owned lands in the province.”

The report included recommendations for immediate action, including re-establishing an advisory committee under the Wildlife Conservation Act to identify species at risk, and recommend ways to protect them and their habitat.

The bank swallows build their nests in the cliff, which can suffer erosion from winter storms. ( Island Nature Trust)

But Mitchell said the larger goal would be for Prince Edward Island to create a more modern piece of legislation. 

“At this point, we would recommend that Prince Edward Island have a standalone statute,” Mitchell said.

“That there be some focused attention on creating a modern law that will be more transparent, that will actually look at the biodiversity crisis in a broader way.” 

A barn swallow spotted during a survey of P.E.I. fishing harbours by Island Nature Trust. (Island Nature Trust)

‘It’s sad’

Shannon Mader, species at risk program manager at Island Nature Trust, said the report has some good recommendations.

“As a land trust, protecting habitat for wildlife and protecting wildlife is what we do, and I think that Islanders demonstrate to us over and over again that this is something that they care about,” Mader said. 

“So to think that this hasn’t been prioritized by our government, and that there is no legal protection for these species, it makes me really sad.”

Shannon Mader spends her days trying to protect habitat and species at risk on Prince Edward Island. (Sean Landsman )

“The piping plover is a species that is on the brink on P.E.I. but they’re certainly not the only one. We’re losing a lot of our birds, namely the bank swallow, barn swallow, bobolink, Canada warbler. These are all species that are at risk of disappearing from our landscape,” Mader said.

“So do we, as a society, want to have wildlife there for a future? Do we want to protect the most vulnerable among them? And if we do think that that’s a priority, then this legislation is crucial.” 

We would have liked to see movement on this decades ago. So it really it can’t happen quickly enough.​-—Shannon Mader, Island Nature Trust

The president of Nature P.E.I. is also calling for immediate action in response to the report, to protect species at risk on P.E.I.

“We haven’t protected them here, so that’s what the report says. It says we haven’t lived up to any of our commitments, which is pretty much true. So I think it’s right on the money,” said Rosemary Curley.  

“Either modify the existing act, or bring in a new standalone act that will protect species at risk in the province. I would go with either, so long as it will work.” 

Rosemary Curley, president of Nature P.E.I., says she worries about the impact of climate change, accelerating the loss of habitat and species. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

‘We need actions’

Curley said there is a piece of legislation that was in the works, about 10 years ago, that she thinks could be easily revived. 

“It’s not a party issue, all parties are pretty much the same in not doing anything about it,” Curley said.

 “In 2021, we met with two ministers, Minister Jameson and then Minister Myers. We asked them to reconstitute the advisory committee for the species at risk and we asked them to improve the legislation so it will be possible to protect species. 

“They indicated interest, but that’s words, but we need actions.”

The bobolink was classed as threatened by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) in 2010 and protected under the federal Species at Risk Act in 2017. (May Haga/State of Canada’s Birds)

Curley said there has been an added challenge because the wildlife division has come under 14 different departments over time, creating a lack of continuity with departments and ministers. 

She said the situation is also complicated on P.E.I. because of the amount of land that is privately-owned.

“Governments are always nervous about infringing on landowners’ rights,” Curley said.

“Nevertheless, there are many environmental laws that tell you you can’t do this on your land, you can’t fill in the wetland, you can’t run your machinery through the stream and all sorts of things. So I don’t think that’s a very good excuse.

“There’s still time. And the sooner something happens, the better.” 

Mader describes the piping plover as ‘a species that is on the brink’ on P.E.I. (Submitted by Island Nature Trust )

In a statement to CBC News, a spokesperson for the Environment Department said: “The report implies that because no species are listed under provincial species at risk legislation that the province is not protecting endangered and threatened species, but this is not true. 

“All individual animal species at risk that occur in P.E.I. are legally protected by either the Migratory Bird Treaty Act or the Provincial Wildlife Conservation Act.”

It goes on to say that the province is making significant, ongoing investments to protect sensitive wildlife habitat on P.E.I., actively monitors populations of many sensitive wildlife species, and works with Environment and Climate Change Canada, as well as local partners, to address threats related to species at risk in the forested landscape.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nancy Russell

Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog. Nancy.Russell@cbc.c

About Nature PEI

Nature PEI - Supporting citizen science on Prince Edward Island since 1969
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