Frequently Asked Questions

How many species are at risk of extinction?

There are several hundred species in various COSEWIC risk categories. Exact numbers can be found on COSEWIC's website.

Why was federal legislation developed?

The 1996 Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk commits the federal government, provinces and territories to establish complementary legislation and programs to protect Canada's species at risk. The Act complements the work being done by provincial and territorial governments while ensuring federal responsibilities and standards are met.

What is the goal of the Species at Risk Act?

The goal of the Species at Risk Act is to prevent endangered or threatened wildlife from becoming extinct or lost from the wild, and to help in the recovery of these species. The Act is also intended to manage species of special concern and to prevent them from becoming endangered or threatened.

What is contained in the Act?

The Species at Risk Act ensures the scientific assessment and listing of species, provides for recovery of species, protects critical habitat, and enables compensation, permits, and enforcement.

When did the Act take effect?

The provisions of the Species at Risk Act took effect on June 5th, 2003. However, since implementation introduced some rather detailed changes in operation, several provisions of the Act did not come into force until June 1st, 2004. These involved the establishment of prohibitions against killing listed species or destroying their critical habitat. The phased approach ensured that implementation was synchronized with other legislation, and ensured that those whose activities were affected were aware of the requirements.

Will this law keep species from disappearing?

The Species at Risk Act is one tool among many in nature conservation. We have laws, programs, protected areas and many active conservation organizations and other partners. That said, there must be a value on nature conservation placed by Canadians before we can truly be sure that species will no longer disappear.

How are species listed?

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), a committee of government and non-government experts, directs the assessments and classifies species using the best available scientific, community and Aboriginal traditional knowledge. The Minister of Environment must respond to COSEWIC's recommended status within 90 days. The federal Cabinet then has nine months to make a decision on the addition of the species to the legal list. This listing process acknowledges that adding species to the legal list could have economic and social implications for Canadians.

Who are the members of COSEWIC?

Currently, COSEWIC consists of 20 different agencies and organizations, each of which send individuals who act as members, as well as the chairs of its eight Species Specialist Groups. COSEWIC comprises representatives from each provincial and territorial government wildlife agency and four federal agencies (Canadian Wildlife Service, Parks Canada, Fisheries and Oceans, Canadian Museum of Nature), and three nonjurisdictional members. All members have considerable experience with wildlife and biological science, including ecology, genetics, management, systematics and/or risk assessment, coupled with years of field experience. The chairs of the Species Specialist Groups are respected university academics and government, museum or independent biologists who volunteer their time and efforts. All members come to COSEWIC to do COSEWIC business, concentrate on the facts, and leave their various other concerns outside the door.

What happens when a species is listed?

As soon as a species is added to the legal list, there are automatic prohibitions against killing or harming the species or destroying a residence. This applies to an aquatic or migratory bird species anywhere. These prohibitions also extend to all species including plants and mammals on federal lands. There are also requirements that recovery strategies or management plans be developed for all listed species, and that critical habitat for listed species be defined and protected.

Can a species ever come off the list?

COSEWIC strives to reexamine the status of each species on its list with a status report update at least every ten years. All new and pertinent information on the species is included in the update report. On the basis of that information the species may be placed in a greater risk category if its status has worsened, it may remain in the same category, it may be down listed to a lesser category, or it may even be de-listed and removed altogether if its situation has sufficiently improved.

Why isn't COSEWIC's list automatically legal?

Under the Species at Risk Act, COSEWIC has been established as an advisory body to government. It will operate at arm's length and remain unfettered to make the accurate designations based on the best available scientific and Aboriginal traditional or community knowledge.

It is up to elected government officials, who are politically accountable, to turn those designations into law. All additions and changes that COSEWIC makes to its species designations are made public every year. Thus anyone should be able to check whether or not all the species COSEWIC determines to be at risk receive legal recognition from the government. Under SARA, COSEWIC will release its new designations each year to the public and to the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council consisting of provincial, territorial and federal ministers.

Does the Act apply to private lands?

** Please note: For more detailed information about how SARA applies on private land and what you can do to ensure you comply with the requirements of SARA, please read SARA and You: Information for Private Landowners.

To ensure the protection of species at risk, SARA contains prohibitions that make it an offence to kill, harm, harass, capture, take, possess, collect, buy, sell or trade an individual of a species listed in Schedule 1 of SARA as endangered, threatened or extirpated. SARA also makes it an offence to damage or destroy the residence of one or more individuals of a species listed in Schedule 1 of SARA as endangered, threatened or extirpated (if a recovery strategy has recommended the reintroduction of that extirpated species).

On private land, these prohibitions apply only to listed aquatic species and listed migratory birds that are also listed in the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994. In some circumstances the prohibitions could also be applied, through an order, to other species listed as endangered, threatened or extirpated in Schedule 1 of SARA when found on private land if provincial / territorial legislation or voluntary measures do not adequately protect the species and its residence. Public consultation would first be sought in accordance with normal federal government regulatory procedure.

In addition to the protection of individuals, SARA also recognizes that protecting the habitat of species at risk is key to their conservation. Critical habitat is the habitat necessary for the survival or recovery of a species listed as endangered, threatened or extirpated on Schedule 1 of SARA. The intent of SARA is to protect critical habitat as much as possible through voluntary actions and stewardship measures.

On private land, SARA requires that the critical habitat of aquatic species be protected within six months after it has been identified in a finalised SARA recovery strategy or action plan. SARA contains a prohibition against destroying any part of critical habitat, but also provides other options for protection. Critical habitat of these species must be protected by one of the following methods: the application of the SARA prohibition by ministerial order; other legal means under SARA such as a conservation agreement; or by other federal legislation.

For other, non-aquatic species found on private land, SARA sets out a variety of ways critical habitat is to be protected. In most situations, provincial laws will provide protection for critical habitat. Alternatively, the SARA prohibition can be applied by an order from the Governor in Council, or other provisions in, or measures under, federal legislation (including SARA) can be used. The Federal Government Regulatory Policy contains a commitment to consult the public on orders from the Governor in Council. SARA also sets out how critical habitat in a number of other specific cases, such as critical habitat found on private land which is located within a Migratory Bird Sanctuary, is to be protected.

What is the approach to encourage compliance?

Preventative measures and cooperative stewardship approaches are the first response to conserving species. Making landowners aware that they have a species at risk on their land and helping them to protect the species and its habitat are important first steps. It is anticipated that stewardship programs and voluntary actions will recover species and prevent prohibitions from being applied on private and provincial crown lands. If violations are identified, measures will be taken to ensure that they no longer occur. The law creates offences and sets penalties for committing these offences. A charge is most likely to be laid when a corporation or person intentionally ignores the law and compromises the survival of a species at risk.

How do I get involved in stewardship projects?

Stewardship projects are run by both large and small organizations, often in cooperation with the Government of Canada. The Habitat Stewardship Program is one place to start. The Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk is providing $45 million from the Government of Canada over five years for stewardship projects.

What is the SARA Public Registry?

The Public Registry is an online service that provides access to information and documents developed under SARA. It supports public participation in decision making, by providing an opportunity to comment on SARA related documents being developed by the Government of Canada.

Why was the Public Registry created?

The Public Registry was created to provide the public with timely access to information and documents developed under the Act. It enables the public to monitor the progress of documents from their draft stage, to final publication in the Canada Gazette. Finally, it provides notice of public consultations and information on where to direct comments.

What types of documents are found in the Public Registry?

Documents such as, status reports, species assessments, response statements, recovery strategies, action plans, and management plans are available in the Public Registry. In addition, it provides regulations, orders, agreements and permits related to SARA.

Who is responsible for maintaining the Public Registry?

The Public Registry is the result of a collaborative effort between many partners and stakeholders. Environment Canada leads this initiative and is responsible for maintaining the Public Registry on behalf of the Government of Canada. Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Parks Canada Agency are significant partners in the development of the Public Registry.

Whom can I contact for more information?

For more information, questions or comments concerning the Species at Risk Public Registry, please contact the following:

SAR Public Registry Office
351 St. Joseph Boulevard, 21st Floor
Hull, Quebec K1A 0H3

Is there a glossary of commonly used terms?

Please see the glossary in the Help section of the site.