Canada’s vast network of rivers and streams is the latest battleground over endangered species.
That’s because a 1,000-member group of scientists called the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution (CSEE) sent a strongly worded letter to their national government this week, condemning Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s administration for supporting a bill that they say could weaken Canada’s Fisheries Act.
The scientists argued that the revisions would mean that the majority of freshwater fish in Canada, and up to 80 percent of the 71 freshwater species at risk of extinction (including mollusks, crustaceans, amphibians, and others), would lose federal protections.
The proposed changes to the Fisheries Act live in Bill C-38, an omnibus budget bill now before two House of Commons committees. The bill would remove the ban on any activity that results in “harmful” alteration, disruption, or destruction of fish habitat.
Instead, the Fisheries Act would then have a prohibition against activity that results in “serious” harm to fish that are part of a commercial, recreational or aboriginal fishery, or that support such fisheries, reports the Vancouver Sun.
In their letter, the scientists claim that such a change will effectively remove habitat protection for most of Canada’s freshwater fish, since it will be difficult to clearly link them to specific fisheries. Without clear habitat protection, the scientists argued, the government will have a hard time upholding endangered species protection laws that are also on the books.
It’s a similar problem that has played out before in the U.S., across much of Africa, and elsewhere: getting a government to list a species as endangered, especially charismatic ones, is relatively easy politically. But following that up with concrete steps to safeguard habitat often means regulators run smack into well-heeled business interests and NIMBY opposition.
Brian Clark Howard is an Environment Writer and Editor at National Geographic News. He previously served as an editor for TheDailyGreen.com and E/The Environmental Magazine, and has written for TheAtlantic.com, FastCompany.com, PopularMechanics.com, Yahoo!, MSN, Miller-McCune and elsewhere. He is the co-author of six books, including Geothermal HVAC, Green Lighting and Build Your Own Small Wind Power System.