Talking about extinction

Saving the species
Groups want stronger laws to protect endangered animals

by Ian Elliot
Northern News Services

NNSL (Oct 13/97) - The North takes pride in its wildlife, like grizzly bears, whooping cranes and wood bison, but questions are being raised about how well these animals are protected.

Legislation that would identify and protect endangered species for the first time is on the agenda of the federal and territorial governments.

But the territorial legislation has yet to be drafted, and naturalists fear pending federal guidelines will exclude animals that cross international borders, rendering it largely irrelevant.

"I don't think it's a matter of no one wanting to protect endangered species, but it is a case of everyone having to carry out their own mandates." said Ron Graf, manager of integrated resource management with the territorial government.

Co-operation between provincial and federal governments is the best way to protect species, he said, especially those which cross boundaries -- migratory birds that winter in Mexico, or bears or wood bison that occasionally cross into Alaska, for example.

However, the cross-boundary issue has been a knotty issue in the past, he said.

Commenting on the proposed legislation in January, wildlife minister Stephen Kakfwi expressed concern about the law's wording, especially a wide-ranging clause that appeared to give the federal government authority over any species if any of its members crossed a border.

In the North, for example, that would give Ottawa authority over all wood bison if one animal wandered into Alaska looking for a patch of grass.

The original legislation died when Parliament dissolved this spring, but some form of it will be reintroduced soon, and it may pave the way for future efforts to save endangered species.

"It needs both levels (of government protection)," said Graf.

"When you talk about populations that are crossing boundaries, the federal government has to be involved."

But he said the territorial government, with its own network of scientists, can better look after many local species than a few scattered federal scientists. All that is needed is a clear definition of who is to do what and that can be negotiated with the government.

The NWT was also slammed in a report card issued by the Canadian Nature Federation last week. It measured how well each province protects its endangered species and their habitats and the NWT was given an F.

Provinces and territories were graded on matters such as whether they have things like endangered-species legislation, recovery plans for threatened species and monitoring programs for all wild species. Only a handful of provinces have these programs.

Although the North has its share of endangered species and has mounted efforts aimed at preserving species such as wood bison, polar bears and tundra Peregrine falcons, it has no legislation specifically protecting those animals.

Catherine Austen of the Canadian Nature Federation says it is the job of both levels of government to preserve endangered species, and that the territories need federal legislation until they get their own drafted, calling it a "safety net."

"There is really no doubt that it's going to have be a co-operative effort," she said.

"But Canadians don't care who does it as long as it's done."

She applauded government programs to help large, photogenic animals such as bears and cranes, but said wide-ranging laws were needed that protect plants and habitats also.

"It's easy to pick one species and bring in measures to protect it, but those species are usually glamorous fauna."

Talking about extinction