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Federal Government Releases Draft Guidance on Species at Risk Act

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Environmental Bulletin

Environment and Climate Change Canada is seeking public input on seven new policies designed to clarify and streamline the implementation of the Species at Risk Act, S.C. 2002, c. 29 (“SARA”). These policies are in draft and remain open for comment until November 18, 2016. 


The enactment of SARA in 2003 had the effect of incorporating the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity (negotiated under the guidance of the United Nations and ratified by Canada in December 1992) into Canadian law. The purpose of SARA is to:

    • prevent the extinction or extirpation of wildlife species,
    • provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity, and
    • manage species of special concern to prevent them from becoming endangered or threatened.

It does so by creating a process for the classification of species by level of risk, and applying different regulatory regimes based on that classification.

Proposed Policies 

Earlier this month, Environment and Climate Change Canada published seven draft policies intended to support the predictable, clear, and consistent implementation of SARA. These policies address key aspects of the SARA cycle, outlining the requirements of the Act and clarifying how the Government of Canada or Environment and Climate Change Canada meets its obligations under SARA.

  1. Species at Risk Act Permitting Policy (PDF). This policy outlines the key considerations relevant to a determination of whether to issue a permit authorizing a person to engage in an activity affecting a listed wildlife species, any part of its critical habitat or its residences (sections 73 and 74).
  2. Approach to the Identification of Critical Habitat under the Species at Risk Act when Habitat Loss and Degradation is Not Believed to be a Significant Threat to the Survival or Recovery of the Species (PDF). This policy sets out factors for identifying critical habitat in situations where habitat loss and degradation is not believed to be a significant threat to the survival or recovery of the species.
  3. Listing Policy for Terrestrial Species at Risk (PDF). This policy explains the listing process under SARA and clarifies the guiding principles for weighing considerations with respect to listing recommendations, specifically for terrestrial species and for matters that are not prescribed by SARA.
  4. Policy on Critical Habitat Protection on Non-federal Lands (PDF). This policy outlines the factors which guide the assessment of whether existing laws and measures protect critical habitat that has been identified on non-federal lands, and the actions to be taken following the completion of that assessment.
  5. Policy on Protecting Critical Habitat with Conservation Agreements under Section 11 of the Species at Risk Act (PDF). Section 11 allows the minister to enter into an agreement with any government in Canada, organization or person to benefit a species at risk or enhance its survival in the wild. This policy outlines the criteria for determining whether or not a particular section 11 agreement protects critical habitat. It further states that a section 11 agreement will be considered to protect critical habitat if and only if: 1) the risk of critical habitat destruction occurring is low if the conservation measures it includes are undertaken; and 2) it remains apparent that the measures are being undertaken.
  6. Policy on Survival and Recovery (PDF). This policy is designed to provide for consistent interpretation of the concepts of “survival” and “recovery” as applied by the federal government. Specific guidance is provided for determining the feasibility of recovery and the population and distribution objectives that will assist the recovery and survival of the species within a recovery strategy (sections 40 and 41(1)(d)).
  7. Policy Regarding the Identification of Anthropogenic Structures as Critical Habitat under the Species at Risk Act (PDF). This policy provides guidance for determining whether human-made structures can be identified as critical habitat.

The following principles are said to underpin the policies: effectiveness; transparency; respect the complementary roles of jurisdictions; foster on the ground stewardship; act in collaboration; evidence-based approaches; take a precautionary approach; and embrace adaptability. 

Industry stakeholders and Indigenous groups are encouraged to send comments via email, or in hard copy to:

Assistant Deputy Minister
Canadian Wildlife Service
Environment Canada
351 Saint-Joseph Boulevard
Gatineau, QC
K1A 0H3
Tel: 800-668-6767
Fax: 819-938-4147


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