Happy Earth Day from the Harper government.
By Emily Chung, CBC News Posted: Apr 22, 2014 11:03 AM ET Last Updated: Apr 22, 2014 12:06 PM ET
The Canadian government is downgrading the protection of humpback whales off the coast of B.C. under the Species at Risk Act.
The move is being made as the government readies for a decision on the approval of the pipeline, which would feed oil onto a tanker shipping route that overlaps with what environmental groups describe as “critical habitat” for the whale.
Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, with advice from Fisheries Minister Gail Shea, is recommending that the Northern Pacific population of humpback whales be downgraded from “threatened” to “species of special concern.” The recommendation for the change to the Species at Risk Act was published in the Canada Gazette Saturday.
The whale population has increased “significantly” since it was first listed as threatened in 2005, said a statement supporting the recommendation. It added that a 2011 independent assessment showed the whale’s population growth rates have also increased.
The whales receive protection within the 3,400 square kilometres of Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, which has been identified as “a primary feeding habitat” for the whale in the waters off the west coast of Canada, the statement added.
It said the downgrade “could result in small benefits to industry in the form of cost savings,” since there would no longer be a requirement to protect the whale’s critical habitat and other “general prohibitions” under the act would no longer apply.
The government is accepting responses to the recommendation for 30 days following publication. After that, the change would go into effect immediately once approved by the governor in council.
Karen Wristen, executive director of the Living Oceans Society, said the decision “has absolutely no basis in science and is simply a political move to clear the way to approve the pipeline.”
Downgrading means that the government would no longer have to designate critical habitat for the whale’s recovery, Wristen said.
Currently, that designated critical habitat includes areas near Kitimat, B.C. – the proposed western end of the Northern Gateway pipeline – where the whales feed and rear their young in the spring and summer.