Humpback whale

Two months after a win for B.C.’s Pacific humpback whales in the Federal Court, they could lose the key to their continued recovery – the legal protection of their habitat.  The Harper government wants to give them a lesser at-risk designation than their current “threatened” status, and call Greenpeace skeptical, but the move would be easier to embrace if it weren’t for suspect timing of the announcement amid signs that it is yet another attempt to push a tar sands agenda at all costs.

 Take action! Tell Ottawa that you want the Pacific humpbacks to keep their designation to ensure their continued recovery and ensure their critical habitat is legally protected!  

The Minister of Environment, under advisement from the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, recommended that the Pacific humpback be downgraded to “special concern.” Under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), the habitat of a species designated as a “species of special concern” is not required to be legally protected and, as such, prohibitions under the Act do not apply as they do for species that are designated as “threatened” or “endangered.” Protecting a species’ critical habitat is, of course, key to its recovery and ability to thrive. And while ocean life is pretty darn resilient and seems to be able to rebound, albeit without the attention it deserves from our government, even the majestic and mighty humpback whale can’t win in a head-to-head with a giant tanker, and definitely not hundreds going right through its habitat.

The same Ministers that believe that the humpbacks’ habitat is no longer in need of legal protection, were recently called out by the Federal Court for acting unlawfully by delaying the release of the recovery strategy for the Pacific humpback and other species whose habitat overlaps with the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline and tanker route.  A recovery strategy is a planning document that the federal government is obligated to prepare for any threatened, endangered or extirpated species, that essentially lays out what needs to be done in order to bring a species back from the brink, and informs the more detailed action plan that proceeds it.

Greenpeace, along with other environmental groups and lead by Ecojustice, filed this successful lawsuit against the federal government and saw the ruling as a stepping stone towards ensuring species at risk, like the Pacific humpback, would be afforded protection at a pace at least faster than they declined in the first place. Unfortunately, the very month that the federal government was supposed to finalize legal protection of the Pacific humpbacks’ critical habitat, they decide instead that it should be removed.

It’s hard to believe that the timing is a coincidence or that this has absolutely nothing to do with removing a very blatant legal hurdle that the Northern Gateway pipeline project would have to overcome.  I’m sure the likely June decision on the Enbridge project is completely unrelated. Downgrading a species that is recovering and will not be faced with new and serious threats? Sure, if the population is actually healthy. But downgrading a species whose habitat could potentially be threatened with possible ship strikes, noise pollution and oil spills, is incredibly suspect at best.

Whether it is the weakening of environmental laws in the 2012 omnibus budget bill or this week's move on whales, Harper has shifted the role of government from acting as a referee in environmental disputes to being a cheerleader for the oil industry. And that means the rest of us have to step up and speak out.

There is a 30 day public comment period happening now! Take action! Tell Ottawa that you want the Pacific humpbacks to keep their designation to ensure their continued recovery and ensure their critical habitat is legally protected!  

Is this the new Harper government reality? Un-protecting whales to protect the tar sands? In a whale-loving country like Canada, that may just be the last straw.