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Canada Species plans lacking Indigenous input despite legal requirements

The federal government is legally required to involve Indigenous peoples in its efforts to recover threatened species – “to the extent possible,” according to the wording of the 2002 Species at Risk Act.

Yet, a detailed examination of more than 10 years worth of species recovery strategies and management plans shows that Ottawa’s interpretation of the law has produced a dismal track record with no indication of Indigenous participation in more than half of the cases where such participation would be relevant.

The analysis, conducted by researchers at Carleton University, also exposes large regional variations and differences between federal departments that are tasked with developing plans for conserving threatened species – plans that are meant to include consulting with affected Indigenous groups.

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“It’s pretty clear that consultation should be taking place,” said Joseph Bennett, a conservation biologist whose team published its findings earlier this month in the research journal Environmental Science and Policy. “If we’re serious about saving rare species from extinction, we have to partner with Indigenous peoples. Given the connection Indigenous peoples have with the land, there is obviously a mutual interest.”

The results suggest the government is repeatedly missing opportunities to improve the status of listed species by failing to co-ordinate recovery efforts with Indigenous partners, or accessing traditional knowledge that could aid in the understanding of species’ traditional ranges and current status.

For Indigenous peoples, the low rate of participation has additional implications because the loss of a species through inadequate recovery efforts could be regarded as the unlawful removal of a resource of cultural or economic value.

“The extinction of a species actually has the potential for the extinguishment of a right,” said Chief Byron Louis, chair of the National Aboriginal Council on Species at Risk, a recently reactivated body that advises the federal environment minister on Indigenous aspects of the species law.

He added that the level of Indigenous participation documented by the Carleton study is “not what was originally envisioned in the framing of the Species at Risk Act.”

Once a species is listed under the Act, the law compels the federal government to produce a recovery strategy that details what actions are needed to conserve the species. The strategy document is prepared by staff or consultants reporting to the relevant federal departments which could be Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada or Parks Canada depending on the species. In some cases, management plans are prepared for species that are environmentally sensitive but not at risk of extinction.

For their analysis, researchers pored over more than 500 recovery strategies and management plans published between 2006 and 2017 and available online through the Species at Risk Act public registry.

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They first excluded documents that pertained to species that are not present on Indigenous lands. They also excluded cases where authors said they had made an effort to involve Indigenous participation but the participation had been declined.

That left approximately 250 plans where Indigenous participation would be expected under the terms of the law. Those documents were scored on a five-point scale with a score of five reserved for strategies and plans that listed Indigenous individuals or groups as co-authors or editors. Documents that made no mention of Indigenous participation scored zero.

In total, over 52 per cent of the documents received a zero score, a result the researchers described in their report as “troubling” given the Act’s specific instructions to consult with Indigenous people and incorporate traditional knowledge in the species recovery process.

Cassandra Hill, who conducted the work as part of her graduate studies at Carleton, said she made contact with several of those who had prepared the documents in cases where there had been no Indigenous consultation.

“Some people were unaware of any consultation,” Ms. Hill said. “Some just said they weren’t in charge of that part of the project but then they couldn’t offer a name of someone who was in charge of that part.”

In a regional breakdown of the data, no regions or provinces received an average score of greater than two, with Quebec and the prairie provinces scoring less than one.

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In terms of types of species, recovery strategies for mammals and marine species tended to include more Indigenous involvement while reptiles, amphibians and plants all scored much lower. These differences also translated into a lower average score for recovery strategies overseen by the Environment Ministry, relative to those under the jurisdiction of Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

In a statement to The Globe and Mail, Julie Spallin, director-general of the Environment Ministry’s wildlife management directorate, said the ministry “will always strive to improve in its efforts to integrate aboriginal traditional knowledge and the quality of the Indigenous engagement.”

She said the 2017 federal budget included a $25-million allocation over four years toward the Indigenous Guardians Pilot Program, which “provides support for Indigenous peoples exercising their rights and responsibilities to the land, waters, and ice of their traditional territories through on-the-ground, community-based stewardship initiatives.” In addition, the Aboriginal Fund for Species at Risk supports Indigenous organizations and communities seeking to participate in the protection and recovery of threatened wildlife.

Dr. Bennett said any improvements to Indigenous participation in species recovery since 2017 would not be reflected in the Carleton analysis but he questioned whether the issue had yet received sufficient attention to alter the team’s findings.

SPECIES RECOVERY:

A RECORD OF EXCLUSION

A breakdown of recovery strategies and man

agement plans for Canadian species at risk

shows all regions scoring poorly on a

five-point scale measuring average levels of

indigenous involvement in species recovery –

some poorer than others.

Mean score by region

2.0

1.5

1.0

0.5

0.0

Western

Central

Ont.

Que.

Eastern

North/

Arctic

What the scoring means according to

Carelton University study*

Low Score (1): “Very vague statements on

involvement with no specific Indigenous

groups named, and no specific details on what

level or type of involvement they had in the

document.”

Low-medium Score (2): “Specific Indigenous

groups are named, though their exact role in

the document creation may be small or not

explicitly stated.”

*from supplement to Hill et al, Environmental

Science and Policy 94(2019) 220-226

ivan semeniuk and JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLobe

and mail, source: Carleton University

SPECIES RECOVERY: A RECORD OF EXCLUSION

A breakdown of recovery strategies and management

plans for Canadian species at risk shows all regions

scoring poorly on a five-point scale measuring average

levels of indigenous involvement in species recovery –

some poorer than others.

Mean score by region

2.0

1.5

1.0

0.5

0.0

Western

Central

Ont.

Que.

Eastern

Northern/

Arctic

What the scoring means according to

Carelton University study*

Low Score (1): “Very vague statements on involvement

with no specific Indigenous groups named, and no specif-

ic details on what level or type of involvement they had in

the document.”

Low-medium Score (2): “Specific Indigenous groups are

named, though their exact role in the document

creation may be small or not explicitly stated.”

*from supplement to Hill et al, Environmental Science

and Policy 94(2019) 220-226

ivan semeniuk and JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLobe and mail

source: Carleton University

SPECIES RECOVERY: A RECORD OF EXCLUSION

A breakdown of recovery strategies and management plans for Canadian species at risk

shows all regions scoring poorly on a five-point scale measuring average levels of

indigenous involvement in species recovery – some poorer than others.

Mean score by region

2.0

1.5

1.0

0.5

0.0

Western

Central

Ontario

Quebec

Eastern

Northern/

Arctic

What the scoring means according to Carelton University study*

Low Score (1): “Very vague statements on involvement with no specific Indigenous

groups named, and no specific details on what level or type of involvement they had

in the document.”

Low-medium Score (2): “Specific Indigenous groups are named, though their exact

role in the document creation may be small or not explicitly stated.”

*from supplement to Hill et al, Environmental Science and Policy 94(2019) 220-226

ivan semeniuk and JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLobe and mail

source: Carleton University

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