After having its legal feathers ruffled in court, the federal government says it is moving to protect the endangered sage grouse.
Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq said Tuesday the government intends to introduce an emergency protection order for the bird, which is native to the southern Prairies.
She said the order would impose obligatory restrictions to protect the sage grouse and its habitat on provincial and federal crown lands in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
The restrictions would not apply to activities on private land, or on grazing on provincial or federal crown lands.
"Through a combination of stewardship measures we are addressing the imminent threats to the greater sage grouse," Ms. Aglukkaq said in a release. "We will be working with provinces and stakeholders over the coming months to implement these measures."
The sage grouse population in Canada has declined nearly 98 per cent since 1988, with fewer than 150 birds remaining in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Last year, environmental groups went to court to force Ottawa to issue an emergency protection order for the bird after the government said discussions about the sage grouse were covered by cabinet confidentiality.
Last month, the Federal Court of Appeal ruled the federal government cannot use cabinet secrecy to hide debate about the endangered bird.
Conservation groups said Tuesday they were cautiously optimistic about the government's decision, but want more details about the plan.
"We have yet to see when — or even if — the emergency order will be implemented, and whether it will provide real, meaningful protection for these prairie birds and their critical habitat," said Melissa Gorrie, lawyer for the group Ecojustice.
Nature Canada and other organizations expressed similar views, praising the decision but calling on the federal government for more information.
"Some of the key specifics of the order are still unknown at this time, so we're going to have to wait and see all the details before we know what it will mean for this iconic at-risk species," said Ian Davidson, executive director of Nature Canada. "Even so, we are treating this as a very positive development."
Environment Canada said an emergency order under the federal Species At Risk Act can be used when a species faces imminent threats to its survival.