September 10, 2001 (Ottawa) - In one of the largest scientific sign-on letters in recent history, 1,331 Canadian and U.S. scientists are demanding that Prime Minister Jean Chrétien strengthen proposed legislation intended to protect threatened and endangered species in Canada.

Signatories include internationally acclaimed environmentalist Dr. David Suzuki and anthropologist Dr. Jane Goodall; Dr. David Schindler, winner of numerous distinguished national and international research awards and a fellow of the Royal Society of London; Dr. Stephen Carpenter, President of the Ecological Society of America; Reed Noss, President, Society for Conservation Biology and Dr. Michael Soulé, co-founder of the Society for Conservation Biology and the Wildlands Project. The letter is also signed by 113 Fellows of the Royal Society of Canada, the most respected scientific body in the country.

Two previous letters from the Canadian scientific community urged the Prime Minister to strengthen earlier attempts at endangered species legislation. The new bill (C-5) is even more watered-down and now Canadian and U.S. scientists have banded together to strengthen it.

The scientists are concerned that Bill C-5, the Species at Risk Act (SARA) will not provide the safeguards needed to protect the current 380 species at risk in Canada because of serious deficiencies in the areas of habitat protection and species

Scientists worldwide recognize that the key to saving species is preserving and restoring their habitats - the places where they feed, breed and raise their young. Under the proposed legislation, the den or nest of a threatened or endangered species would be protected, but the actual habitat it needs to survive would not. "Anyone with Ecology 101 knows that without habitat, it's impossible for species to survive. A homeless species is a doomed species," says ecologist Dr. David Schindler of the University of Alberta.
Over 70 per cent of Canada's species at risk migrate or range into the U.S. Both the U.S. and Mexican endangered species laws make habitat protection mandatory, and the absence of similar protection in Canada could seriously undermine these North American efforts. Cross-border habitat protection of shared species is critical to their survival. "These shared species lose their legal protection when they migrate into Canada making Canada the weak link in the species chain among NAFTA countries," says Dr. Stephen Carpenter, President of the Ecological Society of America.

The scientists are also concerned that politicians, not scientists, will decide which species are officially listed 'at risk' and thereby protected under the legislation. Bill C-5 (SARA) gives Cabinet ministers the final say on listing. "Determining when a species is at risk is a scientific exercise, not a political one," says zoologist Dr. Geoff Scudder of the University of British Columbia. "To be credible, the law must have an independent, science-based process for assessing and listing species at risk. The appropriate place to factor in political considerations is not when deciding whether to protect species, but rather when deciding how to protect species."

Currently, Canada's national list of species at risk is prepared by the scientific Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). Under the Bill, although COSEWIC will still prepare a national list of species at risk, the scientists' role is advisory only. The ultimate decision as to which species will get legal protection under the Act is a political decision, made by federal Cabinet, behind closed doors.

The list of signatories demanding action includes 904 scientists from across Canada, 378 from the United States, and 8 from Mexico, among others.

The Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development will consider amendments to the bill next month before resubmitting it to Parliament for debate and final approval of the bill.

Canada has yet to fulfil its long-overdue 1992 international commitment to pass legislation protecting endangered species and their habitat.

Full text of the letter, complete list of signatories, FAQ's, backgrounder and photos for media distribution are available at:

For further information:

Alison Turner, Media Officer, cell phone (514) 803-3363 or (613) 235-1413

Dr. David Schindler, FRSC, FRS Killam Memorial Professor of Ecology,
Dept. of Biological Science, University of Alberta,
phone (613) 238-1122, after Monday (780) 492-1291

Dr. Geoff Scudder, FRSC, Professor Emeritus, Dept. of Zoology,
University of British Columbia, \phone (613) 235-3333, after Monday (604) 822-3682

Dr. Marco Festa-Bianchet, Département de Biologie, Université de Sherbrooke,
phone (819) 821-8000 ext. 2061 (for interviews in French)

Dr. James N. Smith, Professor, Dept. of Zoology, University of British Columbia,
Phone (604) 822-3363

U.S. Scientists:

Dr. Peter Kareiva, Senior Ecologist, Northwestern Region, National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Department of Commerce, Seattle, WA,
phone (206) 860-3200

Dr. Stephen Carpenter, President, Ecological Society of America, University of Wisconsin,
phone (608) 262-8690

Australian Scientists:

Dr. Hugh Possingham, Director of The Ecology Centre, Departments of Zoology and Mathematics, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, QLD 4072, Australia,
phone 61 7 3365 9766,
Dr. Dan Faith, Principal
Research Scientist, Biodiversity and Systematics, Australian Museum, Sydney,
Dr. Craig Moritz, chair at UC Berkeley, formerly professor at the University of Queensland, phone (510) 642-3281 Email: cmoritz@socrates.Berkeley.EDU

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