Nova Scotia naturalists take province to court in attempt to enforce Endangered Species Act

The Endangered Species Act is meant to "provide for the protection, designation, recovery and other relevant aspects of conservation of species at risk.”. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Jim Cole

A collection of Nova Scotia naturalists is taking the province to court in an attempt to have the legal system “intervene on behalf of Nova Scotia’s most at-risk wildlife and presents.”

Court documents filed in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax on Thursday allege that the province’s Department of Lands and Forestry, formerly called the Department of Natural Resources, has failed to meet the requirements of the Nova Scotia Endangered Species Act.

“The goal is for the province to live up to its own laws,” said Bob Bancroft, president of Federation of Nova Scotia Naturalists and one of the litigants in the case, in a phone call on Monday.

“It’s not trying to change policies; it’s trying to get them to actually enact the words that they have in their own legal system and are ignoring.”

Bancroft and the Federation of Nova Scotia Naturalists (also known as Nature Nova Scotia) have been joined by the Blomidon Naturalists Society, helmed by retired Acadia University biology professor Soren Bondrup-Neilsen, and the Halifax Field Naturalists in their legal challenge.

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The Endangered Species Act is meant to “provide for the protection, designation, recovery and other relevant aspects of conservation of species at risk.”

The groups allege that Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin has failed to meet those requirements for 34 endangered, threatened, and vulnerable species including the mainland moose, wood turtle, and bank swallow.

Bancroft, who was a forest biologist with the Department of Natural resources for 18 years, says that the province did not adequately respond to two reports that called for the government to better enforce the Endangered Species Act.

The first was a 2015 paper from the East Coast Environmental Law Association that found the government had not fulfilled its legal obligation under the Act.

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The second was a 2016 report from the province’s Auditor General Michael Pickup that examined conservation management and recovery.

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Pickup wrote that at-risk species needed to be a greater priority for the then-Department of Natural Resources, as they were not fully managing “conservation and recovery of species at risk.”

Bancroft says he and the organizations in the action aren’t undergoing the process lightly.

“Normally, naturalists are a quiet bunch that like to admire nature. In this particular case, they’ve seen too much,” he said.

Jamie Simpson, a lawyer who is best known for his work in the attempted private prosecution the Harrietsfield pollution case, is the lawyer for the applicants.

“The Act requires the Minister of Lands and Forestry to do certain things towards the recovery of species at risk in Nova Scotia,” said Simpson in a press release.

“We are asking the Court to uphold the rule of law and require the Department to abide by the Act.”

The groups have started a GoFundMe page that they say will help cover the legal fees. In a day they raised $3,000 of their $10,000 goal.

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Nova Scotia responds

Nova Scotia had yet to file a response as of Monday but the government did confirm that it had received the notice of judicial review.

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The Department of Lands and Forestry said it will review the specifics of the case.

“We will not, however, be providing any further comment as this is now a matter that is before the Courts,” wrote Krista Higdon, a spokesperson for the department, in an email on Monday evening.

Both parties are scheduled to appear in court on Feb. 25, 2019.

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