Species At Risk Act

The Species At Risk Act is a key federal government commitment to prevent wildlife species from becoming extinct and secure the necessary actions for their recovery. It provides for the legal protection of wildlife species and the conservation of their biological diversity.

What is the species at risk act?

The purposes of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) are to prevent Canadian indigenous species, subspecies and distinct populations of wildlife from becoming extirpated or extinct, to provide for the recovery of endangered or threatened species, and to encourage the proactive management of other species to prevent them from becoming at risk. The Minister of Environment and Climate Change is responsible for the overall coordination of SARA, while Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is responsible for the protection and recovery of aquatic species at risk under federal jurisdiction.

SARA formally establishes the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) as the independent body of experts responsible for assessing and identifying species at risk. COSEWIC can classify a species as extinct, extirpated, endangered, threatened, of special concern, or not currently at risk; however, legal protections under SARA do not apply until the species is formally added to the Schedule 1 listing.

An “endangered species” is a species that is facing imminent extirpation or extinction, while a “threatened species” is a wildlife species that is likely to become an endangered species if measures are not taken to reverse the factors leading to its extirpation or extinction. “Extirpated species” means a wildlife species that no longer exists in the wild in Canada, but exists elsewhere in the wild.

Once a species is added to Schedule 1, several provisions take effect. It is prohibited to kill, harm, harass, capture or take an individual of a wildlife species that is listed as an extirpated species, an endangered species or a threatened species. It is also prohibited to damage or destroy their residences or any critical habitat necessary for the continued survival or recovery of a listed species.

If a project or activity is unable to follow these provisions, the Minister may enter into an agreement or issue a permit authorizing a person to engage in an activity affecting a listed wildlife species, any part of its critical habitat, or the residences of its individuals if:

  • The activity is scientific research relating to the conservation of the species and conducted by qualified persons;
  • The activity benefits the species or is required to enhance its chance of survival in the wild; or
  • Affecting the species is incidental to the carrying out of the activity.

Additional information regarding SARA and the species which are protected can be found at: https://www.canada.ca/en/services/environment/wildlife-plants-species/species-risk.html