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Fighting for survival

发布时间:2019-03-08 09:01:02来源:未知点击:

By Bob Holmes POLITICS, not science, may end up with the biggest say in designating endangered species in Canada, conservationists fear. A controversial proposal being considered by the federal government would change the makeup of COSEWIC, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, reducing the role played by its scientists. For two decades the committee has been responsible for drawing up Canada’s lists of endangered species. At present the committee consists of 17 political appointees nominated by the federal and provincial governments, plus representatives of three environmental groups and six scientists selected for their specialist knowledge about particular groups of plants and animals. Under the new proposal, three scientists appointed by the federal and provincial governments would replace the three environmentalists, and the six independent scientific experts would lose their voting rights. The changes would give political appointees more votes than the two-thirds majority needed to add or remove a species from the endangered list. The proposal, made by federal and provincial environment ministers, has taken everyone by surprise, because no such change was mentioned during a nationwide consultation last summer. Even government biologists have not been told the reason for the sudden change. “Everyone is very surprised and upset,” says Theresa Fowler of the Canadian Wildlife Service in Hull, Quebec, who serves as COSEWIC’s invertebrate specialist. Environmentalists see a sinister purpose behind the ministers’ timing: Canada’s parliament is expected this spring to debate new legislation that will give species on the endangered list nationwide legal protection for the first time. “It’s not a coincidence that COSEWIC has been operating for 21 years, yet only with the coming of legislation have changes been made,” says Lindsay Rodger, an ecologist with World Wildlife Fund Canada in Toronto. The committee’s chairman, David Green, a zoologist at McGill University in Montreal, fears that the proposal will threaten COSEWIC’s reputation as a fair forum for all sides of the conservation debate. “If you remove the independent voices, you open the gates for people to say COSEWIC is biased,” he says. But the official line from the Canadian Wildlife Service, the government’s main conservation agency, is that the reorganisation should make no difference to the committee’s work. COSEWIC’s political appointees have always been well qualified scientifically and there is no reason to suppose that will change, says David Brackett, the service’s director-general. That doesn’t reassure the proposal’s critics. “A lot of those people have been really good, and if they would be reappointed we wouldn’t have a problem. But I very much suspect that won’t be the case,” says one senior wildlife biologist. The effects of similar politicisation are already making themselves felt in some provinces, claims Stewart Elgie of the Sierra Legal Defence Fund in Toronto. In Quebec, for example, the provincial cabinet has the final say over which species appear on the province’s list of species at risk. Not a single animal has been added in the past decade—not even high-profile species on COSEWIC’s list,