Alberta cabinet to decide if extinction of species is cost-effective

By Cameron Baughen

ast Tuesday, the federal government unveiled a proposed new law for the protection of endangered species. Although this bill will strengthen the punishments to people who harm endangered species, it has some fundamental flaws.

The first problem is that it calls for voluntary action and does not automatically enforce decisions. This problem has inadequately been addressed in terms of government payouts to farmers or a developer for losses incurred from protecting an endangered species. The risk is that it stands to put species in the good graces of the landowners and depends on a finite supply of buyout cash.

The second major problem is that the final decision of what constitutes an endangered species has been moved from a panel of scientists to the discretion–couched in terms of economic and social benefit analysis–of the federal cabinet.

Definitely the move towards a national, over a provincial, approach to endangered species is appropriate. Animals do not recognize boundaries and parity between provinces would allow for better holistic protection of species. In Alberta, the cabinet still has authority over what developments are deemed environmentally reasonable, even after an extensive (though rarely negative) review process.

Although the government has rarely gone against the rulings of environmental review, considering the direction of the Conservative government, this is still a very real concern. This is not to say any federal government would not be above tampering with scientific recommendations to suit political goals, but at least they could look at a situation with seemingly greater impartiality than a local politician concerned primarily with development.

This said, it is wrong for the federal government to consider economic and social concerns when dealing with endangered species. A recent speaker at the University of Calgary, Marilyn Waring, has spoken on the folly of quantifying the price of the extinction of a species. Arbitrarily pegging the value for a species (say $2 million give or take) is an incorrect exercise and undermines the true goal of why it is important to preserve a species.

Species diversity is priceless and essential and should not be traded for political favours or short-term (in the history of a species which has been here for hundreds and thousands of years) economic gain. By the time a species has reached the protected level, it is far too late to view threats to its existence in terms of an economic or social compromise.

Of course intelligent decisions should be made, but these should fall under a body which can assess the evidence in the most educated and non-biased manner and as anyone can see elected government officials do not fit this requirement. By moving power from experts to cabinet ministers, there is an introduced implicit political element to a procedure that is too important to afford this.

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