The Species at Risk Act

I’ve always had this lingering fear that the Species at Risk Act, now law, would have some impact on me, since I keep species that are legal to keep in my current province but protected elsewhere — viz., my Butler’s Garter Snakes (which I kept under licence when I was living in Ontario) and my Great Basin Gopher Snakes (which I acquired before they were listed by COSEWIC). At the same time, I’ve been kind of avoiding having a look and seeing for sure. Which is strange, seeing as how I used to read and edit laws and regulations for a living: if any non-lawyer in the reptile community could figure this out, it’d be me, wouldn’t it?

Since I’m trying to sell a juvenile gopher snake at the moment (more on which anon), I needed to know whether or not keeping and selling a species that was protected in another province was kosher. So tonight, finally, I had a look at the relevant page on the Department of Justice’s laws site. And nearly fell out of my chair until I figured out what the Act was saying.

First it said, in subsection 32(2), that possession or sale of an extirpated, endangered or threatened species was prohibited. Uh-oh! But then it took it all back, more or less, in section 34, which states that that prohibition only applies on federal lands unless an Order-in-Council is issued that makes it apply everywhere in a given province. Essentially the Act applies on federal Crown lands only (and to migratory birds and other wildlife under federal jurisdiction, but that’s not relevant here); it can be extended if the federal government thinks that provincial wildlife protections aren’t up to snuff — it’s a fail-safe, in other words. Provincial endangered species and conservation laws are the first line of defence.

It’s highly unlikely that the federal government will issue an order affecting wildlife native to B.C. and Ontario that applies to Quebec residents.

Not only that, but the gopher snake isn’t even listed in the schedules (which lag somewhat behind COSEWIC’s own listings), and section 32 doesn’t even come into force until June 1.

So as usual, I needn’t worry. Nor, it appears, should anyone who keeps in captivity species that are protected in their native province, but legal where they are.