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Politics of the Wild: Canada and Endangered Species. (Book Reviews).

Karen Beazley and Robert Boardman, editors, 2001. Oxford University Press, Toronto. 254 pp. ISBN 0-1 9-54 1506X (ppr) $26.95

Several years ago, at a meeting in Washington DC of Berg Fellows of the Soil and Water Conservation Society, a colleague from Iowa commented that "Canada seems so far ahead of the U.S. in protecting its environment, especially endangered species." I replied, "the grass might seem greener north of the 49th parallel, but we have along way to go, and in many respects it's the U.S. that's ahead." The recent book Politics of the Wild, Canada and Endangered Species edited by Karen Beazley and Robert Boardman puts the image of a pristine and conservation minded Canada very much in perspective. A collection of 10 essays examine the institutional (legal and political), philosophical, and ecological issues in Canadian endangered species policy. Canada's policy setting is reviewed and critiqued from historical, contemporary, and comparative perspectives. The chapters detail the complexity and politics inherent in Canadian efforts to protect species, and provide an image of the immediacy needed in conserving the nation's species at risk.

The book's extensive overview of the institutional and ecological conditions facing species at risk in Canada makes a useful contribution to the study of environmental policy. The essays offer case study examples, current data and critique of historical and contemporary policies -- including the influence of international agreements and current legislation. The authors consider a range of pragmatic, innate, and ecological reasons for protecting biological integrity. The essays afford a basic analysis of the need for habitat protection that enhances and moves beyond existing measures -- such as national parks and the various legal and regulatory that have so far marked Canada's attempts to conserve biodiversity.

The first 5 essays provide a mix of ecological and geographic overviews of species at risk, habitat and ecosystems, and land and marine protected areas. Each offers a balance of description and analysis. The writing is accessible and appropriate for teaching and those interested in the policy setting from practice or advocacy perspectives. The next 5 chapters address institutional dynamics. Two of these provide an overview of Canada's participation and commitment to a range of multi-lateral conventions, and a comparative review of legislation and capacity in other western nations. Canada's role in establishing international agreements is discussed, as is its failure to meet the obligations that they require. One might reasonably wonder what the state of Canadian conservation would be without the impetus of international obligations. The last essay critiques the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) and its predecessor Bill C-65. This is a fitting end to the book, and in many respects ties together the ecological , institutional and normative themes explored in the essays before. The challenges of designing, passing, and ultimately implementing such legislation in the fragmented policy setting that Canada has become are well covered. The dynamics of implementation should receive more attention, but this fault is minor and not uncommon in this literature. As the last chapter notes, efforts to pass SARA and C-65 have pleased no-one: business sees the Acts as overly intrusive; the provinces see such efforts as a federal intrusion into areas of provincial domain; and environmental organizations criticize each for not going far enough. What emerges from this book is an excellent illustration of the malaise that characterizes federal environmental and endangered species policies -- Canadian environmental policy is so often the product of compromising processes that ultimately yield legislative mediocrity. Canadian efforts with respect to protecting species at risk have been neither consistent nor forceful.

There is a strong normative thread throughout this collection. Considerable attention is devoted to discussions not only of important issues identified by the authors, but also thoughts for future policy. The image that emerges portrays the Canadian policy setting in a less than becoming or hopeful way. The essays are timely. As the editors note in their introduction, there are 352 species at risk in Canada, and a century after the first international agreement to protect wildlife was established, Canada has not managed to pass a national law to protect species at risk. This is a work very much relevant to the present setting and in this respect this a book best consumed now, while the information and critique are most pertinent -- although I hasten to add, the historical and political/ecological elements of the work will be enduring in their relevance.
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Author:Hanna, Kevin S.
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 2001
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