Environment Committee on April 24th, 2012
Evidence of meeting #30 for Environment and Sustainable Development in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was conservation.
A recording is available from Parliament.
On the agenda
- Rick Bates Executive Director, Canadian Wildlife Federation
- Ian Davidson Executive Director, Nature Canada
- John Lounds President and Chief Executive Officer, Nature Conservancy Canada
- Michael Bradstreet Vice-President, Conservation, Nature Conservancy Canada
- David Browne Director of Conservation, Canadian Wildlife Federation
The Chair Mark Warawa
We'll call the meeting to order. I'd like to welcome everyone to this 30th meeting of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development as we continue our study on the national conservation plan and what that would look like.
I want to thank each of the witnesses for being with us today. We'll hear from each of our witness groups and then we'll have some questions for you. We've started a little bit late and we're going to be ending a half hour earlier than we had thought. We have three groups and each group will be given ten minutes.
So in the first half hour we'll be hearing from you, and then we'll have questions for you. We will begin with the Canadian Wildlife Federation for ten minutes.
Rick Bates Executive Director, Canadian Wildlife Federation
Good afternoon. My name is Rick Bates and I'm with the Canadian Wildlife Federation. David Browne, our director of conservation, is also here.
I'd like to thank the committee for the opportunity to offer comments. First I'd like to commend the government for taking the opportunity to create a national conservation plan for Canada. The plan has great potential to leave, for all Canadians, a lasting legacy of an integrated landscape with healthy and productive natural capital that supports a strong economy and healthy communities. I wish you well in your work.
I'll touch on three things during my comments: the first is the committee's question regarding conservation priorities; the second is the proposed goal of connecting Canadians to nature; and the third is the committee's question regarding implementation priorities.
In regard to the first question around conservation priorities, we face many challenges as a society, including the need for broad watershed and seascape planning, the demands of responding to species at risk and habitat fragmentation, and the needs for connection between terrestrial habitats. But with limited time today, perhaps the most important one for us is that in a national conservation plan the many issues facing our aquatic environments, both freshwater and marine, need to be thoroughly recognized and comprehensively responded to throughout the plan. For a good review of the issues facing our three oceans and recommendations on ways to respond, I'd encourage the committee to review the recent report from the Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel, “Sustaining Canada's Marine Biodiversity”, which was published in February 2012.
In terrestrial habitat conservation, we appreciate that perhaps the greatest need is in developed areas, the so-called working landscape, which will require creativity, the use of a wide range of tools, and the engagement of the whole society to achieve the goals in this area. In particular, we encourage the creativity and development and application of market-based mechanisms such as tax relief for Canadians who take actions that provide public good—for example, farmers who leave buffer strips that filter runoff from important waterways—offset programs to encourage conservation of important natural areas to compensate for destruction or degradation of other areas, and incentive programs to encourage quicker adoption of best land-use practices.
In the proposed goal of connecting Canadians to nature, one important challenge within such a goal is to elevate the level of conversation among Canadians around the trade-offs between industrial growth and conservation. Our public conversation is highly polarized now, of course, into either “anti” or “pro” positions. This doesn't recognize the reality that there are trade-offs required when you do conservation or when you expand industry. This polarized situation heightens conflict and makes decision-making longer and more difficult. There are tools to help shape these conversations from an either/or to examining how it can be done, and they present Canadians with options for level and type of industrial impact and the implications of these options for our country's natural capital and for our GDP.
In our view, one of the best tools for such integrated decision-making and communications is through land-use planning models that can quickly and clearly illustrate the expected changes on a landscape and through the wide range of indicators important to society, such as employment, GDP, and the impacts on natural capital such as water quality, air quality, and wildlife abundance and type.
Large area planning processes like that also provide many other benefits, including clear consideration of cumulative effects of multiple developments, so decisions incorporate impacts of both the specific proposed project and other existing or planned projects in the watershed, for example. They can also speed up and improve decisions by providing regional perspective and by establishing agreement on acceptable impacts in different areas. Once complete, they can also help coordinate the actions of Canadians.
The goal of connecting Canadians to nature must also respond to challenges such as the need for strengthening concepts of sustainability, education curricula, improved opportunities for outdoor recreation and learning, and access to natural outdoor spaces in urban areas.
On the committee's question regarding implementation priorities, Canada is far behind its public commitment to establish conservation areas. This is true in terrestrial areas, but it's particularly true in marine areas.
We appreciate that it's a complex business to identify and respond to the needs of the many different interest groups involved, but it's no more complex than approving a major industrial development like the pipeline. We understand the government's role to render decisions on industrial projects within two years, and we think a national conservation plan should include an equal commitment to speed up the timelines around the creation of conservation areas so that they too are made within two years.
A national conservation plan has the potential to focus and coordinate actions across society. An important step in this would be a strong commitment from across the federal government. To achieve that, our hope is that ownership of the plan, its champion within government, will be at the highest level—the Prime Minister's Office, the Privy Council, the Major Projects Management Office, or other similar integrating body with clout.
In closing, we at the Canadian Wildlife Federation look forward to continued opportunities to help build and shape the plan, as well as joining with others in a commitment to implement it over time.
The Chair Mark Warawa
Thank you, Mr. Bates.
Next we'll hear from Nature Canada.
Mr. Davidson, you have 10 minutes.
Ian Davidson Executive Director, Nature Canada
Thank you very much. It's a privilege and an honour to be invited to speak today about establishing a national conservation plan for Canada.
Since our founding in 1939, Nature Canada has been instilling in Canadians a respect for nature, an appreciation for its wonders, and a will to act in its defence. It began when our founder, Reginald Whittemore, launched a magazine, Canadian Nature, in honour of his late wife, Mabel Frances, an educator and nature lover. Over time, the magazine sparked a movement of naturalists in every province and territory of this country, people who worked together to create and sustain a nature nation, a place where every Canadian felt a personal connection to the natural world.
Today, as the national voice for naturalists in this country, Nature Canada continues the work in building a nature nation, and it's in this spirit that I’m happy to join you here today.
The first question you asked us to consider was what should be the purpose of a national conservation plan.
We often hear Canada described in superlatives: the longest river, the largest lakes, the most contiguous forests and wetlands, massive wildlife migrations, and unfathomable mineral and energy riches. Consider this: 20% of the planet’s wilderness, 20% of the world’s fresh water, and 30% of its boreal forest lies within our borders.
Many Canadians make their living, directly or indirectly, from its bounty, and many more continue to enjoy the outdoors recreationally. Yet, increasingly, Canadians appear to be losing touch with nature in Canada, even as nature is experiencing worsening pressures: our wildlife is disappearing, our forest and grassland habitats are increasingly fragmented, rapid climate change is threatening the north, and our real-time connection with nature and the outdoors has declined. So while it is often stated that Canada is seen as a nature nation, and that this is part of our national identity, this is something that should never be taken for granted. We believe, then, that the purpose of the national conservation plan should be to build and strengthen a “nature first” ethic by inspiring and motivating Canadians to value and conserve nature.
The second question you asked us to consider was what should be the goals of a national conservation plan.
The goals for the national conservation plan should focus on finding ways of collaboratively harnessing the efforts of all sectors in society:
1) Seek innovative and inspirational ways of raising awareness of the value of nature to all Canadians, especially our young people. We need a conservation youth corps, and we need more programs like My Parks Pass, which facilitates 400,000 eighth graders to engage in our treasured national parks.
2) Encourage corporate social and environmental responsibility to achieve excellence in nature conservation. Recognize corporations like General Motors, which has as a goal to conserve wildlife habitat around each of the business units worldwide by 2020, and TransCanada Corporation, which has allocated millions of dollars to help secure critical wildlife habitat and engage naturalists in their conservation. There are many others.
3) Identify new and innovative mechanisms to fund nature conservation in Canada. Consider perhaps the establishment of a nature challenge fund to support local community stewardship of natural places.
4) Develop a reporting mechanism that accurately reflects the state of nature in Canada based on existing data management systems like NatureServe and make this information publicly accessible.
5) Act globally. Air, water, wildlife, perhaps no better represented than in our migratory birds, move freely in and out of our country. Our commitments and obligations under international conventions to which we are a party, including the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Migratory Birds Convention Act, must be reflected in the substance of the national conservation plan.
The third question you asked us to consider was what guiding principles should govern a national conservation plan.
We considered three: inclusivity, partnership, and momentum.
What do I mean by inclusivity? We all have a stake in a healthy, balanced environment. We all benefit from the many ecosystem services that nature provides. The development of a national conservation plan should and must involve all regions of the country and all stakeholders.
In terms of partnerships, the pressures facing the environment are really too complex, and the scope of nature conservation too vast, to address without marshalling the collective efforts of committed Canadians, NGOs, industry, academia, government, and others. Work must be coordinated, efforts synchronized, and lessons shared among partners striving towards a common goal.
In terms of momentum, this is absolutely critical. We must build on the work already under way to conserve nature in Canada. There are legions of volunteers already on the front lines of nature conservation. Volunteer caretakers are adopting important sites for biodiversity and are working with local communities to do that. There are many Canadians who already dedicate time to protecting or stewarding their environment. Some have dedicated their whole lives to this cause. Let’s build on what they’re accomplishing today.
The fourth question you asked us to consider was what conservation priorities should be included in the NCP. At Nature Canada we stumbled on this one, because there were literally dozens of priorities. We boiled them down to a set of about six.
First, among children especially, increase awareness of nature, including our wildlife, our protected areas, and the services nature provides to our well-being. That is about building the nature nation.
Second, make sure that there are no extinctions on our watch and that the great flyways and migratory routes are secured. Ensure that the causes of species endangerment and decline are identified and mitigated so that no more species become at risk.
Third, aim for 20% protection of Canada's land and seascapes, exceeding the Aichi targets established by the Convention on Biological Diversity. This includes a push to complete the national parks strategy. Not only that, provide greater recognition for Canada's official national wildlife areas and migratory bird sanctuaries, which support much of Canada's biodiversity and yet are virtually unknown by Canadians.
Fourth, maintain and improve upon existing environmental legislation and make it an effective tool for nature conservation.
A fifth and obvious one is to ensure the quality of Canada's great lakes, river systems, and aquifers, which we seldom hear about.
Finally, in terms of priorities, let's leave a legacy of environmental leadership. Let's make Canada a global leader in nature conservation by meeting and exceeding our obligations under international nature conventions, such as the CBD, the Convention on Biological Diversity. And provide leadership and support to countries that share our conservation goals but perhaps not our capacity to implement.
On the fifth question, what the implementation priorities of the national conservation plan should be, first, let's find a cost-effective way to engage all Canadians, in part by leveraging existing networks.
Second, enhance cross-jurisdictional communication, participation, and cooperation, including cooperation between different departments at each level of government. All jurisdictions have a role in realizing Canada's national conservation objectives, and all jurisdictions should be at the table for these conversations.
Let's make sure to include and engage first nations and aboriginal government organizations in all our discussions at the beginning, at the outset.
Finally, meaningful, balanced working groups of stakeholders from all sectors of Canadian society should be brought together to oversee conservation plans within ecologically relevant regions, such as ecoregions and/or ecozones.
Finally, you asked us what consultation process the minister should consider using when developing the national conservation plan. We kind of internalized that one. Instead of thinking about the consultation process, we thought more about what Nature Canada could potentially provide to that process. I would just like to fill you in on an initiative that was supported by the federal government and that we think could provide a platform for further dialogue.
In 2007, the federal government provided about $1 million to help facilitate one of the most extensive consultations ever undertaken among the naturalist community in Canada. This resulted in a Canadian Nature Network strategy, which you have copies of. In essence, the Canadian Nature Network strategy aspires to be an inclusive alliance of all who care for, have passion for, and celebrate nature.
The network aims have three specific foci. The first is to protect nature in Canada at all levels, including species, habitats, and ecosystems. The second is to connect all Canadians to nature and to promote a nature ethic. The third is to empower all levels of the network by enhancing communication, reducing duplication, and increasing local capacity.
Led by Nature Canada, the network has accomplished much in terms of contributing to science, on-the-ground conservation, positive impacts on policy development at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels, and nature education. As such, the network, with its hundreds of organizations and over 60,000 dedicated members, provides a unique platform to facilitate and implement a dialogue on a nature conservation plan.
In conclusion, we are very excited by the opportunity, we recognize the challenge, and we look forward to inspiring Canadians to engage in a national conservation plan to build that nature nation.
The Chair Mark Warawa
Thank you, Mr. Davidson.
Next we'll hear from Nature Conservancy Canada, Mr. Lounds, for 10 minutes.
John Lounds President and Chief Executive Officer, Nature Conservancy Canada
Good afternoon. Bonjour.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to present to the committee today as you consider the development of a national conservation plan.
I'm John Lounds, president and CEO of Nature Conservancy Canada. Joining me are my colleagues, Michael Bradstreet, our vice-president of conservation,
and Nathalie Zinger, our vice-president for Quebec.
The Nature Conservancy of Canada is a national, not-for-profit charity, and for 50 years we've worked with Canadians to conserve and care for some of Canada's most special natural areas.
As we look ahead to the next 50 years, we applaud your efforts to develop a national conservation plan, a plan to move conservation objectives forward and to better connect all Canadians with nature.
Today we'd like to offer the committee suggestions for its consideration in three key areas. First, we'd suggest that the plan can and should position Canada as leading the world in conservation, owning the podium, so to speak, among all nations in its lands and waters conserved. Second, we would encourage the development of a shared plan that acknowledges and builds on the accomplishments of all Canadians. Third, we would recommend a plan that will mobilize the private sector in support of conservation and lead to conservation solutions that also support responsible economic progress.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said it well when he announced the Government of Canada’s natural areas conservation program partnership with the Nature Conservancy of Canada in 2007. He said, “The great outdoors is at the heart of the Canadian identity.” We couldn’t agree more.
Canada is the world’s second-largest country by area. We have more than 20% of the globe’s wilderness, 20% of its fresh water, 24% of its wetlands, and even more of its intact forests, Arctic, and maritime lands. These habitats support a rich variety of plant and animal life and provide critical ecological services, such as carbon sequestration and water storage and purification.
The ecological services provided by Canadian forests, wetlands, and prairies are globally important. Canada’s boreal peat lands, for example, measurably cool the global climate.
Ecologists generally agree that as much as 30% to 50% of landscapes should be in some conserved status globally to ensure biodiversity conservation and the delivery of ecological services. The planet is a long way from that goal.
Under the Convention on Biological Diversity, Canada and other signatory nations have committed to national goals of 17% in protected areas or, and I emphasize this, other effective area-based conservation measures by 2020. We believe Canada can and should meet this target by 2017, our nation’s 150th birthday, and exceed it by 2020.
Going beyond this current commitment would position Canada first internationally, in the extent of lands conserved, an area more than the combined geographies of France, Spain, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
Canada can and should own the podium in conservation, and we can do this arguably better than any other country because we are blessed to have our natural estate still largely intact on our land and in our culture.
Secondly, a shared plan begins with sharing our achievements. Canada, using international standards, currently reports protected areas of about one million square kilometres, or 10% of our land mass. That figure underestimates our reality. Remarkably, Canada has never added up the many and varied conservation efforts of Canadians. Think of the individuals, the communities, the conservation groups, agencies, corporations, and first nations and all they have done to conserve nature, natural areas, green space, and wildlife, and consider the following, which are not recognized in that 10% figure: conservation authority lands in southern Ontario; community pastures of prairie Canada; lands owned and stewarded by the Nature Conservancy of Canada, Ducks Unlimited Canada, and the over 150 local and regional land trusts across the country; lands conserved through the Nunatsiavut and Dehcho land claims; northern landscapes that will be conserved through Quebec’s Plan Nord and Ontario’s Far North Act; and the Flathead River Valley and the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia.
A national conservation plan must establish a consistent system to track and count all these conservation achievements on public and private lands. Let’s at least report where we are to inform where we're going.
Finally, a successful national conservation plan will identify ways to engage Canadian communities and the private sector in conservation, thereby connecting more Canadians to nature.
Our experience informs our views. With more than 45,000 financial supporters and hundreds of science and conservation partners, we know that collaboration is at the heart of conservation success.
Using a science-based approach, we work in places with high biodiversity values and have helped conserve more than 2.6 million acres in those places. That’s 100 CFL fields—not counting the end zones—every day for 50 years. Our staff live and work in communities, many in working landscapes, seeking voluntary conservation agreements and creating winning solutions for families, businesses, and nature.
Communities benefit from the use of our lands for hiking, fishing, nature viewing, hunting, and other activities, subject only to the conservation needs of each natural area. We wish to suggest, therefore, that the committee consider including at least three concepts in the plan to mobilize the private sector.
The first of these is public-private partnerships. These partnerships have advanced and continue to advance conservation across the country as they lever private sector investment and donations to deliver on-the-ground conservation results.
Our experience with the natural areas conservation program over the past five years is illustrative. More than 800,000 acres of land have been secured for conservation, with willing vendors and donors in every province of Canada. These lands include the full range of Canadian habitats, including habitat for more than 117 species that are at risk. The program has also matched each federal dollar invested with nearly two dollars of private sector funds and donations, resulting in three dollars of conservation for every federal dollar invested.
The second area we would recommend is that of innovative tools and incentives that can be accessed by Canadians across the working landscape to encourage conservation. Many formally protected areas are surrounded and linked by natural real estate that is less regulated but may be effectively conserved if the tools are offered to private landowners.
Programs such as property tax incentives, ecogifts, covenants, easements, and servitude—Quebec's private nature reserve system—and environmental farm plans already encourage private stewardship. Others should be developed.
Some suggestions might be: allowing severances for conservation purposes; providing tax relief for conservation lands and grants in lieu from senior governments to municipalities; arbitration to resolve conservation agreement disputes, rather than court proceedings; delivery of ecological goods and services by the farm community; and allowing lands held in inventory for development to be eligible for ecogift treatment. In the spirit of a shared plan, while some can be addressed federally, many would need provincial attention to be realized.
Lastly, we wish to suggest that the committee look closely at the potential of what are called biodiversity credits or offsets for development. Sometimes this is called habitat banking.
The economic story of Canada has largely been one of the development of our natural resources. How might we improve our ability to lead the way, both in conserving landscapes and in natural resource development? The concept of biodiversity credits, or habitat banking, may hold the key.
These credits are means by which industry can contribute to environmental protection and conservation over and above, or as part of, the regulatory requirements to avoid, mitigate, and compensate for a project’s environmental impact. Much like municipal conditions of approval requiring a developer to provide for public open space, a similar approach could be used for pipelines, mine sites, or even hydrocarbon footprints.
Currently, impact avoidance and mitigation have focused on the immediate geography of the development itself, independent of the quality or significance of the natural areas involved. While impact avoidance and mitigation may be restricted to the development site, biodiversity credits can be designed to be more flexible. Because they could be used to deliver conservation outcomes at scientifically identified priority natural areas, wherever they may be in Canada, they can maximize the benefits to biodiversity conservation or ecological services at a national level.
In closing, we anticipate a national conservation plan that is a shared vision to guide Canada in the conversation of our lands and waters. We welcome the opportunity to continue this dialogue with you.
At the Nature Conservancy of Canada, we like to say that we create results you can walk on. I'd like to invite committee members to walk with us, to visit some of our on-the-ground projects, and to meet Canadians who have cared for their lands for generations and have drawn us into their dreams.
Please explore our work further. We've provided materials on the natural areas conservation plan, the Nature Conservancy's annual report, and also a map showing where various projects under the plan have been delivered over the past five years.
We encourage the committee not to try to address everything. Let's try to do a few important things very well: establish Canada as an international conservation leader by owning the podium; consistently measure and track all Canadian conservation efforts, public and private; enhance and adopt innovative mechanisms to engage the private sector in conservation, such as public-private partnerships, enhanced conservation tools and incentives, and biodiversity credits.
Canada's 150th birthday is not far away. Let's celebrate in 2017 by advancing a plan to ensure the essence of Canada—our natural heritage—is still here, and better, when Canada turns 300.
The Chair Mark Warawa
Thank you, Mr. Lounds. That was very interesting.
We will begin our first round of questioning with seven minutes per questioner.
We'll begin with Ms. Rempel.
Michelle Rempel Calgary Centre-North, AB
Thank you to all the witnesses for being here today. I know that we're quite excited about this study, and your testimony today was very useful.
The first thing I want to start with is that all three groups here today discussed the concept of a working landscape.
Mr. Bates, you spoke to that very eloquently. Perhaps you could go into a little more detail—succinctly—on what that means and why that's of relevance to the development of a national conservation plan.
Executive Director, Canadian Wildlife Federation
A working landscape, the way we think of it, is typically southern Canada, where it's more populated and more developed, with more roads, more fragmentation of habitat, and more development. Why it's important is that there are many species, particularly species at risk, in many of those areas, land is more expensive to deal with, and solutions have to be more flexible because there are more people.
Every person has a different socio-economic situation, with different land, perhaps, and different conditions of that land, so it's far more difficult to come up with conservation solutions in those areas. It requires far more creativity.
Michelle Rempel Calgary Centre-North, AB
When you're talking about it being more difficult to come up with conservation solutions, what are some of those challenges?
Executive Director, Canadian Wildlife Federation
I think the biggest one is rewarding individual Canadians for the good conservation work they do. Right now, we as a society talk a lot about the need for stewardship and the importance of stewardship, but it comes down to the individual making choices to benefit all of society. To a large degree.... I mean, there are some good examples of individual organizations and individual situations where there are incentives provided and there is encouragement of best practices, but I think it's an area where there's an opportunity for a great deal more creativity and direct rewards for individuals.
There's the example I used of a landowner leaving a buffer in place to prevent, say, agriculture chemicals or some other thing from leaching into the water, or to at least filter it before it gets there. That's a benefit to all of society—all of us benefit from it—which that landowner is paying for directly by not cultivating that land.
Michelle Rempel Calgary Centre-North, AB
You also made a really interesting statement related to the land-use planning framework in that trade-offs are required when making decisions. What are some of those trade-offs you're speaking to? What are some of those solutions? What's the sweet spot, I guess, for some of these conservation planning activities?
Executive Director, Canadian Wildlife Federation
I think the sweet spot is good conversation, where we aren't polarized and either completely opposed to development or completely in favour of all development.
It means getting to a spot where we can have a rational conversation among Canadians around the pros and cons, where the options for development are put forward—and not just, say, a single one, but perhaps different options—and where you can see the implications from each option. You can see what the impacts are on GDP, on employment, and on health and education, as well as what the impacts are on the natural capital—so water quality, air quality, water quantity, wildlife, and types of wildlife. At that stage, we'll be having a good conversation and making better decisions and faster decisions.
Michelle Rempel Calgary Centre-North, AB
That's very helpful.
Mr. Davidson, you sort of alluded to this statement within your brief with some information that reads:
Balance environmental protection with sustainable economic development by using broad, landscape-scale approaches to land-use planning that considers conservation first and defines opportunities for complementary economic development of the remaining “working landscape”.
Based on the experience of your organization, are there some examples of this balance that are working well right now?
Executive Director, Nature Canada
Yes, there are a couple of examples that I think you should be aware of. My colleagues are very aware of them.
One of them is called the North American waterfowl management plan. It has developed joint ventures, primarily across the working landscape in Canada, the United States, and Mexico. It was set up to conserve waterfowl and wetland habitat, but the approach they've taken is unique. It has brought together the conservation community, the agricultural community, and governments from various jurisdictions to sit around a table—not unlike this one—to actually figure out how we can make conservation work on the landscape.
It has been in operation now for about 25 years. Is that about right?