Environment Committee on May 15th, 2012
Evidence of meeting #36 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 habitat.
On the agenda
- Pamela Zevit Registered Professional Biologist, Past President, Chair, Practice Advisory and Professional Ethics, Association of Professional Biology
- Chloe O'Loughlin Director, Terrestrial Conservation, British Columbia Chapter, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society
- Brian Riddell President and Chief Executive Officer, Pacific Salmon Foundation
- Jeff Surtees Chief Executive Officer, Trout Unlimited Canada
- Alan Martin Director, Strategic Initiatives, B.C. Wildlife Federation
- Devon Page Executive Director, Ecojustice Canada
- Scott Ellis Executive Director, Guide Outfitters Association of British Columbia
- Linda Nowlan Director, Pacific Conservation, World Wildlife Fund (Canada)
- Neil Fletcher Education Coordinator, Wetlands, B.C. Wildlife Federation
- David Bradbeer Program Coordinator, Delta Farmland & Wildlife Trust
- Jessica Clogg Executive Director and Senior Counsel, West Coast Environmental Law Association
- Damien Joly Associate Director, Nanaimo, Wildlife Conservation Society of Canada
The Chair Mark Warawa
I want to welcome everyone to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, which is travelling. This is our 36th meeting in this session of Parliament. We are studying a national conservation plan. I want to welcome the witnesses and thank them for being here today.
We will proceed. We travelled yesterday on Vancouver Island. It was very interesting and informative. The discussions and the tour were more general in nature. We will be focusing on the six points of providing advice to the government in creating a national conservation plan. In the presentations and in the questions from members of the committee, please stay focused on our mandate. Each of the witness groups will be given up to ten minutes, which will be followed by questions.
We begin with the Association of Professional Biology for ten minutes.
Pamela Zevit Registered Professional Biologist, Past President, Chair, Practice Advisory and Professional Ethics, Association of Professional Biology
Thank you very much.
Honourable members of the standing committee, on behalf of the Association of Professional Biology, I would like to express our appreciation at being invited to provide input on this important national endeavour. Before I begin I would like to provide a brief background on the association so that you may have a better understanding of the important role we and our members play in the development of conservation policy at all levels.
The APB has formally represented the interests of biology professionals in British Columbia since 1980. The association was originally formed by academic, government, and private sector interests to collectively bring recognition, credibility, and legislative accountability to the professional practice of applied biology. Our members represent and adhere to the highest standards and expertise in the application of science and professional ethical conduct across a broad range of disciplines, and that varies from conservation biology to environmental toxicology, land and resource management, and impact assessment, just to name a few.
I'd also like to point out that we are the only group who are governed by an act in Canada. So that makes us rather unique here in British Columbia. The perspectives from our members on what is required to ensure a successful national conservation plan in Canada are as diverse as our areas of expertise. The following attributes or must-haves represent a sampling of what is deemed essential as a starting point for this process to be effective.
Main components need to include the following: recognize that habitat loss and degradation is the primary, present threat to species and ecosystems in Canada; protect the habitat species need to carry out their life processes, and to survive and recover if they’re at risk, whether this habitat is inside a park or in the areas between; locate and acquire parks, buffers, and connective areas where primary habitat for species at risk exists; manage and design parks, and the areas between parks, with climate change adaptation and mitigation in mind.
How do we view a more detailed vision for a national conservation plan? First, think like a landscape. As Aldo Leopold said, “To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.” The foundation of effective conservation planning must include the identification and protection of a diverse range of ecological communities, with a focus on those of high conservation importance. Such communities typically support key survival habitat for a range of common and at-risk species and maintain biodiversity across multiple scales. Their connectedness must be maximized, and conversely, this means fragmentation must be minimized with areas in between included in the landscape equation.
One of many tools to maximize on the challenges of maintaining landscape connectivity when faced with protected areas that become habitat islands is to invest in creative conservation financing, such as funding compensatory land acquisition and incentives for stewardship on private land. A good example of that is the federal habitat stewardship program.
Second, maintain natural processes. To remain resilient in the face of long-term natural shifts in native species' population dynamics, interspecies relationships, ecological succession, and energy flow must be allowed to occur in as complete and unimpeded a state as possible. Admittedly the notion of what is truly a natural process versus those that are the result of centuries, if not eons, of human intervention may be debatable. However, a significant amount of scientific, defensible, and quantifiable research on thresholds and tipping points for these processes has been, and continues to be, made available to guide planning and decision-making. An example of these types of natural processes is predator-prey relationships. Some of the most explicit ones in the media right now are things like dealing with predator control around wolves and caribou, managing the effects of invading non-native species, and allowing for natural processes in flowing water systems. This includes the natural movement and shifts of highly productive areas like flood plains and deltas. While there will always be situations that will need careful consideration in this regard, the interventionist approach of the past to force natural processes to meet human needs has only served to exact costly and irreversible effects on our natural assets.
Third, water is essential. Linking surface, groundwater, and marine resource protection is fundamental, whether working at the local watershed level or nationally. Water, in particular fresh water, is not only essential for all life but directly and indirectly tied to the maintenance of our economies.
A national conservation plan should reflect this and embody undertakings to maintain the highest values in water quality, reduce competition and conflict over water rights between human and non-human interests, and ensure that conserving water resources continues to be supported across all sectors.
Fourth, identify common ground. The APB recommends that a national conservation plan be inclusive across geopolitical, sectoral, and cultural boundaries. Ensuring effective collaboration while identifying conflicts to be resolved before they stall or undermine the processes will be essential to achieving this plan. Science-based interests and industry must be integrated with traditional ecological knowledge resources, i.e., first nations, as well as the vast public infrastructure of citizen science and environmental non-government resources. Bringing together this mosaic of interests has distinguished Canada in the past as an international leader in environmental protection and conservation.
Fifth, plan for the future now. Given present growth trajectories and resource development pressures, conservation planning must incorporate the potential for land-use activities to occur that impact the landscape in the future. While the public, resource managers, and decision-makers may be at odds over where, how, and to what degree this should occur, it is prudent to identify areas of potential conflict sooner rather than later, where resource development overlaps with areas of conservation importance.
This will assist with both conservation and resource development planning for the future. As well, cumulative environmental impacts will be avoided if high-priority conservation areas can be protected by legislation now and therefore be avoided during future activities. Greater certainty can also then be provided to industry by identifying where development may occur or requiring greater mitigation measures before activities are even planned.
In a global context, the scientific consensus and recognition of the present and long-term effects of climate change and biodiversity loss must not be ignored. It is important that the public and decision-makers be committed to scientifically informed choices. Do we wish to see ongoing conservation planning that is focused solely on a “last chance to see” approach around species and ecosystem protection? Or do we want be proactively supporting the necessary research and adaptation actions that will address present and future impacts, and protect as high a level of biodiversity and ecosystem goods and services as possible?
Sixth, best science and informed decision-making is not optional. Recently proposed legislative changes suggest the federal government is on a path contrary to a commitment to sound conservation principles. This is especially relevant with respect to conservation and impact mitigation, and includes: issues around changes to the federal Fisheries Act; limits placed on government scientists to directly communicate with the public, a number of whom include registered biology professionals in British Columbia; using changes to tax legislation to limit activities of environmental organizations, again a number of which employ registered biology professionals in this province; publicly stated support by federally elected decision-makers for major infrastructure projects before environmental and cumulative impact assessments are even developed, much less completed; changing standards for environmental assessments, including timeline restrictions; and recent significant cuts to Parks Canada and other natural resource ministry staff involved in species conservation and protected areas establishment. All this is happening with no visible support for the environmental science and resource management professionals who will be expected to provide the expertise to address the outcomes of these changes.
In closing, a robust national conservation plan must be based on best science, inclusive collaboration, and strong precautionary laws and policies that effectively protect species and habitat across multiple scales and jurisdictions.
However, the Association of Professional Biology is faced with a conundrum. How do we continue to further support something so fundamentally essential as a national conservation plan, when we feel it is only being done through a façade of federal commitment to protecting and sustaining Canada’s biodiversity?
The APB would be happy to provide its extensive expertise in the evolution of a national conservation plan. However, this must be based on a mutual recognition that conservation science and protecting Canada’s rich ecological capital are as integral to the federal government’s decision-making processes as components to the country’s economy.
We look forward to working with you further when we can be confident that this is the case. On behalf of our board of directors and our membership, thank you for your consideration and listening today.
The Chair Mark Warawa
Before we proceed to the next witness the hearings today are formal hearings. They are to hear professional advice from the witnesses and provide advice to the Government of Canada in creating a national conservation plan. I provided the courtesy in allowing the witness to finish the presentation, but I would ask the witnesses not to use this as a platform to provide a political critique. This is a very important hearing, not an opportunity—
François Choquette Drummond, QC
On a point of order, Mr. Chairman, what are you doing?
The Chair Mark Warawa
Mr. Choquette, please wait.
I'm asking the witnesses to provide advice to this committee. It's not an opportunity to make political statements. That will be the only warning I'm going to provide in that respect.
The next witness will be from the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, for 10 minutes.
Chloe O'Loughlin Director, Terrestrial Conservation, British Columbia Chapter, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society
Thank you, Mark.
For those of you reading along, I'll be doing a slightly shortened version of my presentation.
My name is Chloe O'Loughlin. I'm the director of terrestrial conservation at the B.C. chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. We are Canada's voice for public wilderness protection. It's our vision to protect at least half of our public land and coastal waters. In Canada, 90% of the land and all of the oceans are public—they belong to the governments.
Today I will explain how a well-framed conservation plan would play out in British Columbia and give you on-the-ground examples at the provincial and community levels. My colleague, Alison Woodley, presented in Ottawa about the nationwide play-out, and I wanted to talk to you about how it would look in the small communities.
In 2009 and 2010, we celebrated with the federal government, the provincial government, and the related first nations two wonderful achievements. One was the establishment of the national marine conservation area around Haida Gwaii, and the other was the announcement of a national marine conservation area around the southern Gulf Islands. These are huge achievements that were received very well by the public, and there is lots more that needs to be done.
We believe that a successful national conservation plan should focus on four elements, at least. These are to protect, connect, restore, and engage the public.
Protection includes completing and caring for a network of protected areas for Canada, including the completion of the system of national parks and marine protected areas.
Connection means connecting the working landscape with these protected areas so that wildlife can move between the protected areas, through the managed landscape, and around industrial development. This is best achieved through regional land use and marine spatial planning, and then ensuring that there's a strong framework of environmental laws.
We strongly support the restoration of degraded ecosystems, and we encourage you to include Canadians, especially children and youth, in conserving nature. In British Columbia, we're working with the federal government in establishing new national parks in northern B.C., in the South Okanagan-Similkameen, and in the expansion of Waterton Lakes National Park into B.C.'s Flathead Valley.
Just yesterday we released our national report called “12 by 2012”, which assesses the degree of progress that has been made towards establishing 12 new key marine protected areas in our coastal waters, four of which we're working with you on in British Columbia.
National parks and marine protected areas are an important part of our national and provincial identity. They are as popular as hockey and the Canadian flag.
Around the world, protected areas are recognized as the cornerstone of conservation strategies. Our national parks and marine conservation areas are not only essential to achieving our mutual goals of protecting wildlife and healthy ecosystems for future generations, they are also immensely important to preserving Canadian identity and culture, supporting healthy citizens and communities, and providing substantial economic and job development benefits to local communities, the province, and the entire country.
In my position I have travelled all over the province and have met thousands of citizens from diverse backgrounds. I can tell you that the Government of Canada connects in a highly visible and positive way with citizens in the smaller communities through your national parks and marine protected areas.
In the face of a rapidly changing climate, it's also important to ensure that these protected areas are connected together in a way that allows plants and animals to move and shift in response to these changing conditions.
The national conservation plan can integrate two fundamental elements—the protected areas and the well-managed land and seascapes—under one framework. Success depends on doing both in a coordinated way. As I said before, the plan will only be successful if it is supported within a strong framework of environmental law.
Protected areas, such as national parks and marine protected areas, contribute significantly to our prosperity in British Columbia. According to the report, which is called Economic Impact of Parks Canada, in B.C., the established national parks like Mount Revelstoke National Park, on average, contribute $37.1 million per year to our province's GDP. They provide labour revenue of $25 million—this is per park, per year—and tax revenue of $3.5 million.
Visitor spending, which is very important in these communities, is on average $49 million per year. The economic benefits are enormous. In addition to that, each national park hires between 20 and 25 permanent jobs, and 570 spin-off jobs, such as extra people in the hotels and motels.
These parks and protected areas help our tourism sector immensely—locally, provincially, and across Canada—to gain international recognition, grow new emerging markets, increase our competitive advantage, expand the length of stay in the shoulder seasons, and significantly increase visitor spending.
Marine protected areas help support our sustainable fisheries in British Columbia, the province in which seafood production alone was valued at $1.4 billion in 2010. Marine protected areas act like fish nurseries, so the abundance of the fish increases significantly. They also tend to be larger and they have more successful reproduction. The marine protected areas are crucial to our fishing industry. They contribute as well to economic diversification, opportunities for investment, and population diversification.
I'm working to help establish a new national park in the South Okanagan-Similkameen, so I've talked a lot to the people in those communities. Oliver has no hotel, and they really would like to have a hotel. They believe that if there's a national park, they will be able to get investors to invest in a new hotel, which is important to their community.
In Penticton, they are always worried about losing their airport. They believe that if there's a national park they could encourage an additional carrier, which would ensure their local airport stays in place.
Osoyoos is comprised of a lot of retired people—a high percentage of retired people in the Okanagan—and at this point they're going to lose their high school. They believe, and it's been proven, that young people will move to be near a national park. The population diversification that's so important in the Okanagan could ensure that Osoyoos gets to keep a high school. The local citizens are really interested in the new permanent jobs that will result from the national park because this will allow their family members to stay in the community and their children to have summer jobs locally that will last the entire summer. These are important at the local level.
The national parks and marine protected areas help Canadians connect better to nature. Multiple independent studies have shown that spending time in nature improves both the mental and physical health of Canadians. We would support programs in the national conservation plan that would reconnect kids to nature. By working in partnerships with others, this is really possible.
In summary, the plan could make significant differences to conservation on the ground, provincially, and in the small communities across B.C. and across Canada, if it focuses on six outcomes.
One is to complete the network of protected areas for Canada, specifically completing all of the national parks in Canada and the marine protected areas that are part of the system's plan, ensuring that the protected areas are nested within the landscape and within seascapes that are managed to sustain wildlife and healthy ecosystems. In order to do this, we need to have regional planning and marine planning as well, throughout the country and on all three of our coasts.
It would position Canada as a global leader by committing to exceed the current international biodiversity targets of protecting 17% of land and 10% of the oceans by 2020. We have the opportunity to do this. We could be world leaders, ensuring that the conservation initiatives are grounded in strong science, traditional knowledge, good environmental laws. This should be a national conservation plan for all Canadians, inspiring all Canadians to participate in your plan, and then providing the programs and partnerships that reconnect our children and youth to nature. It could be inspirational in leadership and provide a legacy for generations to come.
The Chair Mark Warawa
Next we will hear from the Pacific Salmon Foundation. I want to thank them for their participation in yesterday's tour of Vancouver Island.
Dr. Brian Riddell President and Chief Executive Officer, Pacific Salmon Foundation
Good morning, committee members. Thank you for this opportunity to provide comments on the initial steps in developing a national conservation plan, a plan I think will be welcomed by many environmentally conscious Canadians in light of recent announcements associated with the budget bill.
Let me first say that in my opinion the four-page document provided—the backgrounder and the national conservation plan—is a very good starting point, particularly the first paragraph that emphasizes the importance of nature to Canadians.
The backgrounder reads like a strong commitment of government to protect our iconic landscapes, seascapes, and wild species. I sincerely hope that the commitment is real, that nature will be valued as more than a driver for our economy, and that the value of the ecosystem services provided to Canada will be better appreciated and protected for generations.
Success in developing this plan is going to have its challenges, but if my experience over 30 years with Pacific salmon throughout British Columbia is representative, we will be able to draw on a wealth of experience, expertise, and stewardship from community organizations, universities, industries, and NGOs.
However, to build strong collaboration and to use this expertise, I suggest that we begin this NCP process by describing a set of national goals and setting out the commitment of the federal government to achieve them. Without a strong will to implement this plan, there's little point in building great expectations in the public or expending the effort required to achieve a national program.
I want to limit my comments to three major points in building the NCP and to describe one example of an effective conservation policy already developed in Canada—Canada's policy for wild Pacific salmon.
There are three priority issues I want to emphasize in developing the plan. First, in a country of the scope and diversity of Canada, the national plan should be hierarchical in structure, with national goals and principles, and a regionally specific implementation that recognizes the diversity of landscapes and biological systems across Canada. It's appropriate to have consistent principles across our country, but we have to recognize that ecological systems vary by region and are determined by the interaction of landscapes, climate, and biological systems. Within these ecological zones, measures of biological diversity or the use of key species as indicators define another stratum for consideration within regions.
Second, the plan should be a science-based process in the delineation of ecosystems. This should comprise terrestrial, fresh water, estuaries, and marine environments so that the methods are repeatable, make use of available knowledge and expertise, and include monitoring to track successes or failures and to learn from our experience through time.
We are not starting from zero in this effort. There is an extensive literature related to these methods. For example, there is the work of the Nature Conservancy at a website called conservationgateway.org, and a publication that describes what we're undertaking, Conservation Area Design. It provides an excellent starting point for the structure of the plan.
Third, the development of the NCP should be inclusive and involve localized stewardship groups to incorporate their local values and interests, to monitor their environments, and to monitor progress towards regional objectives. These community organizations provide exceptional value in labour and local knowledge, as well as an important tie between communities and the local natural environments. This is not a new recommendation. An excellent statement of the potential value of local stewardship called “Canada's Stewardship Agenda“was published by Environment Canada in 2002.
The example I want to present was developed by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and is entitled Canada's Policy for Conservation of Wild Pacific Salmon. It was completed in June 2005 after six years of extensive public consultations and more than a decade of scientific debate. I provided you copies of this yesterday, on your tour.
This policy has subsequently been applied to Atlantic salmon in eastern Canada and is widely recognized as a model framework for the sustainable management of Pacific salmon to maintain their adaptability to environmental change and for the inclusion of communities in decision processes that affect them.
You might think of the policy as the result of three intersecting circles. One circle represents the physical landscape and climate that determines the major ecological zones in British Columbia. The second circle represents the biological features of Pacific salmon populations, the dynamics of their interactions between populations—I mean the spawning aggregations—and the ecological interactions that define the productivity of the salmon population. We use productivity in the sense of how many progeny are produced from a pair of spawners. The third circle represents the human impacts overlain on the salmon and their environment.
With this intersection, these circles describe the conservation need for a particular Pacific salmon group or species. To address these issues within one national policy—the wild salmon policy—the consultation process agreed to five strategies or action steps within the policy.
One is to define the geographic range of each salmon species and population, and for each to describe management targets and a monitoring plan to understand the state of these resources. Second is to, within each conservation unit, assess the habitat quality and quantity and monitor habitat trends over time. Again within the conservation unit, the third is to assess the ecological conditions within the unit, assessing both the value of salmon to local ecosystems—for example, the marine nutrients provided as salmon return from the sea—and the importance of local ecological processes to the productivity of Pacific salmon, such as, for example, the availability of fresh water or the condition of local estuaries for juvenile salmon. Fourth is to develop an open and transparent process to involve local community groups in decisions that will directly affect their communities. And the last one is to conduct periodic evaluations to assess progress and to adjust as we appreciate changes that are necessary.
There actually is a sixth strategy, which you'll see in the policy, but it pertains to the annual implementation of fisheries management decisions, since the intent of the policy is long-term but fisheries must be managed on an annual time scale.
While this example may not seem directly analogous to your task to develop a national conservation plan of much greater scope, I would suggest that the steps involved are analogous to your task and would be particularly useful at the regional level of organization for many other species.
Now, Mark, I don't say the next part as any criticism at all; it's a statement of fact that I want to emphasize for a specific salmon that we talked about yesterday. The comment is simply that given the current concern about changes in the Fisheries Act and habitat provisions, I feel that I have to emphasize that the diversity of Pacific salmon that we enjoy in Canada is a direct reflection of the diversity of habitats available and the direct tie between salmon and those habitats. We can't have healthy, productive Pacific salmon without protecting the diversity of their habitats and the functioning ecosystems that they exist within. Pacific salmon really are a direct reflection of their habitat and the ancestral lineages that led to what we see today. The wild salmon policy will protect both, through time and under various climate changes.
What I think will be different in your task at the national level, compared with the regional wild salmon policy, is how to incorporate what I simply refer to as “big picture” issues that will be overlain on the current status of species and our habitats—for example, the management and conservation of fresh water in Canada. I also include climate change responses and impacts in B.C. of particular interest, such things as mountain pine beetle interactions, and we have marine impacts in the Strait of Georgia.
I also think we need to draw attention to the care and protection of Canada's three oceans and their biodiversity. I draw your attention to the very recent publication from the Royal Society of Canada on marine biodiversity status. It's available on the RSC website.
Finally, for consistency with international obligations that Canada has already signed on to, I would think that the structure of the program will have to very much be hierarchical in nature. It's possible, then, that these larger issues might be addressed by specific advisory processes to assist you in how to identify what these pressures are and provide an appropriate response to them within the national plan.
I very much look forward to more discussion on this very worthwhile task. I expect you will receive a lot of advice and opinions, but I hope you will make use of the extensive expertise in Canada, make use of the many past efforts and publications, draw on communities' local knowledge and willingness to assist you, and of course, in my reference to “communities” I most certainly include the first nations of Canada with their local and traditional knowledge.
Thank you very much for your attention.
The Chair Mark Warawa
Lastly we'll hear from Trout Unlimited Canada.
You have 10 minutes.
Jeff Surtees Chief Executive Officer, Trout Unlimited Canada
Thank you Mr. Chairman.
I want to thank the committee on behalf of our organization for the opportunity to appear today and to make submissions. My name is Jeff Surtees. I'm the CEO of Trout Unlimited Canada.
Our organization is a national habitat conservation organization. We were created 40 years ago, in 1972, with the mission to conserve, protect, and restore Canada's freshwater ecosystems. We were started by anglers, by people who like to fish, and we're now supported by anglers and non-anglers alike across the country. We're governed by a volunteer board of directors and have volunteer chapters in the Maritimes, in Quebec—well, we have one in Quebec, but we're going to have a lot more soon—in Ontario, in Alberta, and in British Columbia.
We work with communities and we work with local volunteers. We take pride in being an action-oriented organization. We are completely non-partisan and non-political. The bulk of our funding comes from Canadian individuals and corporations, and only a small amount from government sources at this time. We've always worked cooperatively with industry and governments of all stripes. Our members believe we've earned our place at the table by being an organization that fixes things. We like to do more than to talk about doing.
Our habitat work involves stream restoration, monitoring, and assessment, all based on sound science. To our members, a cold-water stream or river is a place of almost infinite beauty, a place where life begins. Our work also involves educating schoolchildren through our Yellow Fish Road program. In that program, thousands of participants go out with their class or community group and paint a small yellow fish on a storm drain in their community to remind people that everything in the physical world is connected. Storm drains are connected directly to rivers, and by pouring something down a drain you're pouring it right into some animal's house.
We were provided with five questions to guide our submissions today, and I'm going to focus my remarks on just the third and fourth of those questions, which were: what should the guiding principles of a national conservation plan be, and what should the conservation priorities of a national conservation plan be? Then we'll make a short comment on the fifth question, which is, what should the implementation priorities of a national conservation plan be?
The first question—which is the third question—is what guiding principles should govern in a national conservation plan. We have four guiding principles to suggest. They are very consistent with the comments that have been made to you by the other people giving testimony today.
The first guiding principle that we suggest is that the national conservation plan must be based on sound science. Conservation and restoration require a deep understanding of the biophysical conditions and processes that create habitat where animal and plant populations live. A conservation plan must use the best science available to ensure that we maintain and restore these biophysical functions. When we say “based on sound science”—and we hear that phrase in a lot of contexts these days—to us it means that the plan is guided by information that is measurable and is measured; that it identifies the links between physical structure and the actual functioning of a watershed or landscape; and thirdly and very importantly, that it addresses the cumulative effect of all activities within the watershed or landscape.
The second suggested guiding principle relates to scale. Conservation planning must be done at an ecologically relevant geographic scale and on an ecologically relevant time scale. We submit that the proper geographic scale for the individual components of the national conservation plan must be, at a minimum, the scale of the entire ecosystem or the entire watershed in question. The proper time scale must be very long. The decision has to be based on thinking that is at least decades, if not hundreds of years, into the future rather than on the expediencies of the day.
The third suggested guiding principle is that the national conservation plan should strive to educate all Canadians about ecology. We just have to raise the bar of common knowledge. Increased ecological literacy should, we believe, lead to a deeper level of caring, which should, we believe, lead to positive participation in community action. People who care and people who know a little more will care more and will do more in a positive way.
The fourth and final guiding principle that we suggest is that the implementation of a national conservation plan must be adequately funded and resourced. It absolutely must have long-term support from all levels of government. If the plan includes work to be done by groups like all of ours here at the table, there must be mechanisms in place to help those organizations within the non-profit sector to remain sustainable. Many very good organizations spend a great deal of time and effort just trying to stay alive.
I'm going to move to question four, the conservation priorities that should be included in the national conservation plan. Our belief is that if we get the guiding principles right, the conservation priorities should flow directly from them. I'm only going to comment on conservation priorities that fall under Trout Unlimited Canada's mandate as an organization, which is dealing with small freshwater streams and rivers. Many other priorities that other organizations will probably put forward will be equally valid.
Guiding principle number one that we have suggested is that the plan must be based on sound science. The science that we have put together shows that work can be prioritized and be made more effective that way. The prioritization we use is this. The highest priority work to be done on small streams and rivers is that work which improves water quality. First, you think about quality. The second highest priority is work that maintains or improves the quantity of water in a system. The third and fourth highest priority work would be to improve physical habitat, and to work directly on managing fish populations through stocking or removing fish from a system, and in both cases, focusing on the maintenance and restoration of native species before non-native species. Again, the conservation priorities to be consistent with the guiding principles would be implemented on a minimum of a watershed scale in a manner that can be sustained indefinitely.
I'll move to question five. I have a brief comment on it. What should the implementation priorities of a national conservation plan be? This is a very difficult question for us. We had a lot of debate among our board members, and I have received a lot of calls from our members about it. It's a difficult question for us to address right now because, Mr. Chairman, we were asked to stick to the agenda—the matter directly before the committee, and I will do that—but everything is connected.
The work that is being done under Bill C-38, the changes that are being made, directly affect the work of this committee. It's a fact. When we're asked for recommendations about implementation plans, we think, “How we can do that?” We have to know what the regulations are going to say that are being brought in under the changes to the pieces of legislation in the bill. That's where the implementation is going to be. It is connected to the national conservation plan. As I say, we will work cooperatively with whatever system our elected representatives put in place. We will work under that, and we will offer our services to help. We believe, as an organization, that if an activity, industrial or otherwise, causes harmful alteration, disruption, or destruction of fish habitat, an environmental assessment must be triggered. That is being changed, we think. We have to be against that.
A national conservation plan, to live up to its name, has to be a big thing, a grand thing, a thing of great vision, something the whole country can be proud of, and something that is supported across all levels of government—municipal, provincial, and federal. The whole of government has to act in a way that is consistent with that theory, or little will have been accomplished.
I thank you for your work on this committee and look forward to participating further. Those our submissions.
The Chair Mark Warawa
Thank you so much.
We will have a first round of questions from members of the committee, and I'll introduce them. Ms. Fry is with the Liberal Party, welcome. Monsieur Pilon and Monsieur Choquette are both with the official opposition, the NDP. Mr. Toet and Mr. Lunney are with the Conservative Party.
In the first round there are four questioners. We will begin with Mr. Toet. You have seven minutes.
Lawrence Toet Elmwood—Transcona, MB
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to all our witnesses with us this morning. I think the importance of what is occurring here and the importance of a national conservation plan for Canada for today and for the future and for the growth of our country has been very clearly articulated in your presentations.
One of the things I wanted to touch on here is the education aspect—the education of our youth and our urban residents. I think it was touched on a little in almost every presentation and I believe it's very important. I think we both fit into that a little. We have a lot of urbanization in Canada. We have a lot of residents of Canada who aren't exposed to conservation in the way they could be, and I really appreciated, Mr. Surtees, that you were working with children with sewer drains and things like that.
I wanted to ask a few questions regarding the education aspect. Ms. O'Loughlin, you talked about the support for connecting children and youth to nature by working in partnership with others. Can you just expand that a little? Have you seen ways that have worked effectively, or do you have ideas or inputs from your organization for effective ways that we can do this?
Director, Terrestrial Conservation, British Columbia Chapter, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society
Yes, I do, thank you.
It's well known that our children are not getting out into the wilderness. They are staying in front of their computer screens, and if that continues, we'll have a drastically different kind of Canadian. So last year, we worked with Parks Canada, B.C. Parks, Mountain Equipment Co-op, and the Child and Nature Alliance to hold a program whereby we brought 40 youth from diverse backgrounds—first nations, new immigrants—to a wilderness camp near Vancouver and spent three days with them, getting them out into the wilderness and teaching them leadership skills.
Each one of those youth went back to their community and held an event of their own planning. A small amount of money was supplied by the partners to those youth, once they submitted their plan and budget, to hold an event in their own community. We taught them media relations, how to advertise, and those kids did amazing different kinds of events—runs through the wilderness where you stopped every mile and got a playing card and the person with the best poker hand at the end of the run won a prize, events where they took 10 others on a kayaking trip.
It was a great program that could be duplicated across Canada, and Parks Canada would be able to provide the federal government leadership and develop those partnerships.
Lawrence Toet Elmwood—Transcona, MB
Mr. Riddell, you talked also in your presentation about the necessity of involving local groups. I'm a huge believer in that also. Yet I was intrigued; in your presentation, you also talked about needing a hierarchical, top-down approach. I know you've done some great projects in your area with regard to this.
Can you expand on how those two can work together cohesively because I understand what you're saying, but those two statements almost seem at odds with one another. How can those two items work together for the benefit of all?
President and Chief Executive Officer, Pacific Salmon Foundation
Sure, thank you.
I think that Jeff's comment that everything is connected is probably where you start. I see this as a continuum that we build from the base up, not as two different directions. There is a need to have consistency at the national level for principles that we would all include. I think what you're looking at is a top-down leadership—a definition of principles that we can all buy into and that are fairly distributed across all of Canada's natural resources and landscapes. At the same time though, there is a great wealth of knowledge that we can build on from the local stewardship groups up. One can feed into the other, and they can mutually support each other. I don't see a conflict in any of these.
It's very unlikely that local scales would have any sort of high-level principles that I'm referring to that would be at odds with each other. I think they just build a very strong supporting network that would really strengthen a national conservation plan.
The other thing that we didn't deal with a lot yesterday is that these people in the communities are there for the long term. Probably the best example are the first nations. These people have chosen to live where they are, and they'll be there for a long time. They're an invaluable way to monitor climate change, provide feedback to a network with first-hand and local knowledge about what's going on with our resources and our natural beauty, and so on.