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 conservation.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • 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

11:35 a.m.

NDP

François Choquette Drummond, QC

Mr. Chair, I have a quick question for Devon Page.

First, I appreciate the time you are giving us. Do you have the time to send us the recommendations you just mentioned regarding the environmental legislation? You can send them to the clerk, and we will be pleased to add them to our reports. I cannot require you to send them, but if you want to, we will be very pleased because this is a great concern of ours.

You spoke about peripheral species. Can you explain a little more what you mean by that? I'm not sure, but I think it was Mr. Ellis who spoke about an holistic approach rather than a species-specific approach. Can you expand your thoughts on that and tell us what you think about it? Mr. Ellis could then comment.

11:35 a.m.

Executive Director, Ecojustice Canada

Devon Page

Both at a provincial level and in the course of our monitoring the federal government's activity on the species at risk file, what seems to have emerged is the challenge of grappling with the extent of Canada's at-risk species population in terms of what that means on the part of capital investment. So we've seen an intention to develop a filter, which would exclude from protection those species that are peripheral to globally significant populations that live elsewhere.

In Canada, half our endangered species have more significant populations south of us. We're on the northern fringe to many populations, so the application of that policy would see that a species that's considered to be globally significant elsewhere—to have its main population elsewhere—would not be one to be prioritized for protection.

All I can say is, from the perspective of the scientists we engage to guide us in developing our legal programs, we've been advised that there's no scientific basis for making that distinction between the two populations. So maybe my only message to you is to be on guard for that, because it seems to me that it's being proposed under the guise of saving money when it has no basis in science. That's about the only comment I would make. If you want specific examples, almost every example of species in Canada is peripheral.

11:35 a.m.

NDP

François Choquette Drummond, QC

Mr. Page, could you say a few words about the species-specific approach, rather than the ecosystem-based and holistic approach? Mr. Ellis will then be able to continue on the same topic.

11:35 a.m.

Executive Director, Ecojustice Canada

Devon Page

Ecojustice takes the position that you need both. An ecosystem-based approach at its best would enable protection of individual species in the necessary habitat, but the model that we've seen developed in Canada seeks to reduce the amount of habitat available to species to as small as possible. Since we do that by stacking the habitat and trying to pick one area that captures the most species and offering that as proxy for protecting their habitat, current science suggests that you need to look at both the species-by-species basis to determine individual needs, and then you need to look at the well-being of the ecosystem to ensure it sustains their needs.

11:35 a.m.

Executive Director, Guide Outfitters Association of British Columbia

Scott Ellis

I would probably concur. I think you need both.

In B.C. we use a conservation framework. We look at different species and species at risk to try to rate them or prioritize them. I think one of the species that ranks very high is the mountain goat. The reason is that we have most of the world's population of mountain goats in British Columbia, so it ranks very highly. I think that's very important.

Then what we do is take a step back and ask how we look at all the factors, rather than just at mountain goats as a species by itself. We look at helicopters and oil and gas exploration. We look at the mountain goats' habitat and what they need. We look at their predators and what's going on in their environment.

I think it's a balanced approach. Sometimes what we've seen is that it gets very specific on that specific species, and it doesn't really look at the whole picture and all the impacts.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Mark Warawa

Time has expired. Mr. Toet, you have the last five minutes.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Toet Elmwood—Transcona, MB

I want to talk a bit about wetlands. Maybe Mr. Fletcher or Mr. Martin could respond.

As we go through the national conservation plan, and I'm going to use Manitoba as an example, we have a major degradation or loss of some of our wetland areas. We also have a very major issue in Manitoba with flooding, as anybody across Canada would have seen on the news over the last several years. Last year especially we had some major flooding issues.

I believe there is a connection between those two items, and we have an opportunity through this plan, as we go forward with it, to enhance also natural disaster flood protection through revival of some of our wetland areas.

I wonder if you could comment on that and talk about the education work that you've been doing—I think you mentioned that 150 students had been trained so far—and the participants that you have had in your courses. Do you believe that's an accurate statement, or is it also something you see as being very helpful going forward in flood protection areas, so that through this, we can also deal with some natural disaster aspects.

11:40 a.m.

Education Coordinator, Wetlands, B.C. Wildlife Federation

Neil Fletcher

Absolutely. I agree that flood protection is a huge value of wetland that is often underappreciated, the ecological service that is provided.

I can speak from a B.C. example that wetlands here are valued at about $100 billion in ecological services per year around the province—flood protection being a large aspect of that. One thing that we're struggling with is having strong protection as far as laws and regulations around wetlands. Often they're underappreciated at all levels of government. I know the federal government has a no-loss policy, but that only applies to certain lands. It's a struggle for provincial governments to go to that next step and do that protection. If there is any support we can get from a federal perspective, that's very helpful.

One concern is with the Fisheries Act and some of the changes to the legislation with respect to the protection that is being provided currently for wetlands that are fish bearing. There is a concern among conservation groups that might be diminished if there are changes in the legislation in that regard.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Toet Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Right. That notwithstanding, I understand there are some concerns because of some unknowns to a large degree. We talked about the Manitoba example. Wetlands conservation across Canada is a very important aspect of this plan going forward. When we talk about some of the priorities, where would you place that in the Prairies as we go forward through this plan of really looking at wetlands rehabilitation? It encompasses so many items across the conservation spectrum.

Where would you see the wetlands rehabilitation as a priority, not only in Manitoba but across Canada?

11:40 a.m.

Education Coordinator, Wetlands, B.C. Wildlife Federation

Neil Fletcher

I would be biased because I run the wetlands program. I would have to say that watershed planning is a really important aspect of any consideration, and watersheds travel across multiple jurisdictions. The issue is that we're not looking at a watershed level and understanding how wetlands fit within those ecosystems. I heard of one example where one drop of water was going through 13 jurisdictions before it reached the ocean, I think, just stressing the point that collaboration and partnership building is extremely important. Wetlands fit into that picture, however they also need to be integrated with the level of protection that steams, lakes, other bodies of water, as well as other areas are being provided. Making those connections will help to integrate them into the larger landscape.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Mark Warawa

Thank you very much.

Time has expired.

I want to thank the witnesses again for being here today. Your testimony was helpful as we draft recommendations to the government in the development of a national conservation plan.

Colleagues, we will suspend for lunch and a health break. We will reconvene at 1 p.m. sharp.

We're suspended.

1 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Mark Warawa

Welcome, everyone, to the third and last session of today's testimony from witnesses as we work on development of a national conservation plan.

I want to thank each of the witnesses for being here. Each of you, as a group, will have ten minutes, and I encourage you to share your expertise. The focus of our study is the six questions that were provided to you, focusing on guiding principles, priorities, goals, and the purpose of creating a national conservation plan.

We were on Vancouver Island yesterday and had a tour. Tonight we head to Calgary, and in a week and a half we'll be in Halifax.

Your testimony is very important. It will help guide our committee as we continue our studies.

We will start with Delta Farmland & Wildlife Trust, for 10 minutes.

May 15th, 2012 / 1 p.m.

David Bradbeer Program Coordinator, Delta Farmland & Wildlife Trust

My name is David Bradbeer, from the Delta Farmland & Wildlife Trust. I'm here to bear witness before the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development with regard to the proposed national conservation plan.

The focus of my witness testimony today is to discuss specific examples of collaborative conservation efforts being conducted on the south coast of B.C. To frame the context of these examples, I will quantify the ecological significance of the lower Fraser River delta, and within this context, I will discuss the specific actions taken by our local non-profit organization, Delta Farmland & Wildlife Trust, to conserve wildlife species on a working landscape. I present these examples to you as a model for future collaborative conservation efforts and recommend that such models, in conjunction with habitat retention, be explicitly included within the national conservation plan.

B.C's largest river, the Fraser, travels 1,360 kilometres from its headwaters in the Rockies before reaching its outflow on the south coast of the province, where it forms the lower Fraser River delta. The lower Fraser River delta provides a mix of habitat for wildlife, including tidal marshes, sloughs, lowland shrub-tree communities, forested highlands, remnant grasslands, and intensively managed agricultural fields. These habitats are used by migratory birds, which travel from the Canadian Arctic, the interior of B.C., Central and South America, and Asia.

The diversity of migratory birds is represented by four species of loon, five species of grebe, five species of wading bird, eight species of owl, 25 species of waterfowl, 13 species of raptor, 29 species of shorebird, 15 species of gulls and terns, and over 70 species of songbirds. Of these wildlife species that rely on the lower Fraser River delta, several are listed under Canada's Species at Risk Act, including 12 that are listed as species of special concern, six that are listed as threatened, and seven that are listed as endangered.

The lower Fraser River delta is a critical migratory node for bird species. It supports the highest density of wintering raptors and the highest density of wintering water birds in all of Canada. For these attributes, it is recognized as a Ramsar site and a western hemisphere shorebird reserve, and is considered one of Canada's most significant, important bird areas. Without the lower Fraser River delta, the majority of birds using the area would not be able to complete their migration north and south.

Farmland on the lower Fraser River delta can support many of these migratory birds. The initial diking and drainage of the lower Fraser River delta, which began in 1868, would have impacted the capacity of the landscape to conserve wildlife. However, farmland has proven its capacity to retain some of the functional elements of wildlife habitat that existed beforehand.

Farmland can conserve wildlife species, because first, it is directly adjacent to other high-quality habitats, such as tidal marshes and mud flats. Second, the fertile soils are managed for high, primary production of cash crops, which in turn can be utilized by wildlife directly and indirectly. For instance, waterfowl feed on harvested vegetable crop residue. Third, agronomic grass crops can be managed to emulate historical grassland habitats and can thereby provide food, roosting, breeding, and nesting habitat for a myriad of grassland species. Fourth, field margins can be managed as shrub-tree habitat. Fifth, and most important, farmland can be managed to increase the capacity of the landscape to conserve wildlife, and this management can be actively incorporated into existing cash crop rotation.

The work conducted by the Farmland & Wildlife Trust is an example of farmland management that increases the capacity of the landscape to conserve wildlife, while economic activity within the region is maintained. The Delta Farmland & Wildlife Trust has been working within the farming communities of Delta and Richmond since 1993 to provide wildlife habitat and to steward agricultural soil resources. Our mission is to explicitly recognize that wildlife conservation can be supported by farmland habitat and that management can be carried out by farmers in a manner that also improves soil fertility.

The primary method of implementing wildlife conservation on local farms is through the six stewardship programs administered by DF&WT. Through these programs, farmers enter into formal stewardship agreements with DF&WT. Each agreement specifies management goals. Farmers carry out the management defined by the agreement on their farm, the result of which is the improvement and/or creation of wildlife habitat. The management practices also contribute to long-term soil management and crop productivity.

The Delta Farmland & Wildlife Trust raises funds to provide farmers with a cost-share payment through these stewardship agreements. The cost-share covers a portion of the cost incurred to manage farmland for wildlife.

There is an incentive for the farmer to share a portion of this cost because of the management benefits accrued to soil fertility. With this model, our non-profit bears a portion of the cost that would otherwise be too prohibitive for the farmer to incur. We get this funding from several sources, including endowment funds, other NGOs, private organizations, municipal governments, as well as federal sources such as Environment Canada.

I'll briefly discuss two stewardship programs that DF&WT uses to cooperate with wildlife conservation. They're the grassland set-aside and the winter cover crop programs, and both programs provide grass habitat for wildlife and improve soil fertility.

Through the set-aside program, farmers plant agronomic grasses and leave them to grow for up to four years, allowing the fields to quickly become tall grass habitat that emulates historical grassland ecosystems that were present prior to the diking and draining in 1868. This dense vegetation provides shelter for small mammals, which in turn are food for raptors, owls, and wading birds, and is also a good habitat for grassland songbirds. This kind of management is specifically targeted as well to conserve four species listed under Canada's Species at Risk Act.

Farmers can also use the set-aside program in their crop rotation because it breaks pest cycles and increases soil organic matter. It can be difficult for farmers to take land out of production like this, but the cost-share provided through the stewardship program helps cover the costs of seed, equipment, time, labour, and in some cases, rents on the field. After four years, the field is returned to cash crop production, and the grassland set-aside program affects over 500 acres of farmland annually on the lower Fraser River delta.

I'll talk briefly of the winter cover crop program, another one of our programs that's targeted at migratory waterfowl conservation. Cereal grasses and clovers are planted after cash crop harvests in the late summer and early fall. This vegetation protects the soils from heavy rains. In fall, as populations of migratory waterfowl build, the winter cover crop fields provide feeding habitat for ducks, geese, and swans. The waterfowl feed on the winter cover crop through the winter.

The benefit to the farmer occurs when he ploughs the winter cover crop into the soil in spring, just before planting a cash crop, thus improving soil tilth. An average of 3,000 acres are planted on an annual basis on the lower Fraser River delta. The ability of winter cover crops to provide feeding habitat has made them an important tool for conserving migratory waterfowl populations. They have also helped mitigate conflict between waterfowl and farming operations, because waterfowl can drastically impact the viability of hay production by overgrazing the crop. The cover crops lure the waterfowl away from the more economically important hay and pasture crops, and this reduces grazing damage to the hayfields.

Currently, it's important to note that farmers on the lower Fraser River delta are compensated through the federal safety net program for damage caused by waterfowl.

In closing up here, DF&WT has conducted research studies to validate the efficacy of these practices for conserving wildlife. Research has assessed the abundance of small mammal prey in grassland set-asides, and the extent to which different winter cover crops support migratory waterfowl. Assessments to date have confirmed that these stewardship programs are contributing to wildlife conservation by functioning as high-quality habitat.

The kind of landscape level management carried out by the Delta Farmland & Wildlife Trust must be considered in the context of challenges to conservation. Presently, industrial, commercial, and residential developments and the associated transportation corridors are being developed and expanded on the lower Fraser River delta farmland. The landscape changes associated with converting farmland to other uses diminishes its capacity to conserve wildlife and ecosystem function within one of Canada's most significant, important bird areas. To conserve populations of migratory birds and species at risk, farmland habitat must be retained.

The DF&WT model can be emulated in other regions of this country where landowners are equipped to enact conservation practices, but have been given no incentive to do so. When combined with habitat retention, this model can conserve wildlife. Providing cost-share funding can ensure farmers are not bearing the full cost of conservation management, and thereby have incentives to carry out management that conserves wildlife and ecosystem function.

The main point I must make here is that when there's a cost associated with managing a landscape for wildlife conservation, that cost cannot be placed solely on the landowner. The value of the environmental goods and services must be recognized and paid for by society so that those goods and services can be realized.

From this specific example of the Delta Farmland & Wildlife Trust, I will comment on the proposed national conservation plan. The purpose of the NCP should be to retain the existing ecological function of Canada's ecosystems, especially those that are critical to the conservation of a wide array of species.

Within this context, the NCP should explicitly recognize the ecological function of the lower Fraser River delta, including its critical importance as a node for wildlife migration. Furthermore, a specific objective of the NCP should be to retain the existing ecological function of this delta by preventing the further development of farmland.

Another specific objective should be to support conservation models that engage private landowners in the management of existing farmland habitat, similar to the work conducted by the Farmland & Wildlife Trust. This kind of collaborative model ensures that managed private lands can connect protected habitat, thereby increasing our capacity to conserve Canada's wildlife.

Thank you.

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Mark Warawa

Thank you very much.

Next we'll hear from West Coast Environmental Law Association, and you have 10 minutes.

1:10 p.m.

Jessica Clogg Executive Director and Senior Counsel, West Coast Environmental Law Association

Good afternoon. My name is Jessica Clogg. I am the executive director and senior counsel at West Coast Environmental Law, which is dedicated to safeguarding the environment through law. Since 1974, our staff lawyers have successfully worked with communities, non-governmental organizations, and all levels of government, including first nations governments and the private sector, to develop proactive legal solutions to environmental problems.

We commend the federal government for its commitment to developing a national conservation plan. A number of previous witnesses have spoken to the central elements of such a plan, much of which I agree with. In particular, I note in agreement, the framing of my colleagues from CPAWS who spoke at an earlier hearing and summarized these succinctly as “protect, connect, restore, and engage”.

In my submission today, I therefore wish to examine in greater depth three issues that crosscut these elements and should inform a national conservation plan. First is the imperative of climate change and nature conservation; second is the need for sustainable land and water management outside protected areas; and third is the honourable treatment of constitutionally protected aboriginal and treaty rights. Above all else, a framework of strong federal and provincial environmental laws must provide a backbone of an effective national conservation plan.

With regard to climate change and nature conservation, the impacts of climate change on our land and water are sobering. Globally, 20% to 30% of animal species are likely to go extinct. The biological underpinnings—