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

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

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Thanks for that.

To come back to the Pacific Salmon Foundation, I want to acknowledge 25 years of the organization working with local volunteer groups. That's something to celebrate.

You made reference to Canada's policy for conservation of wild Pacific salmon. I think you said it was six years in development, released in 2005, and a lot of consultation and planning went into the development of this particular document.

You said you thought some attributes in this model are transferrable perhaps to other ecosystems, other species, other landscapes, if you will.

What is it about this particular planning process that you would recommend for a national conservation plan, which might be adapted to developing a plan that would apply to other landscapes?

9:55 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Pacific Salmon Foundation

Dr. Brian Riddell

That's a great question, James, because we had 10 years of debate within the department and brought in experts on the science. We brought out three drafts of the policy.

I think the mechanism here was that people put into words what they were trying to accomplish and then put it out there for comment and criticism. It was given wide distribution. We received hundreds and hundreds of comments that were then scrutinized, and we've come back with an improved policy that we think addressed the public comments and the weaknesses.

There were three formal releases, including the final one accepted in 2005. It was a true interaction. We were not dictating the policy. We had as much debate among scientists as we did with other members of the public and other NGOs.

I think what made it a success in the end was that in the last three years there was a formal advisory process of about 80 people representing various walks of life in British Columbian organizations. They were brought together at least twice a year for a direct discussion on where it was going, what changes were made. We listened to them and gave our response to them for comment again. So it was really bought into at the end.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Thank you for that.

There has been a lot of discussion about science and science-based interventions, and so on. But when we're talking about complexities, it's one thing to discuss the ecosystems on the land, which are much easier to study and get boots on the ground, and measure and quantify.

If we're talking about the oceans, a lot is going on out there that we don't fully understand when you have very complex, large-scale systems. We don't understand everything about that system, about what's going on in the ocean, let alone how climate change might impact ecosystems.

At least one of you here is a scientist who worked on fisheries issues for many years. Could you comment on the complexities of understanding what's going on in the ocean?

9:55 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Pacific Salmon Foundation

Dr. Brian Riddell

You're right in that we don't understand all the complexities, but we do know enough about how to start defining the ecological zones of Canada's coastal waters, and we do know what we need to measure to monitor for climate change. We can address Canada's oceans.

I would refer you to the Royal Society's panel report—it's available on their website—which was two years of work by quite a strong panel. You can review that material.

I have no concern myself. We know enough that we could draft a policy for our oceans.

The biggest response is that it's not cheap working in oceans. You need specialized equipment; you need ships. We're very badly behind in ships on the west coast, but the oceanographic side is much stronger.

But there are new tools that allow us to do real-time monitoring. We have proposals where we can use what we call “community science” to monitor oceans. Many people who used to fish want to be on the water and have vessels that we can adapt to collect information and monitor things through time. There's lots of opportunity for the development of an ocean policy like that.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Do I have time for one more question?

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Mark Warawa

You do not. Unfortunately, time is about to expire so I want to thank the witnesses.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

I have a good one, Mr. Chair.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Mark Warawa

I'm sure it is, Mr. Lunney, but time has expired.

I want to thank the witnesses for being with us today. It's been very helpful.

We are going to take a 15-minute health break, and we'll start again at 10:15. We'll suspend.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Mark Warawa

I want to thank the witnesses for being with us today as we look for advice in the development of a national conservation plan.

Each of you has received the six questions the committee was looking at, and I would appreciate your comments being focused on those six questions.

In a practical sense, we have translation provided for you. If you're answering questions, we found in the last session that in some cases the volume was too loud and we were getting feedback. So if you're speaking, make sure you have your earpiece away from the microphone and your volume down so that you don't get feedback.

We're seeking your advice, so please keep your comments non-political, non-partisan. You've been called here as experts, and we look forward to your input. You will have up to 10 minutes to make a presentation, and we will begin with the B.C. Wildlife Federation.

Thank you.

10:15 a.m.

Alan Martin Director, Strategic Initiatives, B.C. Wildlife Federation

Thank you very much, Mark. It's a pleasure to appear before the standing committee, and we will focus on the six questions. I believe you do have the presentation in front of you. I will be speaking to the presentation, and my colleague, Neil, will assist me in answering questions during the question and answer session.

The B.C. Wildlife Federation is one of the oldest conservation organizations in British Columbia. Its vision is to lead the conservation and wise use of British Columbia's fish, wildlife, and habitat. Conservation and sustainability is the priority of our over 40,000 members, who include 110 different clubs distributed through the province. Our members donate over 30,000 hours per year in stewardship activities, many of which are focused specifically on habitat conservation.

The pie graph says that most of that comes from a small section of our membership, so there's certainly room to grow in terms of our members and the public contributing towards conservation.

B.C. Wildlife Federation's goals are there for your review. I don't think I need to read them out to you. We need to get on to the six questions, but I think as an organization we want to become a recognized, credible leader of conservation of the province's fish and wildlife resources, and there are a number of different strategies we are using to move that forward. I think one of the most important strategies, and one I think is important for the national conservation plan, is moving forward through strategic partnerships with a range of organizations that have the same long-term vision for the sustainability of fish, wildlife, their habitats, and ecosystems.

Our strategic priorities certainly increase the investment in fish, wildlife, and habitat management in the province. I think funding is always an issue in terms of maintaining resource sustainability. Certainly our members' primary interest is conservation, but we certainly have a focus on increasing opportunities for hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation.

One example of a stewardship program we have is the B.C. wetlands education program. It's fairly focused. Its objective is clean water, functioning habitat, and healthy fish and wildlife populations. It has been going on for 16 years. It focuses on stewardship training and education, and it delivers projects in communities throughout the province. The result on any annual basis is 100 to 150 people who are trained in wetland stewardship and doing four to five projects, but the knock-on effect is that they are able to continue to do these stewardship activities on an ongoing basis throughout communities and landscapes throughout the province, particularly for wetlands that are very sensitive to habitat alteration.

As for the national conservation strategy, the first question is what the purpose should be of this conservation strategy. I think simplicity is important in communicating what the strategy should be. We believe it should be to protect, maintain, and restore the natural capital of Canada by protecting, enhancing, and restoring the sustainability and resilience of natural systems.

The emphasis is on protecting, enhancing, and restoring the sustainability and resilience, and I think that if these landscapes and ecosystems are functioning—they're natural, sustainable, and resilient—it is an outcome everybody can agree to.

I think the goal of the national conservation strategy should be simple. I think Canada should be the recognized world leader in conservation, given its tremendous natural capital from coast to coast, and particularly here in B.C., given its abundant range of species and ecosystems and habitat. That's the goal. That's the outcome we want from developing this plan.

I think the national conservation strategy's guiding principle is natural capital. You can define that as habitat, ecosystems.... It's an all-inclusive definition, but it's best conserved by protecting and enhancing existing natural habitats.

Effective conservation initiatives must be implemented and evaluated on a landscape or watershed scale, or their marine equivalents. Landscapes and watersheds have finite capacity, after which natural capital is lost. It's sort of like the medical analogy that prevention is worth a lot more than a cure, and often, it's a lot less expensive.

I think we need to implement adaptive management approaches, supported by science and experience, at a number of different levels. This is something that should be a collaborative approach. I think there is a place for command and control, but I think you would get much more done through collaboration with communities and first nations on a landscape scale than you would with a single, top-down national strategy. I think it has to be inclusive and collaborative, with both communities and first nations.

On conservation priorities, I think maintaining the natural capital is the long-term outcome. There are certainly species and habitats at risk that need to be addressed. Certainly I think we need to move from a single-species approach to more of a community and ecosystem approach in dealing with species and habitats. The ultimate outcome we want in a national conservation plan is to maintain the sustainability and resilience of natural landscapes and ecosystems in both the terrestrial and aquatic environments.

What are our implementation priorities? In B.C., we have a good conservation framework for species and habitats. What it doesn't have is the legs to implement it. We need to increase monitoring and reporting on a landscape scale in both the marine and aquatic habitats. I think our future is with the next generation, and increasing opportunities for information and education in schools has to be a key component. The more people become separated from the natural environment, the less relevant and important it becomes. Information and education are critically important.

Finally, fostering collaboration between communities, first nations, and various levels of government to deliver conservation solutions is important. You had a tour with Brian Riddell of the Pacific Salmon Foundation. The Living Rivers trust fund took $20 million, and through collaboration with various private sector and community groups, tripled that investment in terms of dealing with watershed and fishery sustainability issues. That is a model for implementation on the ground, and there are many other models as well.

Our implementation priorities are to increase funding and tax incentives for conservation of critical habitats and conservation land purchases. Not everything can be done through regulation. I'm not saying that regulation is not an approach, but where there are critical habitats, particularly on private land, either purchasing that land for conservation purposes or having incentives for the use of the land is compatible with maintaining natural capital and other opportunities for conservation. It is a very powerful tool. It is being used in B.C., and I think it can be very effective nationally.

We need to collaboratively assess and regulate the development of landscapes and watersheds to maintain functioning ecosystems. What the code says is that there are limits to development. It has to be looked at on a landscape basis. Not all landscapes are created equal. Some are more sensitive than others. If you want to maintain the natural capital, sometimes sooner or later, you have to say that this is the limit for particular types of development.

The consultation process is very simple. I think you need a national consultation process for the plan and the elements in it. I think you need regional consultation for delivery, because you have different governments, different communities, different first nations, and different ecosystems. So the priorities are probably quite unique when you move from province to province.

In terms of action, I think action starts at the landscape level, with community and first nations consultation for developing those plans. You need to leverage financial, technical, and community support, because these are the landscapes that people live in, and they are the landscapes in which you will get action and support for the overall outcomes of your plan.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to you, Mark.

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Mark Warawa

Thank you for being here.

Next we will hear from Ecojustice.

You have 10 minutes.

10:25 a.m.

Devon Page Executive Director, Ecojustice Canada

Thank you for having me.

My name is Devon Page. I'm the executive director of Ecojustice. Ecojustice's mission is to use the law to protect and restore the environment. We're unique to the extent that we employ both lawyers and scientists to develop our cases. The primary activity we undertake is providing free legal services, and we do that independent of a client.

We choose cases based on the issue and their ability to create a precedent that will serve to protect the environment in the future. We have an extensive history of litigation concerning species and habitat conservation and protection, and it's one of the core areas of Ecojustice's function. So naturally, my comments today on what the national conservation plan will look like will focus on issues of law.

In Ecojustice's experience, species and their nest area habitats are not meaningfully conserved unless they are protected by law. Whatever the national conservation plan becomes, repealing or weakening Canada's national environmental laws is incompatible with conservation and with the long-term goal of protecting species and natural systems that support our economy, our culture, and our health.

In particular, protecting Canada's threatened species and habitat through strong federal legislation must be a central part of the national conservation plan. An example of why this is necessary can be found in B.C., where you're currently hosting these meetings. We are currently in the midst of an extinction crisis internationally, and in Canada, British Columbia has the highest number of species of any province, but it also has the highest number of species at risk, and the fastest rate of decline. According to the B.C. Conservation Data Centre, at least 1,918 species or distinct populations of wildlife in British Columbia are now at risk, and significant portions of some ecosystems have already been lost.

Loss and degradation of habitat is the leading threat to species and ecosystems in Canada. Loss of habitat is the primary cause of endangerment of 84% of Canada's assessed species at risk. Protecting Canada's species and ecosystems requires strong national legal protection for species—and more importantly, the habitat species need to carry out their life processes—and for the habitat those threatened species need to survive and recover. This is true whether the habitat is inside a park or in the areas between parks.

It's not just a matter of losing a few species here and there. The loss of Canada's native plants and animals directly threatens our economy and our health. Species are the basic building blocks for natural systems we rely on to provide us with clean air, water, carbon storage, pollination, food, and raw materials for industry. The long-term health of these natural systems depends on maintaining the diversity of their species.

Weakening national environmental laws and the protections they provide for the habitat of fish or migratory birds or other species will aggravate Canada's extinction crisis by ignoring the primary cause of that crisis. It will also directly threaten our long-term economic health.

Again, I want to reiterate that it's our position that protecting Canada's threatened species through strong federal legislation must be a central part of a national conservation plan.

Currently, Canada is proposing to change national federal protective laws for the environment. One example of how that can have impacts on a national conservation plan is illustrated at home, regarding changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Two years ago in British Columbia, the federal and provincial governments each completed a separate environmental assessment of the original proposed Prosperity gold-copper mine at Fish Lake, British Columbia, using their own provincial or federal regime. The B.C. environmental assessment approved the project. The federal panel's assessment found that the proposed mine would cause significant effects on the environment and on first nations. In July 2010, the then Minister of the Environment called the environmental assessment one of the most condemning he had ever read. As a result, the federal government rejected the project, and Fish Lake—a lake known for its abundant fish stock—was saved from being turned into a tailings pond. The loss of Fish Lake, as an example, would do no good to a national conservation plan.

Riparian areas are the areas where ecosystems are richest. Current changes to federal fisheries law will jeopardize riparian areas in Canada. As well, currently we understand there are plans to weaken the Species at Risk Act. The current budget implementation bill includes one change that allows SARA permits to be granted with no expiry date, which means an unlimited right to jeopardize critical habitat. This situation will directly influence the survival and recovery of species.

In Ecojustice's opinion, given species decline in Canada, weakening Canada's primary federal environmental protection laws will jeopardize national conservation planning.

We take the position that rather than weakening laws, strong national legislation to protect all species and their habitat before they become at risk is crucial to achieving any kind of meaningful conservation goal in Canada, and therefore must be an important part of the national conservation plan.

Creating more parks is important but is no replacement for maintaining the ecological integrity of the areas outside parks. Protecting habitat for species and ecosystems in the areas between parks is crucial, because parks cannot cover a large enough area, or often the right area, to adequately address the need for habitat protection. Currently there are studies—I've referenced them in my paper—showing that most of Canada's parks are not where species are or where they will be.

Protecting habitat outside of parks requires at least two things: environmental laws that enable strong, science-based, precautionary habitat protection; and creative conservation financing, including funding for compensation and incentives for stewardship on private land.

It's also important to note that whatever the national conservation plan becomes, it must be designed to both protect species, ecosystems, and habitat in the present and enable their adaptation to climate change. I'm sure there are other people who have more expertise than I, but we're already seeing in B.C. the migration of species north in the face of increasing temperatures.

A particular comment that we want to make is that it's our understanding, based on activities that have been undertaken by the federal government, that there may be an emphasis on endemic species as opposed to peripheral species—species that are at the end of their range in Canada. These are typically southern species that have their primary range in the U.S.

We take the position that peripheral species are crucial to a national conservation plan because they make up most of our southern ecosystems. Maintaining these species in the United State will not address our need for functional ecosystems in Canada's most populous areas. The best available science strongly supports maintaining these populations, particularly in light of climate change.

The linkage between the Species at Risk Act and the national conservation plan is currently unclear. Our recommendation is that a strong Species at Risk Act can be used as a key tool to meet the purposes of the national conservation plan around managing species habitat between parks. It is designed to hit the habitat that is already dropping below tolerance levels, as indicated by its species at risk. Our recommendation is that the federal government move immediately to enact the regulations related to stewardship agreements and private land compensation for activities that affect private landholders. The act has required those regulations to be in place since its inception, and they've yet to be introduced.

Finally, we hope and trust that the committee and the federal government want the national conservation plan to be something that actually conserves Canada's species and natural systems—something more than a branding exercise to fill the vacuum left behind following the evisceration of Canada's environmental laws.

We have three recommendations for this committee: a central purpose and guiding principle of the national conservation plan must be to protect Canada's species and their habitat for the benefit of all Canadians, present and future; maintaining and strengthening strong national laws to protect Canada's species and their habitat must be a goal of the national conservation plan; and in particular, maintaining and strengthening the federal Species at Risk Act should be a conservation priority set out in the national conservation plan.

Those are my comments. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you.

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Mark Warawa

Thank you.

Again, I'll remind the members who are sharing their expertise as witnesses today to focus on the six points in developing a national conservation plan.

Next we'll hear from the Guide Outfitters Association of British Columbia.

May 15th, 2012 / 10:35 a.m.

Scott Ellis Executive Director, Guide Outfitters Association of British Columbia

Thank you for the opportunity to present and provide input to the committee on the national conservation plan.

First, a little about Guide Outfitters Association so that you can understand our perspective and where we come from. The province of British Columbia is unique; it's divided into guide territories. Guide outfitters have the exclusive right to guide non-residents for big game. The division of the province into guide areas builds a sense of ownership, so guide outfitters are invested in what's going on and the dynamics in their guide territory. It's the beginning of wildlife stewardship, so they take a holistic approach to managing wildlife ecosystems and what's going on within their guide areas.

One thing that's critical as we go forward is that guide outfitting has been around since the late 1800s. We promote super, natural British Columbia. I think everyone thinks about what that is, and whether it's here in British Columbia or across Canada. We're obviously looking for a pristine environment and a sustainable and wise use of all Canada's resources.

So our vision is that we're advocating for a healthy guide outfitting industry, obviously, but it's critical that's based on healthy and long-term perspectives in wildlife management, ecosystems management, and what's going on in the landscape.

GOABC's a non-profit organization established in 1966 and represents 80% of the guide outfitters in British Columbia. The model we have here was adopted by the Yukon and the Northwest Territories. So I think as we go forward you can also see that we don't necessarily have to create all the models. There are already some processes in other jurisdictions that we can look to.

As a consumptive user, hunters have a proud story and when you look at the funds that range from surcharges on licences and tags, our community of anglers, trappers, and hunters have raised over $140 million for fish and wildlife enhancement around the province of British Columbia, which is put through the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation.

What I tell people who don't understand the role hunters play in conservation is that hunting is a good thing, because it means there's a surplus and we're stewards of that. We take a very long-term perspective on how we do that with wise and sustainable use.

So if you look for the first hunter conservationist out there, you will see people like Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier or President Theodore Roosevelt, who understood the value of wildlife and the need for sustainable use. They're the founders of national parks throughout Canada and the U.S. and had a vision. So I would suggest we look to models that are already there, like the North American model for conservation. It's developed through efforts of hunters and anglers to stipulate law and science to manage wildlife for sustainability. Many species in our jurisdiction, in British Columbia specifically, have rebounded well with this long-term, sustainable use model.

We have a role to play as consumptive users in trying to inform our sector about how to care for wildlife rather than care about the hunt, and how to do good things with the natural resources out there. Part of that is we always have to balance the social, political, and economic pressures on wildlife, and I think that's something that can be done.

We take steps to hold symposiums and work on wildlife inventories and look at new models for doing DNA better and faster, so we know the population estimates and what the trends are, whether they're increasing or decreasing, and the cub or calf recruitment. All these things are very critical as we look to see what's going on.

Someone mentioned earlier that it's easier to know what's going on in the landscape than it is in the oceans. I'm not necessarily sure that's the case.

Specifically on your six questions. What should the purpose of the national conservation plan be? We're looking for long-term priorities for the next century, providing overarching guidance in conservation for the provinces and the territories and tangible goals for strategies for the future.

Goals for the national conservation plan.... Educate Canadians on sustainable use. We have an opportunity to put these types of things in the school curriculum, rather than just the odd tour or the odd field trip. Actually put it in the curriculum and talk about sustainable use, talk about the commitment to the resources, the management of ecosystems. Take a holistic approach, which I think you've heard before, not just piecemeal—one species or one part of the ecosystem—but a whole overarching plan for the landscape, and develop synergies among stakeholders and all levels of government and municipalities and first nations.

Regarding the guiding principles, again, it's wise use, it's sustainable use, based on science and laws, creating a surplus of the renewable resources, and collaborating with first nations and local communities.

As for implementation priorities, these include a holistic approach, regular assessment of landscapes and watersheds, some types of tax incentives for conservation and rehabilitation projects—similar to what we would do with the HCTF—and dedicated funds for fish and wildlife inventories.

What consultation process should the minister consider when developing a national conservation plan? It's local knowledge from those living and working on the land. Local knowledge is expert knowledge. You have a lot of traditional knowledge as well from first nations. You have a variety of stakeholders here. You can leverage their expertise.

Thank you.

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Mark Warawa

Thank you very much.

Finally, we will hear from the World Wildlife Fund, Canada, and you have 10 minutes.