Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon, and thank you all for this opportunity to share WWF's experience and views with your committee.
We have supplied a full 12-page written submission to your committee, but here we will present only highlights. We've also supplied for the translators today a copy of these shorter remarks.
My name is Peter Ewins, senior officer for species conservation. With me is Jarmila Becka Lee, who's our conservation science adviser.
SARA and its associated programs have great potential to help recover Canada's disappearing species and prevent more species from being added to the list. However, the steadily lengthening COSEWIC list signals very clearly that the combined efforts of international conventions, domestic laws, accords, agreements, policies, programs, stewardships, and partnerships are not yet working properly. Efficient and effective implementation of SARA has yet to be achieved. Today we'd like to elaborate on four main recommendations.
One, critical habitat should be identified in recovery strategies based on best available information, recognizing that at least for currently occupied species ranges, key habitat needs to be fully protected. The federal government's reluctance to do this to this point has been contrary to the purpose of SARA and some of the legislation's underlying principles and requirements.
Two, the multi-species approach, using ecosystem-based management tools reflective of regional variation, should be utilized widely now in order to swiftly address the backlog of required recovery strategies and action plans, and thereby to efficiently achieve SARA's goals.
Three, conservation agreements under SARA sections 11 and 12 should be used widely by the Government of Canada as well-proven mechanisms for enhanced stewardship and fair incentives for achieving multi-species recovery, including by designing an approach that integrates the section 73 permitting with conservation management needs.
And four, on conservation financing, the federal government must promptly review the available innovative mechanisms and then develop and sustain significant new funding vehicles in order to radically improve implementation of SARA via effective partnerships and financial leveraging.
The WWF has learned a few things in conserving Canadian species at risk in the field over the past 40 years, including co-founding COSEWIC, serving on various recovery teams, and funding hundreds of species at risk projects, especially via the multi-partner endangered species recovery fund, ESRF, which we administered for that period. This and our global experience on similar issues will underpin our submission to you today.
For 20 years, since 1988, the ESRF provided support to high-priority species projects that assisted in the recovery and protection of at-risk wildlife in Canada and their natural habitats. Over that period of time, $10 million was awarded to over 770 species at risk field research and recovery projects, led by scientists and local conservation partners. Further, matched at least one to one by the recipients, over $25 million was ultimately invested into species recovery efforts across the country.
Sadly, two years—2007 and 2008—of delayed federal funds to the ESRF partnership model forced field project crews to front-end the costs of approved projects, and with no firm evidence of major change to this untenable situation, WWF has since been unable to continue with the ESRF partnership funding model. The federal government's main SARA funding vehicle, the habitat stewardship program, HSP, is similarly hampered by consistent delays in project approvals and funding delivery.
Turning to critical habitat, since 2003 there has been abundant evidence from various species with good ecological survey data that, contrary to the wishes of Parliament in enacting SARA, government departments have been highly resistant to identifying and protecting critical habitat. Clearly, SARA goals cannot be achieved until this situation is reversed.
Your committee will already have read of this in the 2006 Stratos evaluation and the 2008 Auditor General's office report, and heard it on June 2 of last year in the submission by the minister's advisory committee, SARAC, of which I am a member.
It has been suggested to you that federal protected areas and habitat protection and stewardship programs were taking care of habitat needs of SARA-listed species--i.e., instead of identification and protection of their critical habitat. However, a recent Conservation Biology journal paper by the University of Ottawa clearly refutes this, as regions in Canada with the most threatened species have few or no protected areas.
The multi-species approach, currently, relating to 359 endangered, threatened and extirpated species listed by SARA, really tells us that there are only 76 finalized recovery strategies posted on the SARA registry, of which 65--or 86%--are single species, and only 11 are for multi-species strategies, with a range of two to nine species per recovery strategy.
In other words, we have a huge backlog in the system of now overdue recovery strategies, and the multi-species approach has been totally underutilized to help clear this backlog.
Past federal reviews have recognized that the single-species approach to recovery is slow and inefficient overall, but four years later remarkably little concrete progress has been made. Two good multi-species recovery initiatives under way include those for the 34 endemic freshwater mussel species in southwestern Ontario, and also for the 100 species at risk in the Garry oak ecosystems of southern British Columbia.
The multi-species ecosystem-based approach should be applied much more extensively in Canada. SARA goals can only be achieved with very strong integration of long-term species recovery strategies and values into regional land and resource use planning, the comprehensive regional strategic environmental assessments that are required now, and careful sequencing and coordination with other government department programs, policies, and financing. This will all greatly help reduce the recovery strategy backlog and prevent the addition of new species to schedule 1.
Conservation agreements: SARA sections 11 to 13 clearly outline stewardship and conservation agreements as very important tools for species recovery and prevention of species from becoming at risk. But as of April this year, no conservation agreements are in place under SARA. This is very troubling, given the experiences in Canada and elsewhere in the world.
I'll give you just three examples of how conservation agreements are working quite well for multiple species and their habitat needs.
Firstly, in the mid-1980s, as part of the broader prairie conservation action plan, WWF initiated Operation Burrowing Owl, which engaged 2,500 farmers and landowners in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Alberta.
Secondly, Ducks Unlimited Canada has secured and enhanced millions of acres of wetland habitat through such conservation agreements with private landowners, ensuring strong implementation of the North American waterfowl management plan.
And thirdly, for the past 30 years in the U.K.—and I was involved with these programs—under legislation comparable to SARA, successful species habitat conservation has been achieved via conservation agreements with numerous landowners.
Therefore, WWF recommends that the Government of Canada quickly initiate a top-priority global review of conservation agreements used in biodiversity conservation, and then develop and implement plans for using SARA’s conservation agreements with tenure-holders across Canada, ideally linking to any section 73 permitting.
And finally, conservation financing: past reviews of SARA have all recognized that implementation and results have been challenged by low financial priority afforded to species recovery programs. WWF has been at the forefront of some major initiatives around the world, working to set out creative new approaches to financing. These initiatives illustrate very well the biodiversity and local livelihood benefits of creative conservation financing mechanisms.
One example is the monarch butterfly conservation fund, which involves an expanded forest reserve to protect the monarch's wintering habitats in Mexico by addressing the socio-economic needs of local communities. Endowed with a $5-million grant from the Packard Foundation, $1 million from the Mexican government, and $0.25 million from local states, and facilitated by WWF Mexico, most of the 38 communities living within the reserve boundaries have now signed up with the fund and are committed to protecting the forest, and hence the monarchs.
Also, a recent report by the United Nations Development Programme, the Global Environment Facility, U.S. Forest Service, and the Commission for Environmental Cooperation highlights how market-based schemes can preserve species at risk by incorporating the cost of habitat destruction into the costs of development.
We urge the Government of Canada to look very thoroughly at the spectrum of financing mechanisms available for species recovery and to develop and sustain significant new conservation-financing vehicles in order to radically improve on SARA's implementation.
In conclusion, Mr. Chair, all recommendations of the past reviews of SARA's implementation should be addressed swiftly and in full by the federal government. Canadians clearly do not want to see the species at risk continuing to grow. We urge your committee to make bold recommendations for the Government of Canada to elevate the priority and efficiencies afforded to SARA's implementation.
Thank you. We'd be happy to answer questions.