Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and members of the committee. My name is Len Ugarenko. I'm the president of Wildlife Habitat Canada. I appreciate the opportunity of being invited here to present some ideas for your consideration about a national conservation plan.
Wildlife Habitat Canada is a national, non-profit, charitable organization that was established in 1984 by Environment Canada, provincial governments, territorial governments and conservation organizations. We work to conserve, restore and enhance wildlife habitat by funding conservation projects, promoting conservation action, and fostering coordination among conservation groups.
Wildlife Habitat Canada receives the bulk of its funding, which is derived from the purchase of the Canadian wildlife habitat conservation stamp, from Environment Canada. The stamp is purchased primarily by waterfowl hunters to validate their federal migratory game bird hunting permit. Since 1985, we have invested over $60 million in support of over 1,500 conservation projects on private and public lands across Canada.
As for my credentials, I have over 25 years of experience working on wildlife, fisheries and natural resource management projects across Canada, the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean. This includes working with all levels of government, non-governmental conservation organizations, the corporate and industrial sectors, aboriginal peoples and numerous foundations across North America, to name a few. I am a founding director of the Canadian Business and Biodiversity Council, a member of the Ontario Biodiversity Council, as well as the North American Wetlands Conservation Council and the North American Bird Conservation Initiative Council. So I've been professionally and personally involved in conservation all my life.
A suggestion for the purpose of a national conservation plan is that it should conserve Canada’s natural capital to ensure a secure future for generations to come. Natural resources and ecosystem resources are essential to human health as well as the health of the environment and the economy. It should also promote biodiversity and sustainable development, and it should promote partnerships among federal, provincial and territorial governments, conservation organizations, and industry to move forward toward the common goals of a national conservation plan.
Those goals could include the conservation and restoration of wildlife habitat, connecting Canadians to nature and to wildlife conservation, with particular emphasis on youth and new Canadians. We need the public to both commit to a national conservation plan and help implement the plan if it is to be successful. The government and the conservation community cannot do it alone. It should promote sustainable development by engaging sectors such as agriculture, forestry, mining, and the oil and gas industries. All should be included in a national conservation plan.
The guiding principles of a national conservation plan could include that it be a collaborative effort with the conservation community, aboriginal peoples, industry and government at all levels. Other government departments need to be involved, including Fisheries, Health, Agriculture, Aboriginal Affairs, Natural Resources Canada, and Immigration to name a few.
It needs to be a realistic executable plan for on-the-ground conservation activities, yet it should not be overly ambitious. Not everyone will get what they want.
National conservation plan progress and achievements need to be measured to keep the plan moving forward. It needs to be a living document that can accommodate additions and revisions as the landscape changes, such as with global warming and climate change, and we should continually look for opportunities to generate revenue and save money while doing good things for the environment.
One suggestion is having multi-year contribution agreements. The government could implement multi-year contribution agreements that fund organizations to reduce the high administrative costs of negotiating annually.
There are ways to leverage existing conservation funding mechanisms, and I'll use Wildlife Habitat Canada’s grant program as an example. Revenue raised through the sale of the Canadian wildlife habitat conservation stamp is currently being used to fund projects on other national and international initiatives, such as the North American waterfowl management plan and other migratory game bird projects. The conservation activities executed through this program can directly support the national conservation plan's goals and objectives. With programs that are already in place, we won't be reinventing the wheel. They can be leveraged to further support and complement a national conservation plan.
We could also utilize existing delivery vehicles, such as the North American waterfowl management plan joint ventures, and other conservation organizations that have developed long-term geographic conservation plans across Canada. There are existing structures, such as aboriginal councils and the Canadian Wildlife Directors Committee to do that.
I've made a reference to the migratory game bird hunting permit stamp. The price of that stamp has not changed since 1991. A small increase in the price of the stamp would provide more money for wildlife conservation projects at no cost to the government, and these projects could be used to implement aspects of a national conservation plan.
Healthy fish habitat is imperative to maintaining human health, since water quality is a basic element that everybody relies on. If it is approached properly, funds dedicated for fish habitat projects will reduce costs associated with erosion, flood control, water quality and quantity, and water purification and transport costs.
The conservation priorities of a national conservation plan should include conserving, restoring, and protecting known critical habitats that support biodiversity; preserving intact ecosystems and watersheds; restoring species at risk; and creating dedicated protected areas, such as expanding the national park system, especially urban parks. These could be used to plan and manage adaptation to climate change and to educate the public.
The implementation priorities of a national conservation plan could include the following.
There is a need to get a national conservation plan developed and implemented reasonably soon. Having an NCP stuck in the bureaucratic layers of study and process development will not be helpful. We need to have a champion for the conservation plan in order to keep moving it forward.
Another priority is to communicate with the conservation community to focus efforts towards common goals and reduce duplication.
Public education is necessary to ensure active involvement and commitment on their part. You should increase public awareness and participation in conservation and create more opportunities for involvement with nature. Focus on connecting youth to nature, as they are the stewards and leaders of the future. Promote the benefits, both immediate and long-term, especially in the areas of health and education. New Canadians need to be educated about the necessity of taking care of nature and must be active participants.
You could work with the waterfowl joint ventures—the North American Wetlands Conservation Council, the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, and the Canadian Wildlife Directors Committee—to leverage projects that are at the implementation stage or already in progress.
In terms of the consultation process, the minister should consider having a collaborative process, drawing on the expertise of the people and organizations who have the knowledge and resources to aid in the development and implementation of a successful national conservation plan. However, the process should not get bogged down by the involvement of too many representatives.
Finally, we did not come here today to give you statistics on wetland loss, air and water pollution, declining wildlife species, nor global warming or climate change. We all know there are problems and issues facing the environment that will ultimately have an impact on society in the areas of health, quality of life, and economy.
Government has taken a leadership role in taking on the task of preparing a national conservation plan to conserve, restore, and connect. Organizations such as Wildlife Habitat Canada have both an opportunity and a responsibility to participate and help with this endeavour.
If done properly, this will not be the usual conservation plan that has been put together by the usual conservation organizations. The result can be a national conservation plan that embraces all aspects of society, including urban, rural, and wilderness components. It will be a plan that makes a difference in the lives of all Canadians by taking care of what we now have in the natural world and ensuring its existence for the future.
Thank you very much.