Good afternoon, Mr. Chair, members of the committee, and fellow panellists. On behalf of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, our 100,000 members, and 675 member clubs across the province, I am pleased to have the opportunity to appear before you today to comment on the creation of a national conservation plan.
Like many of the witnesses who have preceded me, we participated in the round-table discussion chaired by the minister and Ms. Rempel earlier this year. As one of the largest charitable, non-profit, conservation-based organizations in the province, and one of the largest in Canada in fact, the OFAH works with all levels of government, academic institutions, the private sector, other NGOs, Ducks Unlimited, the Canadian Wildlife Federation, our affiliates in provinces and territories, first nations, and members of the general public to protect, conserve, and enhance our valuable natural resources, most notably, fish and wildlife populations and their respective habitats.
The OFAH is home to the invading species awareness program, the Ontario Invasive Plant Council, the Lake Ontario Atlantic salmon restoration program, and the stream steward program, to name but a few. At the heart of our work is a strong belief in public policy, legislation, regulations, and standards that seek to conserve our natural resources for current and future generations and that are based upon the best available science
You've heard from others who have appeared before you about the need to restore and protect wetlands. You've heard from Mr. Wong about the creation of national parks and marine protected areas, and you've heard from Mr. Hummel about boreal forests, all important aspects of conservation and all equally important in terms of creating a national conservation plan. Instead of echoing or expanding upon their comments, however, I'll use my time before you today to talk about another equally important consideration when developing the NCP, namely the threat to fish and wildlife populations from various sources.
Last week we had the privilege of appearing before the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans to discuss the need for action on aquatic invasive species, which threaten valuable fish populations and habitat, have an impact on water quality, compete for food sources, and ultimately in many cases displace native species. The same is also true for terrestrial invasive species, plants and insects alike, which threaten our wetlands and forests.
In reading the transcripts of other witnesses, I noted that invasive species were frequently mentioned as something that required particular attention. Assistant Deputy Minister Keenan referred to the threat posed by these species several times during his testimony, but I am not aware that any of the previous witnesses focused to any degree on this issue in relation to the development of the NCP.
Our environment and ecosystems supply multiple important benefits for the quality of life and economic well-being of Canadians. The introduction and spread of invasive alien species affects our environment, our economy, and society as a whole. This threat is increasing at an alarming rate, requiring management and control with limited resources and often limited success, and new invaders continue to arrive as a result of insufficient prevention and detection. The economic cost to Canada of just 16 non-indigenous species is estimated to be as much as $34.5 billion annually to the Canadian economy.
The Government of Canada has been working towards a collaborative approach to invasive species by developing strategies, frameworks, and recommendations for over a decade, but we still see the impact of these invaders on a daily basis, from the forests of British Columbia to the waters of the Great Lakes basin and the oceans that abut our coasts. Previous witnesses have all broached interesting ideas for inclusion in the NCP, but I note that for the most part they avoided discussion of the resources that such a plan will require to be successful.
I find it a bit ironic that as we discuss the creation of a national conservation plan, governments across this country, including the federal government and our provincial government in Ontario, are in the process of passing austerity budgets, which have already had an impact on the funding to address threats to the conservation of our resources. Witness, for example, the recent sudden cancellation of funding for years two and three of the invasive alien species partnership program by Environment Canada.
Our neighbours to the south continue to spend over half a billion dollars a year to address the impact of these species, and $50 million alone on mitigation plans for Asian carp in the Great Lakes. What is missing here, and what must be considered as part of any national plan, is the investment of resources required to adequately implement plans on a scale that will make an appreciable difference.
The threat posed by both aquatic and terrestrial invasive species is mirrored by a threat to our wildlife populations and their continued existence by diseases like chronic wasting disease, which has already caused immeasurable harm to deer populations in western Canada and several U.S. states, and affects elk, moose, and potentially caribou.
For well over a decade, the OFAH and the Canadian Wildlife Federation have been telling governments that the threat posed by chronic wasting disease must be taken seriously and that measures to combat the spread of this disease and other wildlife diseases to other parts of the country can and should be established. Thus far, recommendations have fallen on deaf ears, but the mitigation of diseases that have the capacity to wipe out huge populations of native wildlife must be considered in the development of any national plan to conserve our natural resources.
As governments everywhere seek to develop alternative energy sources, exemplified by the rush in some jurisdictions to embrace newer technologies like windpower, there is often little thought given to the impact of these innovations on fish and wildlife populations and habitat. The placement of so-called wind farms, both on land and in water, largely ignores the deleterious effects on fisheries and wildlife.
In Ontario, hundreds of new dams to serve the interests of small local communities are due to come online in the next few years. The track record, both here and elsewhere, is that fisheries values are negatively affected by these facilities in terms of habitat and fish passage, yet little consideration is given to that in the planning process.
No consideration of a national conservation plan can entirely avoid talking about the “elephant in the room”--namely, funding. This is not to suggest that governments must constantly be looked to as the sole source of funding for environmental projects. Quite the contrary: we believe that most organizations, including our own, recognize that the days of approaching government with hand out are a thing of the past.
We are facing what the authors of a new paper on funding for fish, wildlife, and conservation programs have recently termed as the perfect storm, where a convergence of events has created a crisis in funding for fish, wildlife, and conservation programs. No consideration of a national conservation plan could ignore the reality of the current fiscal situation, nor can such a plan succeed when the necessary resources are not behind it.
In his 2007 report entitled “Doing Less with Less” and in a more recent report, the Environment Commissioner of Ontario outlined the chronic state of spending in Ontario on the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Natural Resources. At present, these two ministries combined, who are the front line for environmental and natural resource protection in this province, account for only 1% of the entire provincial budget.
On the ground, the impact of these restraints has been profound, and not just in Ontario. Thirty years ago, the wildIife branch in Manitoba had 105 employees; today it has 35. In Ontario the impact can be even more severe. Once home to 5,800 full-time employees, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources has currently dropped to 3,300, and is going to shrink again under upcoming restraints.
At the federal level, the Canadian Wildlife Service, once revered for its expertise and reach, is now a mere shell of its former self. In real terms, the cuts will be visible and affect core programs. There will be a reduction in stewardship and partnership funding. There will be fewer, not more, strategic partnerships.
A new model for the delivery of stewardship in Ontario will be developed and the MNR will reduce its involvement where other organizations, like ourselves, are active. The Ontario stewardship program, a flagship community-based partnership delivery model, is in danger of being completely eviscerated.
I believe it was Mr. Hummel who correctly noted that most of the successful conservation programs in Canada have resulted from partnerships between NGOs and the private sector. Under the scenario I've just outlined, these partnerships are more and more likely to be the wave of the future.
The OFAH Lake Ontario Atlantic salmon restoration program is one of these cases, where we, together with NGOs, private interests, and academic institutions, have stepped up to provide the bulk of the funding for the program, which to date has put over four million fish back into Lake Ontario.
Despite the gloomy fiscal outlook in some quarters, there are positive developments, and I must say that the federal government's commitment to a national conservation plan is one of those. We're pleased to see the federal government taking the initiative on this, particularly since we've been urging them to do so for some time.
We noted at the time of the round table the use of the phrase “better connect Canadians with nature” in the preliminary document. For this to happen, we have to know how Canadians view nature. We're pleased to see that Environment Canada is about to release the long-overdue report on the importance of nature to Canadians at the National Fish and Wildlife Conservation Congress, which we are hosting in Ottawa at the end of the month. Copies of the agenda for that have been provided to the clerk.
I'm almost out of time, Mr. Chair, and I appreciate that.
There are many positives to the NCP.
In concluding my remarks, I would respectfully point out that anglers and hunters are ardent conservationists. Mr. Hummel stated as much in his remarks to this committee when he noted, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that being a fisherman or a hunter “does not make you the environmental devil incarnate”.
The North American wildlife conservation model, which has been the underpinning for the management of wildlife populations across this continent since the late 1800s, came about as a result of pressure from hunters who saw the need for a marriage between sustainable use and wise conservation. That model was championed by Teddy Roosevelt and Wilfrid Laurier during their time and was the precursor of the wildlife management regime employed today.
We look forward to our continued participation in future discussions around the NCP. Thank you again for affording us the opportunity to be before you today.