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Evidence of meeting #37 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 land.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

David Collyer  President, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers
Murray Elliott  Vice-President, Health, Safety, Environment and Sustainable Development, Shell Canada Limited
Gordon Lambert  Vice-President, Sustainable Development, Suncor Energy Inc.
Richard Dunn  Vice-President, Canadian Division, Regulatory and Government Relations, Encana Corporation
Brenda Kenny  President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Energy Pipeline Association
David Pryce  Vice-President, Operations, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers
Larry Sears  Chairman, Alberta Grazing Leaseholders Association
Lorne Fitch  Provincial Riparian Specialist, Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society - Cows and Fish
Bob Jamieson  As an Individual
Jake Veasey  Director of Animal Care, Conservation and Research, Calgary Zoo
Kevin Strange  Senior Advisor, Conservation Outreach, Calgary Zoo
Doug Sawyer  Chair, Alberta Beef Producers
Rich Smith  Executive Director, Alberta Beef Producers
Lynn Grant  Chair, Environment Committee, Canadian Cattlemen's Association
Alan Gardner  Executive Director, Southern Alberta Land Trust Society
Stephen Vandervalk  Alberta Vice-President, Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association
Bill Newton  Member, Board of Governors, Western Stock Growers' Association
Norman Ward  Member, Board of Governors, Western Stock Growers' Association
Fawn Jackson  Manager, Environmental Affairs, Canadian Cattlemen's Association

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

If there are no additional comments, I want to thank the witnesses for being with us today.

Thank you for your commitment to a sustainable development of our natural resources. Your suggestion that our study be called a national conservation framework, not a plan, will be taken into consideration.

We will suspend until 11:15.

Thank you so much.

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

I'll call the meeting to order.

This is the 37th meeting of the parliamentary Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development.

I welcome the witnesses who are with us today as we continue our study on the creation of a national conservation plan.

There are 12 members on the committee, and five of us around the table today. We are looking forward to hearing from the witnesses. Each witness has up to 10 minutes, but you don't have to take the full 10 minutes, which will be followed by questions.

I will hand it over to the witnesses, beginning with the Alberta Grazing Leaseholders Association. Mr. Sears, you have 10 minutes.

11:20 a.m.

Larry Sears Chairman, Alberta Grazing Leaseholders Association

Good morning, everyone. Thanks for the opportunity to appear before you today.

First, to give you a little background about me, I'm a fourth generation rancher from the foothills of southern Alberta. My boys are the fifth generation pursuing agriculture in Alberta. This is a bit of an unusual situation as we've had a great deal of trouble keeping our youth in agriculture. My family celebrated a hundred years in the province in 2010.

I'd like to tell you a little about my association, the Alberta Grazing Leaseholders. There are roughly 5,700 grazing leases, which is crown lands under agricultural disposition, in Alberta. That's about 5.2 million acres. Alberta’s land mass is estimated to be roughly 150 million acres, not including water. This would put the grazing lease acreage at less than 5% of the land base. The beef cattle industry generates roughly $3 billion in farm cash receipts. The success of our industry relies on an efficient and productive cow herd with access to an extensive feed supply. Approximately 20% of the grazing requirements come from the use of crown grazing leases. These crown lands have a designated priority for agriculture, and most are best suited for cattle grazing. The average lease in Alberta is just over a section and supports approximately 50 cows.

I would like to take this time to offer some insights on the benefits of livestock grazing and its role in maintaining and, in fact, conditioning habitat on the range for other wildlife species. Most ungulates and many of the cherished and so-called endangered species, or endangered animals and birds, are reliant on cattle grazing for their particular habitat to be favourable for them. Grazing is not only complementary, but is beneficial to lots of wildlife. That isn’t the message that is being pushed by the species at risk folks, but it is factual knowledge based on more than 130 years of grazing in this province. If we were to believe some environmentalists who want to eliminate cattle because they threaten wildlife, you would wonder how wildlife continues to thrive with cattle in the equation at all.

That brings us to the contentious issue of $50 million being channelled to species at risk programs. We happen to think there are more beneficial and efficient methods of conservation than putting money in the hands of preservationists.

Let me give you a quote from Ayn Rand to give you some clarity as to why many of us dislike and mistrust that policy and the direction of the species at risk legislation. She said: Economic power is exercised by means of a positive: by offering men a reward and incentive, a payment of value. Political power is exercised by means of a negative: by threat of punishment, injury, imprisonment, destruction. The businessman's tool is values; the bureaucrat's tool is fear.

I think the classic example is when a farmer is faced with a slough or wetland he has to make an economic decision on. In the past, it was very clear: drain the slough, get rid of the ducks and geese that are eating your crop, and get more income from additional acreage harvested. That was the mindset of the wheat monoculture in the past. There are now some other options available through incentive programs that may work well enough for you to maintain a wetland for groundwater recharge, depending on your skill as a negotiator with outfits such as Ducks Unlimited.

So here we are. The truth is not for all men but for those who seek it, and I hope you will seek it. That being said, why wouldn't we have incentives for those who maintain habitat through grazing cattle or sheep, as long as it is done sustainably? Those stewards of the land have been doing this for more than 100 years and have maintained wildlife habitat in spite of well-intentioned but naive environmentalists and bureaucrats who try their best to expand their pet parks or nature reserves.

There are more efficient and effective ways of ensuring that the stewards of the land who are already there will continue to maintain habitat for most species. The regulatory environment we all find ourselves under is not business friendly, nor is it conducive to maintaining future generations in agriculture. Quite frankly, there needs to be a total revamp of the balance between economics and the environment. While we applaud the recent announcement of the streamlining of the approval process for projects, we believe that the balance is still tilted towards those in the green movement, who have no understanding of economics and no skin in the game, so to speak, except ideologically.

I believe that the tipping point was reached in 1973, when the Endangered Species Act was passed in the United States. While initially supported, and believed by many to be the right thing to do, it was quickly hijacked by the anti-business green crowd and has foisted literally billions of dollars of unnecessary and irrational costs on all business and activity in the United States. Putting mice, lizards, insects, etc., above and in front of humans is insanity. Our species at risk legislation has tried to mirror some of the same approaches, claiming subspecies that are bogus, numbers that are ridiculously low, etc.

What started out as a game for some of these folks, because these groups didn't have any economic skin in the game, has become big business. Many of these groups fearmonger to raise money and bully to get grants and handouts. These green groups will eventually grind the economy to a halt.

All conservation efforts that get taxpayer dollars should have community support and be able to verify results. Giving money to large green groups, such as the Nature Conservancy to purportedly protect ranches and farms from being subdivided is sheer folly. Some of the land they have purchased conservation easements on will never be in danger of being subdivided. They merely needed to pad their portfolio to look better to fundraisers. It is far better that those initiatives have private donors who are naive enough to donate to frivolous causes.

Taxpayers should demand more effective use of their dollars. If government feels the need for effective conservation measures, they need to enable a landholder to continue to do the right things as far as management goes, and encourage, not discourage the person from doing so.

That's my presentation today. Thank you very much.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

Thank you.

Just before we proceed with additional witnesses, I would like to share with you the scope of the study of the committee. We sent out six questions.

What should be the purpose of a national conservation plan? What should be the goals? What are the guiding principles that would govern a national conservation plan? What conservation priorities should be included? What should be the implementation priorities? And what would the consultation process the minister should consider look like?

I encourage the witnesses to consider that scope as they make their comments, because the mandate of this committee is to report back, using those six questions as our guidelines for our trip here to Calgary.

We'll next hear from the Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society—Cows and Fish.

May 17th, 2012 / 11:25 a.m.

Lorne Fitch Provincial Riparian Specialist, Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society - Cows and Fish

Thank you, and good morning. In your sweep across Canada coming from the west, thank you for bringing rain. It brings joy to our prairie souls.

Canada has some core natural resources, such as biodiversity, fresh water, fertile soil, breathable air, and a comparatively benign climate, which have no real substitutes. The suite of ecological goods and services, or natural capital, underpins the economy and society of this nation, although there is a significant reliance, particularly here in Alberta, on non-renewable resource extraction.

There is an ecological infrastructure in need of investment in Canada. Concern about damage to the economy needs an accompanying level of reflection about loss of natural capital. The credit crunch has a parallel meaning for society living beyond its ecological means. Our economic soundness is a direct function in the short-term and long-term of the strength of our ecological foundation.

A national conservation plan can create an objective for conservation in Canada, while opportunities and options still exist to create balance, awareness, and a future for subsequent generations. The Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society, better known as Cows and Fish, has worked for 20 years to engender a stewardship ethic towards shared resources of water, watersheds, and biodiversity.

Cows and Fish is a non-governmental organization that operates at ground level on public and private lands, in both rural and urban settings, on the essential task of conserving and managing riparian areas—the interface between land and water. We think our experience, which also includes helping other areas in Canada to develop capacity and tools for watershed conservation, has applicability to this initiative for the national conservation plan.

We appreciate the opportunity to briefly share some of our learnings. They may be useful in the deliberations on the elements, principles, priorities, and implementation of a national conservation plan. Our work revolves around stewardship, as this national plan should. Stewardship is an amalgam of awareness, ethics, and action. These elements are not divisible; they are related and are a continuum.

The first, awareness, is achieving a level of understanding or knowledge that provides the foundation for the next two. The second is the development of a set of ethics, an encoded sense of responsibilities and obligations, to care for land, water, and air as part of our conscience. The third, action, is exhibiting appropriate choice, embodying balance, restraint, and a sense of legacy.

The way Cows and Fish applies these elements of stewardship assists in community-based conservation through a process of engagement that creates opportunity to move from conflict to cooperation. Stewardship opportunity is created through a five-stage process, beginning with ecological awareness. Engagement begins with awareness, an effort to help people understand some of the ecological processes that shape the landscape they live on, and from which many make a living.

The second step is assisting in the development of teams or partnerships at a community or watershed level. A network of resource professionals, landowners, and others who value riparian landscapes has to form in order to solve issues and problems in a multidisciplinary fashion.

Step three is the assemblage of technical advice and tools for management changes to provide options and alternatives to current practices. Much of the information is gathered from innovative, progressive and practical solutions already being used by a select group of landowners. The task is one of locating those individuals involved, understanding the management action taken, and translating that action into an alternative for others to assess for possible application to their operation.

Other tools help the community group link biodiversity, economics, and water quality to management actions and alternatives.

The fourth step is critical. It is a transfer of responsibility for action to the community that is in the best position to make the changes and benefit from them. Part of the critical initial messaging is that there are choices and alternatives to current management practices. As the antithesis of the centralist or top-down approach, Cows and Fish encourages the formation of local or community teams, composed of technical, producer, and other local interests, to engage with each other to drive the process.

Although the process steps are constantly repeated, the fifth step is the monitoring phase using ecological measuring sticks to assess riparian function or health. Those measuring sticks allow an objective review of watershed condition to set benchmarks, link ecological status to management, help galvanize community action, and provide a monitoring framework for landowners and others.

The essence of the Cows and Fish program is bound within the five elements of the process I've just described. The program has a watershed or landscape focus relating to restoration and management of landscape health. Science is applied to assist in ecological understanding, including measuring sticks for landscape function. Our process changes the way we engage with landowners, to move from situations of conflict to areas of cooperation. Through the process, communities and others begin to see, value, and use landscapes differently and create a landscape vision that includes elements of ecological restoration and maintenance.

Cows and Fish is not a government program but works with agency staff to increase their effectiveness in communities. The program and its elements undergo periodic evaluation to monitor progress and determine impediments or barriers to stewardship actions. The Cows and Fish process has direct and proven application to conservation efforts in agricultural communities. The process also has utility for the resolution of other land-use issues to achieve a stewardship and conservation outcome.

Riparian and, by association, watershed actions need to be community based, locally driven, and largely voluntary. To help a community to arrive at this point requires knowledge-building, motivation, acknowledgement of problems, and empowerment. The reasons for positive action may be enhanced awareness, motivated self-interest, concern about legislation, marketing opportunity, or altruism. The net effect will be a return to a landscape that maintains a critical ecological function and provides a greater measure of support for agricultural operations.

The following are the principles upon which Cows and Fish operates. It is science-based and ecologically relevant. It uses stewardship as a driver. It is built on ecological literacy, building awareness within communities. It is system-oriented towards watersheds. It is scope- and scale-driven, that is, driven by restoration of ecological function. It is long-term and future-focused. It is community-based and delivered. It links sustainable actions to economics, and it is measurable and measured. These principles may have direct applicability to the design of a national conservation plan.

Cows and Fish is about building a cumulative body of knowledge that we all should have, including that on how riparian systems function and link us, how watersheds work, the vital signs of landscape health, the essentials of how people need to work together, how solutions need to benefit us all, as well as the kinds of information that will enable us to restore or maintain natural systems and build ecologically resilient communities and economies. These might also characterize the outcomes of the national conservation plan.

Thank you.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

Thank you very much.

Next we'll hear from Mr. Jamieson.

Welcome. You have up to 10 minutes.

11:35 a.m.

Bob Jamieson As an Individual

Thank you.

I'm actually from just over the mountains in British Columbia. I'm a systems ecologist. I've been around for 40-odd years, but I'm a little bit of a different bird, because I've also ranched for 20-odd years.

I wanted to explain something about people like Larry and me. To survive as a cattleman, you have to be a very good business person, but you also have to be a very good ecologist, because we're not ranchers, but grass managers. If you don't manage that grass, you lose the basis of your business. So people like Larry and me are kind of caught. A lot of you know that cowboys are generally bowlegged and we assume that's because of riding broncs. The fact of the matter is that we have one foot in the economic realm and the other in the natural world, and we've built this picket fence between them, and we're always trying to survive in that sort of system. I think that's a big part of the problem we face here in trying to develop a national conservation strategy.

The first point I wanted to make was that as part of the multicultural landscape in Canada we now have greennecks and rednecks in addition to first nations and all the other cultures, including the francophone culture and everything else. These people do not communicate very well from the two sides of the debate. That's one of the things we have to resolve.

There was an interesting piece on CBC a couple of days ago when this young woman described herself as an “eco-holic”, recycling and doing all these green things, and I thought that on the other end of the spectrum, there are “dollar-holics” or “stuff-holics” who create this dilemma. The problem I see for Canada is that we try to address conservation issues in what I call combat-based decision-making. We have two sides, two positions, and we throw rocks at each other and there's not a lot of room, almost no room, in the press for people like Lorne who has spent his life working in the middle ground trying to find solutions.

The reason I've had to think about this is that I've been involved in issues in our valley across the mountains. We have three issues or conservation conflicts that have gone on for 15 years in our valley. We have no real solutions in any of those situations, and I think we're up around $100 million to $150 million in expenditures on the part of government groups and people in our community trying to solve these problems. It's becoming a big problem for our community. I think it's happening across Canada.

I'll tell you a little story about how far it's gone in our valley. You may be aware of this debate over a ski resort called Jumbo. It has split our community. The other day I was talking to someone who was perceived as being for this development proposal. He happened to play guitar and he asked another friend if he could jam with him to make some music; this other fellow is a professional musician. He said that would be great. He went to his band members and said so and wanted to come and jam with them, and one of the other band members said he couldn't jam with them because he's for Jumbo. That just breaks my heart to see our communities being pulled apart by these issues in that way.

The role of a national conservation strategy, in my view, is to at least think about these dilemmas and use this national conservation strategy as a tool to bring people together. I've done some thinking about this that I'd like to share with you. One is what I call individual context. For all the computers we have in this world, our decision-making software is a million years old. It was developed when we were all living in caves. There was a very interesting piece of information in Scientific American recently. They have chemicals that allow scientists to see which neurons are operating when they put you in an MRI scanner. They put people in the machine and ask them questions and when they're under stress and have to make a difficult decision, the neural activity shifts from the people's cortex to their lower brains, their emotional selves. Under stress we respond emotionally instead of intellectually. We all have examples of how that kind of response has happened over environmental issues across Canada.

The way it plays out is really interesting. I was chairing a group during the “war of the woods” in B.C. many years ago. A deputy minister for forests came. He gave a real barnburner of a speech and said it was absolutely imperative to “recycle” the land use problems in B.C. He meant to say resolve, but he was so caught up in the emotion of the thing that he provided a brilliant Freudian slip.

So I think it would be useful for us to look at the best of modern science in neurology, psychiatry, and psychology to see what we know about the brain and how our minds and brains work. This might allow us to see if there are some tools that we could develop to allow us to make better cooperative decisions.

The other piece of the puzzle is what I call the Walt Disney version of resource and wildlife management. We have people who think that the best thing Larry can do on his ranch is to keep all the calves. But if he does that, it's going to put him out of business. We have this sort of thought process that is antithetical to proper wildlife management and to actually getting things done and happening on the landscape.

In my view, our present approach to resource issues in Canada is counterproductive, not just for people but for wildlife. I want to give you an example that is quite fascinating to me.

We have a thing called a badger, which is like a groundhog from down east, living in our valley. It's a listed species. Under present regulations, you cannot disturb the habitation of an endangered species or a listed species. It makes sense for birds, which have one nest. Badgers have a hundred to a thousand holes where they dig up gophers. You can't tell which of those they are trying to raise their young in.

What is happening in our valley is an eco-restoration program that is fundamentally shifting our landscape from scrub timber to grassland that can support gophers and badgers. We're required by the act to leave a patch of timber around every badger hole. It's costing the forest companies doing the work hundreds of thousands of dollars, and it's counterproductive for the badgers, because they're a grassland species. The problem is that nobody in the whole system, from the local biologists with the forest company to our provincial people and up through them, is willing to sit down and say this is stupid. The response has always been that we have to follow the regulations, whether they make sense or not. We have to do some work around the listed species reports to make sure they work.

Another problem we have to think about is that we've had things like wolves and grizzly bears in our system in this part of the world for a long time. We're realizing that there are secondary and tertiary impacts from these animals that are causing serious problems for the ranchers in the world and creating major conflicts.

It's interesting. I drove here over the mountains yesterday. I went for a walk in Kootenay National Park. We were talking about wolves here today. I'll be a son-of-a-gun, but I had two wolves, from me to the far end of the table, at this time yesterday. They're beautiful animals, but they have a major impact on things.

In terms of solutions, what I want to suggest is that we spend a lot of time focusing on species. We have to shift our thinking to sorting out how those species are going to survive in a grassland system, or whatever kind of system. You will see in my notes that one of the other things that's important to understand is that we have landscapes managed by the national parks. We also have really important national landscapes of national importance that are run by east slope ranchers. It's the cultural equivalent of something that maintains those landscapes. To me, that's really important.

The final thing, and I'm with Lorne here, is that the focus of how we approach this conservation problem in Canada should be to do it locally. The major problem with groups that are trying to find common ground and work together is that you cannot make these decisions without controversy. When you have controversy over these issues, the end result is that it improves the funding opportunities for the people on either pole. The government and other people say, oh, we don't want to be near controversy, and for the groups in the centre that are trying to get things done, the funding ends. We have to find a mechanism to deal with that.

There you are.

Thanks very much.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

Thank you, Mr. Jamieson.

Finally, we'll hear from the Calgary Zoo.

We wish we had time to visit it. I visited the Calgary Zoo many years ago with my children, who are all grown up now, but it was a great experience visiting there. Yesterday, we visited Olds College, and then the Kerfoot Ranch, and it was a great day. Unfortunately, we didn't get to the zoo, but we're glad you're here.

You have 10 minutes.

11:50 a.m.

Dr. Jake Veasey Director of Animal Care, Conservation and Research, Calgary Zoo

First of all, I would like to thank the honourable members for the invitation to provide comment on the development of a national conservation plan for Canada. My intention this afternoon is to speak not only on behalf of the Calgary Zoological Society but also to represent accredited Canadian zoos and aquariums and illustrate collectively what we can and should contribute both to the development and the implementation of this worthwhile initiative.

Given the time constraints, I will focus on two key areas in which the contribution of zoos and aquariums is arguably unsurpassed by any other conservation sector, namely public engagement and captive breeding for reintroduction. However, committee members should also know that zoos have a growing and substantial role to play in conservation efforts in the wild across the globe through fundraising, the provision of expertise, and direct action, as they are mandated to do so by the world zoo and aquarium conservation strategy.

First of all, let me provide you some background information on zoos that may provide context to our potential contribution to this initiative. In North America more people visit zoos and aquariums annually than attend professional sporting events. In Canada, one in three Canadians visits zoos accredited by the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums every year. In essence, more people vote in favour of zoos by visiting them annually than support any single political party at election time. These visitors represent a democratic cross-section of Canadian society, cutting across generations and socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, as well as including the physically able and those living with disabilities. So we're uniquely placed to bring different communities together to engage in constructive discussions relating to issues of the environment.

While visits to national parks and historic sites within Canada are in decline, attendance around the world at good zoos like the Calgary Zoo continues to grow. Zoos, therefore, have a huge, growing and potentially receptive audience for environmental education. Despite Canada being truly blessed with natural wonders and resources, Canadians, and our children in particular, are increasingly environmentally illiterate as communities become ever more urbanized. This worrying trend is perhaps illustrated by the decline in young visitors to Canada's glorious parks.

Zoos, working alongside parks and schools, are uniquely positioned to help reverse this trend toward a nature deficit disorder in our urban young. In connecting communities with arguably Canada's most cherished assets, its wonderful natural resources, Calgary Zoo has worked with educators from Parks Canada for the past two years trying to do just that, connecting our guests with nature and Canada's national parks network. The Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums also has a memorandum of understanding with Parks Canada on pursuing shared objectives of education and outreach.

Recent round table discussions on the development of a national conservation plan suggest that education, communication, and working with urban communities should be central components to this plan. Whilst many may challenge the impact that zoos have on environmental education, I know my personal journey in conservation was shaped by my early experiences of London Zoo as a child growing up in that city, and I know that many of my colleagues working in conservation share similar stories. I put it to the committee that the accredited Canadian zoos and aquariums provide a unique opportunity to engage Canadian citizens in discussions about conservation initiatives, connecting them with nature in an environment that sensitizes them to crucial messages in a way that the classroom or TV rarely can. In doing so, hopefully they will inspire us, as zoos did for me, to take action in our lives that can make a lasting difference to wildlife.

Beyond engaging people, zoos globally are already key players in biodiversity conservation. The 300-strong World Association of Zoos and Aquariums network contributes approximately $350 million a year to in situ conservation.

However, beyond conventional conservation activities, zoos are the experts in captive breeding and conservation genetics and reintroduction, strategies identified as key to 55% of Canadian species recovery programs. Furthermore, captive breeding and reintroduction has already played a role in 25% of the successful vertebrate species recovery programs worldwide.

Of course, extinction is forever, and zoos are likely to be the last hope for many species. Zoos already have guardianship of approximately one in seven of the threatened species on earth. Sadly, habitat protection alone is unlikely to prevent an inexorable decline of many species, including amphibian populations imperilled by the devastating spread of chytrid fungus; Asian freshwater turtle populations decimated by unsustainable and uncontrollable harvesting for food; and species impacted by accelerating environmental change, such as coral reef communities that are declining due to ocean acidification.

For these and many other species, zoos may genuinely be the only hope. It is for that reason that zoos should play a meaningful role in the development of a holistic conservation strategy for Canada. Zoos, after all, have already proven their effectiveness in helping to save many iconic Canadian species.

The Calgary Zoo, for example, has partnered with other zoos and conservation organizations across Canada and beyond to help reintroduce and recover the Vancouver Island marmot, whooping cranes, the swift fox, black-footed ferrets, and burrowing owls. In partnership with Parks Canada and the B.C. government, we hope to soon start work on restoring the iconic mountain caribou to the mountain parks of western Canada. We not only contribute captive-bred animals for release to such programs, but also provide expertise on population management and reintroduction of science and monitoring.

I hope I've shown that accredited zoos and aquariums may have a crucial role in the implementation of a national conservation plan. I also believe we can contribute to the development of that plan. After all, zoos are cooperative consensus builders.

Globally, captive-breeding and reintroduction is absent from the policies of most governments, and yet it is recognized to be pertinent to over half of Canada's species recovery strategies. Therefore, it would seem inconceivable to develop a conservation plan for Canada without recognizing and including the experts in this field.

Furthermore, zoos are already helping to shape national conservation policies. For example, the staff at the Calgary Zoo have been involved in co-authoring national species-specific recovery strategies for the swift fox, black-footed ferret, and black-tailed prairie dog, and they are currently active in planning the recovery strategy for the mountain caribou. In addition to this we also have international experience in conservation policy development.

In spite of their potential and actual contributions to conservation, historically zoos have not been widely acknowledged in the development of overarching environmental policies. Two recent federal and provincial documents commissioned on ecosystem strategies and species conservation make no mention of zoos and their past or potential contribution to Canadian biodiversity conservation.

Why is this? Is this oversight because zoos are thought of as commercial attractions alone rather than serious conservation organizations? I hope my presentation today has helped to illustrate that zoos are serious about conservation. Or is this oversight because of concerns that some have raised about captive animal welfare, leading to a political reluctance to engage with zoos? I'd like to address this point directly.

Professionally operated accredited zoos are passionate about and dedicated to the highest standards of animal care. They are held accountable to that by our accrediting bodies and, perhaps more importantly, the public. However, zoos must be open to constructive insights in order to move forward and seek continual improvement in animal care. I believe and hope that this is increasingly the case.

My own background in part is in the field of animal welfare science and policy development. I see only great synergy between a commitment to animal welfare and the role of zoos as conservation leaders, since conservation is in many ways about maintaining population and ecosystem welfare. In short, I believe the mandate of zoos has to be conservation in all its guises, including the contribution to initiatives such as this, but our moral licence to operate must be based around excellent animal welfare.

In summing up, and speaking on behalf of accredited professionally managed zoos across Canada, we have much expertise, enthusiasm, and skills to contribute to a national conservation plan, both in terms of development and subsequent implementation. We would be delighted to work with our government to help ensure that we collectively leave a rich and bio-diverse environment for future generations of Canadians.

Noon

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

Thank you very much.

We will now move to questioning. We will begin with Mr. Lunney. Mr. Lunney, you have seven minutes.

Noon

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'd like to welcome all of our guests. Thank you for being here to help us talk about a national conservation plan. A previous group suggested that maybe we should be talking about a national conservation framework. I think you brought some issues before us in a manner that we haven't heard before, using some very creative descriptions and metaphors on the role of the rancher as an ecologist in managing his land successfully. It was a very interesting metaphor you used, Mr. Jamieson.

You guys, particularly the cattle ranchers here, correctly talked about the divide, the polarization, that happens when there's conflict, stereotyping, and antagonism rather than collaboration.

Mr. Fitch is sitting in-between the two of you. Your organization, Cows and Fish, seems to have had some experience in trying to bridge the divide. How long has your Cows and Fish organization existed?

Noon

Provincial Riparian Specialist, Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society - Cows and Fish

Lorne Fitch

It's been in existence for 20 years.

Noon

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

You talked a lot about engaging people and getting community buy-in. That is a concept we're very interested in.

Our zoo friends talked about how urbanization has really led to a separation of people from the environment. Rural populations in many cases are in decline. The kinds of experiences that people growing up in rural communities have, just scratching around and taking for granted when learning about nature through daily life when interacting with it and managing it, are a minority experience when we look at Canada's population as a whole. Connecting people is one of our objectives here.

Mr. Fitch, if you can, could you give us an example, in your 20 years' experience, of how your organization has helped to resolve some conflict or helped to bring some successful ecological outcomes?

Noon

Provincial Riparian Specialist, Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society - Cows and Fish

Lorne Fitch

Briefly, sir, over that 20-year time span, we've had the opportunity in Alberta to work with about 80 watershed or community groups. We currently work with close to 50 watershed groups.

That work is primarily on the backs of five specialists who engage and interact with those communities. They help those communities start not just to understand some of the issues they face but also how to resolve them.

Of course, in many cases those issues may be large and diverse. It's helping the community pick the issues that they can most reasonably deal with at the time. One might be water quality. One might be changes in riparian and watershed health which have resulted in lower water quality and perhaps finger-pointing from other organizations.

The way that we have been successful—and I'll give you some of the statistics from independent evaluations that have been done of our program—is that our specialists engage with rural communities, and increasingly with urban communities in later years, at a level that develops a relationship.

Those relationships that our specialists have been able to make with community members have led to trust and credibility. They've led to higher rates of learning. I might say it's a two-way process: It's not just about our delivering learning; it's about our learning from rural landowners as well. It also revolves around the frequency of contact that our staff have with rural landowners.

The end point of that—the awareness that builds when we bring people together in a sense of synergy to deal with issues, giving them or providing them an opportunity to see what tools are available and what the options and alternatives to current management practices are—has allowed people who form community groups at a watershed level to make management changes. Over the span of our existence that has meant at a community level that about 65% of the people we work with make a management change within about a three- to five-year time span of interacting with us.

It's based, though, on frequency of contact. The more frequent the contact, the more learning levels there will be and the rate at which management changes are done will increase. So it hasn't been done through the lure of financial incentives. It's been done largely through a stewardship ethic, built on a foundation of awareness of the landscape and the ecological functions and process of that landscape, and by helping people to understand their footprint and how to lessen that footprint while at the same time maintaining their economic opportunity.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Thank you for that.

Who funds your organization, or how is it structured, and where do you get your resources from?

12:05 p.m.

Provincial Riparian Specialist, Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society - Cows and Fish

Lorne Fitch

We cobble together money from a vast array of sources. The livestock industry helps us. Conservation interests help us. We get periodic grants from the provincial government. Municipal governments in Alberta help us. In the past the federal government provided some funding, but that is not on the table at this point in time. We'd be happy to take contributions today.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Can you describe the qualifications of five facilitators or specialists that you refer to?

12:05 p.m.

Provincial Riparian Specialist, Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society - Cows and Fish

Lorne Fitch

These are people with biological degrees. They are both conservation biologists and professional agrologists.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Thank you for that.

Moving over to our parks folks, with regard to zoos—and I'm speaking for aquariums as well—I appreciate your being here and raising a question. You asked why a couple of major studies were done recently. I think that was the question. Two recent federal and provincial documents commissioned on ecosystem strategies and species conservation make no mention of zoos, and you asked why that is.

I think your presence today is actually helpful. You make a valid point about engaging Canadians. For a lot of Canadians, especially urban ones, their first experience seeing the animals they might have seen on TV or in a book is at the zoo.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

Mr. Lunney, your time has expired.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

You're kidding.

Hopefully, I'll get another round.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

Thank you.

Monsieur Pilon, you have seven minutes.

12:05 p.m.

NDP

François Pilon NDP Laval—Les Îles, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

My question is for you, Mr. Fitch. You talked a lot about your organization's overall operation. Could you explain to us how a project works, more specifically? That would give us a better idea of how your organization works.

12:05 p.m.

Provincial Riparian Specialist, Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society - Cows and Fish

Lorne Fitch

By all means. Thank you.

A community generally at a watershed scale may face some issues. Perhaps they have a water quality issue that's been identified as part of a larger sub-basin bit of research. They realize they have to do something. They don't know exactly what to do. Based on our experience and the fact that we're known in rural Alberta, we get a call asking for our help with this issue.

We step in. I will use one watershed group as an example. The Beaver Creek Watershed Group at the south end of the Porcupine Hills, part of the Oldman watershed, asked us to help them resolve what it was that was causing an issue with water quality. So we helped them form. Ironically one of the first steps we had to take was help them re-form their community. Rural communities don't exist in the cohesive way they used to, and so we had to help that community re-form so that they had a body of people suitable to start resolving the issue.

12:05 p.m.

Provincial Riparian Specialist, Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society - Cows and Fish

Lorne Fitch

We provided them a series. This took a time span of at least three years of ecological awareness. How do riparian areas function? What is the role of watersheds? What is the role of riparian health in relation to water quality? How do healthy riparian areas, the essential filters and buffers, help resolve water quality issues?

We then worked with them, and I might add others, to look at pilot projects, experiments, if you will, with engaged landowners who were willing to change management practices and move cattle wintering sites out of the stream valley to off-stream watering sites. They changed the distribution pattern of livestock so that they didn't spend so much time in a riparian zone or in the stream zone.

Then there was engaging the community in a series of field trips and social events, eventually leading them to the realization that they had to measure riparian health. They had to have a benchmark of where they were. Creating that benchmark was done over a span of a couple years. Then there was coming back in about a five-year time span and remeasuring riparian health, based on the management changes they had done. Then there was helping them use that information to promote the idea that they would be good, and were being good, stewards of the land and were making progress, even though there were big challenges. Those changes would have to happen probably over the span of a decade or two, not overnight.

In so doing, they were providing a message to the outside world that these people were not destroying riparian areas. They were not destroying the watershed. Indeed, they were working on creative and consultative ways of increasing riparian health, and in so doing, water quality for downstream water users.

We're still working with that watershed group and probably will continue to work with them for the foreseeable future. I think we've been working with them now over the span of nine years. This, quite literally, is a patient person's business.