Thank you very much, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. I very much appreciate the opportunity to speak with you today about habitat conservation. I've been engaged in this area for many years, much of my 35-year career in the public service, and it's interesting to see how our understanding of effective habitat conservation has evolved over the last few decades.
It is also interesting to note the growing range of organizations and approaches involved.
The 2010 Global Biodiversity Outlook identifies habitat loss and degradation as the biggest drivers of global biodiversity loss. In a recent NANOS poll, more respondents identified conserving natural habitat as the top priority for fish and wild life conservation in Canada over any other action.
Healthy, biologically diverse natural areas also provide many natural benefits to people. Commonly referred to as ecosystem services, they provide critical support and underpin Canada's economy and quality of life. Examples include mitigating flood and drought, filtering our air and water, and offering opportunities for education, recreation, and inspiration.
When Canadians think about habitat conservation, they often think first of protected areas. The core of Canada's conserved lands consists of protected areas such as our Environment Canada national wildlife areas and migratory bird sanctuaries, national parks, provincial parks, ecological reserves, and other such areas. These are established and managed by governments, in some cases through co-management agreements with aboriginal communities, or in cooperation with local communities, such as Community Pastures in the Prairies.
In addition to formal protected areas, there are a number of other area-based conservation measures in place in Canada that effectively conserve habitat. Conservation organizations such as Ducks Unlimited Canada, the Nature Conservancy of Canada, and other organizations acquire and manage lands for conservation. Efforts are under way to begin to integrate these private protected areas into Canada's national reporting.
While this is expected to increase the extent of Canada's conservation landscape accounted for, perhaps by 1% or 2%, both the national and international communities agree on the importance of reflecting and recognizing the broader range of contributions by others to conservation.
Effective conservation means much more than just protected areas. The vast majority of species depend on the other 90% of the landscape, so it is essential to recognize the value of what is sometimes called the working landscape. For example, natural areas remain within agricultural areas and managed forests, whether on public or private lands, and are important for Canada's biodiversity. Sound stewardship of these areas will make a significant contribution to the conservation of wild species and the maintenance of healthy ecosystems.
Canada is the first country to have initiated a dialogue on how we will define other effective area-based conservation measures. The Canadian Council on Ecological Areas is undertaking further work to define this term.
Typically, when we think of sound stewardship of habitat on prairie or public lands, we think of environmental organizations. But we also need to think about and recognize the contribution of aboriginal communities, municipalities, farmers, ranchers, private land owners, business leaders, and many others who can and are making a difference. These people are managing habitat by adopting best practices, developing environmental farm plans, restoring wetlands, and taking other actions in support of habitat conservation. Often, these successes are rooted in partnerships.
Where has habitat stewardship, the responsible planning, and management of resources worked well? I'll give you two examples.
The North American Waterfowl Management Plan is a continental effort to conserve sufficient wetland and associated uplands habitats to sustain healthy populations of waterfowl shared by Canada, the United States and Mexico. While the program is continental in scope, implementation is regional and a large part of the success is due to the local partners, especially private landowners.
In Canada, partnerships called “habitat joint ventures” set priorities and guide investments. Governments provide project-based support. Since the establishment of the plan in 1986, over 8 million hectares of wetland and associated uplands have been permanently secured in Canada, while an additional 41 million hectares have been directly influenced through stewardship activities. Stewardship is a first step that can often lead to more permanent means of habitat conservation.
Another example of effectively bringing together diverse interests is the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement—a partnership between member companies of the Canadian Forest Products Association and leading environmental groups. Under the agreement, forest companies commit to upholding the highest environmental standards of forest management and conservation, while environmental organizations commit to global recognition and support for FPAC members' efforts.
The agreement applies to 72 million hectares of public forests licensed to FPAC member companies across Canada.
The federal government supports habitat conservation in several ways.
First, we take action directly through, for example, establishing and managing federal protected areas and being a good steward of federal lands. The federal government continues to play a role, an important catalytic role, for habitat conservation and stewardship through programs and initiatives that are generally well known.
My remarks include three programs that we're very proud of at Environment Canada and that are very well received. I won't go through the details of some statistics on the natural areas conservation program, the habitat stewardship program, and the ecological gifts program, which is a program under the Income Tax Act that provides a tax incentive for the conservation of lands. The federal role in these programs is more than the provision of funding or a financial incentive for habitat conservation. Projects are often based on information or conservation plans from Environment Canada, other federal departments, and even conservation organizations.
It is clear that habitat conservation is ultimately a local issue. The most effective groups, in my experience, are those that forge partnerships at the community or landscape level. These organizations, which have first-hand knowledge of the issues and pressures, can bring together all the affected parties, leverage the skills and strengths of various stakeholders, and work with them to develop conservation and sustainable development plans in support of shared outcomes.
It is important to find opportunities to support and enable voluntary community-driven stewardship initiatives, which can be so effective in designing long-lasting solutions. Sometimes, the key is simply a dedicated stewardship coordinator to bring interests together. Other times key information or technical assistance is required. Often catalytic or project-based funding may be what is needed.
Existing data, knowledge, and expertise on overall habitat conservation in Canada is widely available. The challenges are in collecting and making information accessible on a scale and in a form that's practical for conservation planning and implementation at the working landscape level. There have been some promising developments in new programs and online geospatial tools that will help.
Efforts to develop and apply a working landscape approach to habitat conservation planning and implementation are important. Such an approach helps to manage and buffer protected areas, identify and conserve other habitats, and inform land use plans and environmental assessments. A landscape approach brings government, non-governmental, and private organizations sharing data and resources and working together to achieve results and measure and report on progress on habitat conservation efforts in Canada.
Environment Canada and other federal natural resource departments have a key role to play in supporting habitat conservation within working landscapes. The federal government can help to ensure information is available and develop and promote best management practices in a range of sectors, including forestry, agriculture, mining, and energy.
The Government of Canada has committed to developing a national conservation plan to advance Canada's conservation objectives and better connect Canadians with nature. The previous studies that this committee has undertaken on conservation have been helpful in shaping the government's thinking to date on the plan. This current study on habitat conservation will no doubt further inform the ways in which a habitat conservation plan could complement and enhance current habitat conservation efforts.
In closing, habitat conservation is really about the whole landscape, not just formally protected areas. Success will depend on partnerships, finding a balance between conserved lands and stewardship, and through planning, identifying, and taking priority conservation actions. Governments at all levels have a role to play but can't make progress alone. The longest lasting results are usually the ones that directly engage those working on the ground in organizations and communities across Canada, and, I would also add, with those who are actually working on the land.
Thank you very much.