Thank you very much.
My apologies to the people here. I had a small issue with my child. She's in the hospital with a high temperature. She's fine, and I'll go forward with my presentation.
First of all, by way of introduction, my name is Ian Davidson. I am the executive director for Nature Canada. I have been working in the field of conservation for most of my life, I think since the age of 17. I've worked with the Canadian government, with the Canadian Wildlife Service, for a not-for-profit organization. I have spent a lot of my life working overseas in conservation arenas, particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean. It is a privilege and an honour to be once again invited to speak about the national conservation plan being considered by the standing committee.
Nature Canada has been connecting Canadians to nature since 1939. It is the largest grassroots-based conservation organization in Canada, representing some 46,000 members and supporters, as well as our network of 375 provincial and local nature organizations across Canada.
Today I wish to focus on key habitat conservation principles and objectives that Nature Canada believes should be incorporated into the national conservation strategy. I also wish to touch on the roles of government and not-for-profit organizations in improving habitat conservation and in reconnecting Canadians to nature.
First, here is some context. The 1980 world conservation strategy defined conservation as “the management of human use of the biosphere” in such a way “that it may yield the greatest sustainable benefit to present generations while maintaining its potential to meet the needs and aspirations of future generations”.
This is as good a definition of conservation as I have found. Yet even in 1980 and increasingly since, human actions are reducing the life-supporting capacity of earth's ecosystems, even as rising human populations and consumption are making heavier demands on those ecosystems. In simple terms, we need about 1.5 earths to support current human populations at current consumption levels. Nature's bank is currently overdrawn, and the deficit is increasing.
Nature Canada suggests two key public policy principles that should flow from these inconvenient truths: first, that there must be no further net loss in wildlife habitat in Canada; second, that nature conservation must come first in natural resources development and decision making.
With respect to the first principle, a 1986 DFO policy established a long-term objective of a net gain in productive capacity of Canada's fish habitats. Proposed development projects were to be reviewed by DFO under the Fisheries Act to ensure no net loss. No net loss means that such projects are not to damage fish habitat or, if habitat loss is unavoidable, that habitat be created elsewhere to compensate.
Other wildlife species deserve just as much no net loss in productive habitat capacity as fish do. This should be a key principle underlying federal policy and law governing habitat conservation.
The second principle is called “conservation first”—it's a phrase that was coined by the former WWF Canada President Monte Hummel—which states that robust networks of protected areas need to “be established as anchor areas of high conservation value” before major resource development decisions are made, so that the resilience of ecosystems to stresses and uncertainties such as global climate change can be maximized.
Implementation of these principles demands good ecological science capacity within the federal government.
Canada has made significant commitments to conserving habitat, such as through the Conventions on Biological Diversity, on the Conservation of Migratory Species, and on Wetlands—the Ramsar convention—and through laws such as the Migratory Birds Convention Act, the Fisheries Act, the Species at Risk Act, and the Canada Wildlife Act, as well as in policies such as the DFO's no net loss policy.
Two recent commitments are of particular interest. First, in 2010 Canada agreed to the so-called Aichi targets to conserve, through protected areas, at least 17% of Canada's terrestrial inland waters and 10% of coastal and marine areas by 2020. The Aichi targets are included under the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 developed pursuant to the Convention on Biological Diversity.
According to the Canadian Council on Ecological Areas, in 2013—as of this past February—the federal, provincial, and territorial governments now protect about 10% of Canada's land area and only about 0.88% of its marine territory. So there is a long way to go to achieve the 17% and 10% targets respectively.
The federal government is also responsible for managing other lands of vital conservation importance, most notably some 2.2 million acres of community pastures in prairie Canada. Through the visionary action taken by key agricultural leaders more than 75 years ago, public resources were applied to restore degraded grasslands to a state that yielded economic production and environmental benefits year after year.
The PFRA community pastures provide one of the best examples of a triple bottom-line enterprise in Canada. The 80 community pastures in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Manitoba comprise over 9,000 square kilometres, some of the largest unfragmented tracks of native grasslands found anywhere in North America. Not only do they contain critical habitat for numerous species at risk, such as the almost extinct iconic sage grass, but at the same time they also provide pasture for hundreds of thousands of head of cattle annually.
The recent announcement by the federal government to transfer the community pastures out of the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration presents a unique challenge and opportunity to ensure that the best management practices developed through the PFRA continue to serve pasture patrons and protect one of our most imperilled habitats. The successful devolution of these native grasslands to the patrons and\or first nation interest for management purposes demonstrates a new and innovative way to manage for wildlife on the productive landscape.
The point is that the federal government has historically played a crucial role in conserving habitat by establishing national parks, national wildlife areas, migratory bird sanctuaries, national marine protected areas, and other management areas. Completion of these systems of protected areas by the federal government will be critical to achieving Canada's international commitments.
Non-profit groups such as my own, Nature Canada, can play important roles such as through public-private partnerships, but only the federal government and the provincial governments can achieve the big wins, such as expanding Nahanni National Park Reserve; creating new and important protected areas, such as the proposed Lancaster Sound National Marine Conservation Area; and ensuring the viability of some of the largest swaths of native grasslands to protect biodiversity.
Nature Canada has itself played an important role in habitat conservation. In 1996 we became the co-partner with Bird Studies Canada of the globally recognized important bird areas program. With BirdLife international partners in over a hundred countries, we're monitoring a worldwide network for the most important sites for birds and biodiversity on the planet.
We have identified nearly 600 IBAs across Canada's diverse landscapes, which represent nearly 3% of Canada's land area. Acting with regional conservation partners, we built an exhaustive important bird areas database, finalized almost a hundred site conservation plans, helped communities implement more than 150 local projects, and initiated a network of thousands of volunteers who conserve important bird areas.
In addition to conserving habitat by establishing protected areas, Nature Canada firmly believes that the national conservation plan could play a crucial role in reconnecting Canadians to nature. The 2011 Ipsos poll found that 80% of Canadians say they feel happy when connected to nature, and 85% worry that natural areas we enjoy today won't be there for their children or grandchildren. There's also abundant evidence that young people are increasingly disconnected from nature and habitat, and the term nature deficit disorder has been coined to describe this disconnection and its affliction.
The bottom line is that few people are aware of and/or engaged in nature. Once considered a core Canadian value, Canada's identity as a nature nation is at risk. Thus, Nature Canada believes an important objective of the national conservation plan should be to rebuild the nature nation by inspiring and motivating Canadians to put habitat back in nature.
In conclusion, Nature Canada makes a number of recommendations to this panel. The first is to include the principles of no net loss and conservation first as key habitat conservation principles.
Second is to continue efforts to complete Canada's system of national wildlife areas and national parks, and to provide sufficient funding and scientific research capacity to the Canadian Wildlife Service and Parks Canada to achieve these objectives.
Third is to accord greater habitat protection to important bird areas in Canada in support of on-the-ground partnerships with a wide range of stakeholders, including governments, nature groups, first nation aboriginal communities, the private sector, and others.
Fourth is to focus on Canada's most threatened ecosystems, with special attention to our native grasslands, which provide habitat for a multitude of resident and shared species.
Under the national conservation plan and out of recognition for the foundational roles that grasslands have played in shaping Canada, the devolution of key native grasslands to the provincial governments of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba needs to be delayed until patrons and first nation groups can develop sustainable strategies to manage and conserve these large tracts of Canada's most valuable native grasslands.
Fifth is to provide adequate funding to our federal government agencies, including the Canadian Wildlife Service, Parks Canada, and DFO to clear up the backlog in the development of recovery strategies for species at risk, and to protect critical habitat for species at risk identified in recovery strategies.
Finally, we need to support programming to reconnect Canadians to nature, programming that recognizes nature as a core value; focuses on engaging Canadians where they are, namely in large urban areas; bridges the new Canadian divide; and works through partnerships and leverages the experiences and resources of the many diverse stakeholder groups across this land with the aim of re-establishing Canada as a nature nation.