Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I'd like to build today on the presentation that my colleague Linda Nowlan, from our Vancouver office, gave to the committee on May 15 of last year on the national conservation plan, and refer you to some of the specifics in there. I'm specifically tailoring my presentation to the six questions that the committee asked us to address.
I will give you a tiny bit of background on me. I joined WWF 17 years ago. Before that, I worked for the U.K. and Canadian governments very much in the field of applied nature conservation and science, often working with local landowners and managers on workable solutions to conserve biodiversity in settled landscapes. So I have pretty much a career of experience in what works and what doesn't work in this regard.
I still serve on the minister's advisory committee on species at risk, SARAC. We'll highlight today some of those recommended solutions that are forged with people of my age and stage—who essentially represent the industry and the stakeholder sectors across the nation—which I believe are those working solutions that we all desperately need, including the conservation and sustainable elements of our society.
The important point overall is that those kinds of plans and solutions will bring much-sought increased certainty and resilience to both wildlife and natural habitats, as well as people who have to make their living off the land.
For those of you who don't know, WWF's global mission is to stop the degradation of the planet's environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature. That essentially is why I love working for World Wildlife Fund, because my job is to help create, put in place, and then implement those plans and solutions that provide the balance between what people need and what wildlife need for the long term.
Firstly, the overall frame necessary to achieve that kind of effective balance must be through smart plans set at the right scale—that's both the temporal scale and the spatial scale. Everyone seeks reduced risk for things they value, including valued components of the ecosystem. Most progressive industries and local people welcome long-range plans that prescribe this, bringing greater certainty both for capital investors and for people involved in those projects and in the custody of those areas. This is just what natural ecosystems and biodiversity, including species at risk, require too. But we have to have those progressive, landscape-level, ecosystem-based, well-crafted plans, which is obviously where the national conservation plan and initiatives like that come in.
There is considerable global experience with these planning approaches. This has been done in different countries for 20 or 30 years. Some of the most progressive are strategic environmental assessment, ecosystem-based habitat conservation plans, and of course, multi-zoned regional plans at different scales, right down to municipalities and counties.
On the first question of who must be involved, much as my colleagues have been emphasizing, the engagement of all stakeholders is crucial. Currently there are a few good land stewardship initiatives under way in Canada. Some of the ones you're probably familiar with are Ducks Unlimited, Nature Conservancy, local species at risk projects, and Environment Canada’s habitat stewardship program. But obviously the job at hand requires far more extensive use of these models.
Of course, I agree totally that no government alone can do the job. No individual company can do the job. Clearly what is needed is a series of appropriate tools that foster and sustain much stronger, more effective, and more cost-efficient stewardship of our natural resources, including habitats. I believe that with incentives, monitoring, and appropriate ecosystem-based plans in place, those plans can be implemented through strong working partnerships at all scales. That's just a no-brainer must-have.
For your second and third questions, which I've lumped together as “knowledge and expertise”, there is substantial expertise collectively across Canada regarding habitat conservation measures, but the information is rather scattered, and perhaps understandably so, due to the diversity of Canada's ecosystem types and the huge geographic scale of our nation.
There are also some significant gaps. For example, ready access to easily understood information on the health of aquatic ecosystems is a challenge for groups seeking to monitor, protect, and restore habitats and species, and come up with these plans. To that regard, one of the things WWF is doing is developing the freshwater health assessment for Canada, which will draw together existing data into a science-based, transparent, and understandable assessment index for freshwater ecosystems, beginning with Canada's world-class riverine systems.
Regarding the fourth question—how is conserved land defined?—I'm not going to volunteer a definition, but of course, the concept is all about allowing persistence of values in an area, what society values. Our species has the ability to manage what we do in a given place, armed with knowledge of impacts and risks, to sustain what we value there. For some people, it's access to wildlife for hunting or for growing food. For some people, it's the simple natural processes and biodiversity in an area without any human activities. For others, it is about economic development of renewable or non-renewable resources in that same area.
With over 50 years of experience around the world, it's very clear to the WWF that what's called the two-pronged approach is the best working model. For both marine and aquatic systems, and the terrestrial landscape, a strong representative network of the highest conservation value areas is afforded the highest level of protection. Essentially, this is protection from the cumulative adverse impacts of human activities. It is planned at the regional and ecosystem-based scale with other areas in that region, and managed for sensitive economic development through best-management practices and other tools. All this happens under an adaptive management regime, which is generally regarded as the way to come up with the plan, then monitor and modify it as necessary, informed by that information.
In times of relatively rapid change—social, economic, and climatic conditions—there is little reason to expect the old approaches to be well-suited to the new and future conditions. New ecosystem-level plans rooted in this two-pronged approach will afford the very best chances of maintaining sufficiently resilient ecosystem habitat function, which will allow nature and people to adapt as best they can to those new conditions.
As for recovering species, this includes a basket of stewardship management practices and government measures, beyond the recommendations the species at risk advisory committee and the World Wildlife Fund have made to you over the past two or three years—all of which I fully support as do my industry colleagues. It's very clear now that responsible governments must utilize the tools that are already available for increasing local stakeholder involvement in and implementation of those ecosystem-based plans for survival and recovery of species, and the habitats they need. Species recovery strategies and action plans under SARA, if they are scaled correctly, both spatially and temporally, to the habitat and species needs, will provide the blueprint for species recovery with local people in the equation.
For example, in the marine context, DFO leads an integrated management approach in the large ocean management areas of Canada. These pilot areas in Canada's three oceans are applying innovative management approaches that provide certainty to ocean industries for project development and designated conservation areas, and using ecological thresholds on an ocean-wide scale to manage activities appropriately. At the same time, it enables long-term jobs and economic prosperity for local communities.
In other countries, conservation management agreements and regional strategic environmental assessments are supported widely by industry groups, landowners, and other tenure holders, as credible, powerful tools to elevate this strong land stewardship. These tools, obviously, bring the much-sought increased certainty—reduced chances of nasty and costly surprises to projects, legal actions, project showstoppers, etc.—concerning human access and operations across the landscape or seascape.
Canada, however, has yet to use these tools extensively. I find it quite remarkable, having worked for 20 years in Britain, how those lessons just simply aren't imported.
Overall, how can the Government of Canada improve habitat conservation efforts? There are three main ways, beyond what we've suggested already in our submission last year. Number one is to take a very strong lead and embed the above suggestions into a robust and well-resourced national conservation plan, and proudly celebrate the concrete nature conservation results and economic successes with an increasing number of diverse stakeholders.
Secondly, we need complete strategic environmental assessments at regional and ecosystem scales across all of Canada's terrestrial, freshwater, and marine systems, as has been done in some other countries, so as to provide the most resilient frame for planning and decision-making regarding social, economic, and environmental values.
Finally, we should require adequate ecosystem-scale conservation measures, often regarding habitat safeguards, before or at the same time as major new approvals are made for economic development projects.