Thank you very much.
Good morning, and thank you for the opportunity to share our recommendations on terrestrial habitat conservation in Canada with the committee.
My name is Alison Woodley. I’m the national conservation director at CPAWS.
CPAWS is Canada's voice for public wilderness protection. Since our creation in 1963, we've played a key role in the establishment of over two-thirds of Canada’s protected areas. We have 13 regional chapters in nearly every province and territory, as well as a national office here in Ottawa, and over 50,000 active supporters across the country.
Our goal is to ensure that at least half of Canada's public lands, fresh waters, and ocean environments remain permanently wild for the public trust. We are involved in efforts to create and manage parks and protected areas and in landscape-scale conservation initiatives in all regions of the country.
Today I'd like to focus on three key points.
First, Canada needs to complete an effective network of protected areas, and this should be the cornerstone of the national conservation plan. The federal government can participate in that by completing the national parks system and by leading a nationwide effort to complete a national protected areas network.
Second, protected areas should be integrated into the sustainable management of the broader landscape through land use planning and through other landscape-scale initiatives. One example I'll speak to is the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement.
Third, the national conservation plan should enable progress on conservation in all regions of Canada by supporting a suite of tools and approaches. For example, the tools that are needed on the 10% of Canada that is private land are different from the tools and approaches that work in the 90% of Canada that is public land. We need to support a full suite of tools to ensure that our national conservation plan and our habitat conservation efforts work in all regions of the country.
But I'd like to start by just making a few remarks about why habitat conservation matters.
Habitat conservation is about protecting life. It's about protecting the full diversity of life on earth, the very life support system of the planet.
Biodiversity provides fundamental services to people, like clean drinking water. It decomposes our waste, pollinates our crops, and buffers us from natural disasters. It provides medicine, food, clothing, building materials, and much, much more. It supports our health, our cultures, our economy. Biodiversity provides significant economic benefits from both ecosystem services and the nature-based tourism industry that relies on it.
The Northwest Territories protected areas strategy, which I was involved with for many years, has a motto that says, “The land takes care of us, we take care of the land”. To me, this captures the essence of why habitat conservation and protected areas are so important. If we want the land to take care of us, we must take care of the land.
The primary threat to biodiversity, both globally and in Canada, is habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation. Action to protect and restore habitat is fundamental to conserving biodiversity, to conserving the life support system of the planet.
Yet, in spite of all of our efforts today, Canada and indeed the world's biodiversity continues to decline. It’s clear that we need to do more.
So what do we need to do?
I'm going to comment here on a few of the elements we need to do, not the full, comprehensive suite of everything we need to do, but the elements that we're involved with particularly.
There is agreement around the world, including by major international institutions, that protected areas are the cornerstone of conservation efforts. The World Bank said: “An ecologically-representative, diversified and well-managed protected areas system is the most effective way to safeguard biodiversity.”
While we have many spectacular parks and protected areas in Canada, and while our system does continue to grow, we still don't have an adequate protected areas system in place. There are many gaps. Less than 10% of our land in Canada is protected, and most of our protected areas are far too small and isolated to effectively protect healthy ecosystems.
We need to accelerate our efforts. There are opportunities, moving forward, and as we move forward, we really should be considering other potential models of protected areas. We need to incorporate our protected private lands and, in particular, indigenous protection models into our suite of tools that we recognize and pull into our reporting.
Australia has done a good job of integrating private and indigenous conserved lands into its national reserve system, and I think there is huge opportunity to do something similar here in Canada. There is lots of potential to accelerate our work on protected areas. There are national park proposals in the Northwest Territories, Labrador, B.C., Nova Scotia, and Nunavut. There are six national wildlife areas proposed and being worked on in the Northwest Territories and several territorial protected areas under consideration there as well. In Quebec and Ontario there are commitments to protect at least half of the northern territories. Manitoba, Quebec, and Nova Scotia are actively creating significant new protected areas. Getting these over the finish line and achieving this potential will depend on political will and on having adequate resources to complete the protected areas.
Accelerating our efforts to complete an effective nationwide network should be the cornerstone of a national conservation plan. Last year CPAWS recommended—and we continue to recommend—that setting a target of protecting 20% of our land by 2020 is both ambitious and achievable.
While protected areas are crucial, we know they alone will not be enough to achieve biodiversity conservation. Sustainably managing the working landscape is critical to ensure that wide-ranging species can move between protected areas and to enable plants and animals to shift in response to changing conditions. This connectivity will become more and more important in the face of a changing climate. Land-use planning is an important tool that can bring together protected areas and sustainable management of the working landscape.
An innovative project that we're involved with, which contributes to conservation of the working landscape and brings the protected areas and working landscape together on public lands, is the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement. CPAWS is a partner in the CBFA, which covers a massive area of land—72 million hectares—under tenure to members of the Forest Products Association of Canada. Through the CBFA, CPAWS and our partners are working with the forest industry to develop protected areas and caribou conservation plans and to strengthen industry conservation practices. We are working with aboriginal communities, with provincial governments, and with mayors in various regions of the boreal forest. Our aim is to find solutions that address both conservation and economic goals, and to implement these solutions on the land.
Other projects we're involved with that bring together protected areas and the working landscape include the Forest Stewardship Council certification program, and the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, which works to conserve the natural heritage of the western mountain landscape.
I'd like to make a few comments about using the right tools in the right places. Canada is a vast and diverse country, geographically and culturally, and different conservation tools and approaches are needed in different parts of the country. For example, land trusts, private stewardship initiatives, and programs like eco gifts are very important conservation tools in southern Canada, where there's a high percentage of privately owned land and a dense population.
As you move further north, into the 90% of Canada that is public land, different tools are needed. In the middle of Canada, where much of the landscape is allocated to resource harvesting, protected areas and land use planning combine with habitat protection under the Species at Risk Act, and initiatives like the CBFA and forest practices certification systems are important to tackle habitat conservation challenges.
Further north still, in the territories and the northern portions of many provinces, landscapes are still largely intact, but large-scale development proposals are very quickly emerging. In these areas there is an urgent need to identify and protect important conservation areas in advance of development. Conservation in these areas is often led by indigenous peoples and linked to land claim agreements. Land use planning and protected areas are key habitat conservation tools. A few examples include land use planning that's going on in the Dehcho and Sahtu regions of the Northwest Territories, land use plans led by the Innu of Labrador, the Northwest Territories protected areas strategy, and the establishment of large provincial protected areas proposed by indigenous communities in northern Quebec and Manitoba.
I'd like to end with just a few recommendations.
Specific recommendations for federal action that we're making include first of all completing Canada's network of protected areas. The federal government's role includes completing the national parks system and the six national wildlife areas currently proposed in the NWT and making sure existing parks and protected areas are well resourced and managed to protect their ecological integrity. The federal government can also play a role in leading this nationwide effort to complete an effective network of protected areas.
We also need to link protected areas in the working landscape, and the federal government can play an important role by supporting regional land use planning; supporting collaborative landscape-scale initiatives like the CBFA; maintaining a strong effective federal Species at Risk Act; implementing the boreal woodland caribou recovery strategy across the country; and leading the development of a nation-wide ecosystem health monitoring and reporting program linked to our protected areas system so that Canadians can better understand the conditions of wildlife habitat in Canada.
With that, I'll wrap it up. Thank you.