Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee.
I would really like to thank you for inviting us here to appear before you to discuss a subject that is obviously at the very heart of Ducks Unlimited Canada's mission. We appreciate being given the opportunity to provide our thoughts on a national conservation plan for Canada and hope to impress upon you the central role that habitat conservation should play within it.
In addition to my remarks today, I also refer you to our written submission, which addresses in more detail the questions your committee has been tasked with coming up with answers to.
As Mr. Chairman said, my name is Greg Siekaniec. I am the chief executive officer of Ducks Unlimited Canada, and am from Stonewall, Manitoba.
Joining me today is Jim Brennan, our director of governmental affairs, based here in our Ottawa office.
Ducks Unlimited Canada is our nation's leading wetland conservation organization. Our 365 employees work to conserve wetland and upland habitat in every province and territory, and we don't do it alone. We are fuelled by the passion of nearly 139,000 grassroots supporters, including over 6,200 volunteers, who recognize the rich tradition of hunting and the role that hunters have played in conserving habitat across North America.
Our efforts are also complemented by thousands of conservation partners across the country, such as the two organizations appearing alongside me today, as well as private landowners, our most important conservation stakeholders.
We've made good use of the resources provided by supporters, partners, and governments. In fact, our annual spending between 2008 to 2012 resulted in several direct economic benefits each year: $77 million in GDP, 969 full-time equivalents in employment, $60 million in employment income, and $16 million in operating profits for Canadian businesses.
Our appearance before you comes at an interesting time for Ducks Unlimited Canada. As we celebrate our 75th anniversary, we've been reflecting back on accomplishments while leaning hard into the headwinds of change that await us.
Looking back, we do have much to celebrate. We have invested over $2 billion in Canada, securing 6.4 million acres of habitat, and influencing an additional 105 million acres through policy and extension work.
Looking ahead, however, we see many challenges on the horizon that concern us, the largest of which is habitat loss. When we addressed this committee last year, we quantified the rate of wetland loss. Since that address last year, Canada has lost an additional 32,000 acres of its already-depleted stock of wetland habitat. If you think about it, that means a wetland area over half of the size of the old city of Nepean has vanished in just over one year.
When you imagine that rate of loss occurring across the country, you begin to understand the magnitude of the issue. Ontario alone has lost more than 70% of its historical wetland base within developed areas. The Canadian prairies, the nursery of North America's waterfowl populations, have lost up to 70% of their wetlands since they were first settled in the 1800s.
This rate of loss is hard to keep pace with, despite all of our collective efforts. In fact, if Ducks Unlimited Canada could replace all the wetlands lost in Saskatchewan every year, it would cost two times our annual budget for the entire prairie region. For every day we lose ground, both figuratively and literally, Canadians are burdened with real economic consequences.
Consider again the fact that the acres Ducks Unlimited Canada secures in one year provide over $4 billion in societal benefits: flood control, climate regulation, water purification, tourism, recreation, and so on. Now imagine those benefits being wiped out, nullified, because we are being outpaced by wetland loss that could be prevented.
What is the solution to this dilemma?
Wetland conservation must take place on both working and unsettled landscapes. I will use prairie and boreal Canada as examples to illustrate how we feel this can possibly be done.
Based on our scientific studies, which should underpin any conservation actions, we have identified these two regions as priorities for continental populations of migrating waterfowl. Prairie Canada is a priority area for Ducks Unlimited Canada because up to 50% of North America's waterfowl are hatched and fledged within this area. The prairies also host family farms, ranches, and commercial agricultural enterprises, all of which are under pressure to both increase productivity and decrease environmental damage.
To conserve habitat in these working landscapes, we believe a mixed approach is required, one that includes market-based incentives to restore lost and degraded wetlands as well as a regulatory backstop to retain those that remain. While there are a number of incentive programs being implemented, we believe the most successful ones will be developed in such a way that they compel stakeholders to invest in the long-term security of vital habitat.
Ducks Unlimited Canada also has a keen interest in the unsettled landscapes of boreal Canada, because 30% of North America's waterfowl populations depend on this region for breeding and nesting. We see great opportunity for the national conservation plan there as well.
Resource extraction, particularly minerals, forestry, and oil and gas, will continue to be the main driver of economic growth in the north. We understand this while also recognizing the inherent rights of northern populations to determine their own environmental, political, and economic futures.
That being said, we've learned many important lessons in the southern landscapes of Canada and do not wish to see the same rate of loss replicated in the north. To avoid this, collectively supported and balanced conservation actions can safeguard northern habitats through land-use planning initiatives such as the Northwest Territories protected areas strategy.
Whether we are talking about working landscapes in the Prairies, the boreal forest, or elsewhere in Canada, the conservation community understands that this country will continue to grow and develop and that a national conservation plan must make allowances for this.
We accept that unavoidable habitat damage or loss will continue to occur. However, proven solutions are available to address this trend. Some provinces in Canada, and many U.S. state governments, have implemented mitigation programs within their legislative and regulatory frameworks.
We believe the Government of Canada should work with provincial and territorial governments to develop national standards and guidelines for wetland mitigation and other conservation offsets.
A mitigation framework is just one example of where the federal government can take a leadership position in habitat conservation. In addition to ensuring consistency across jurisdictions, it can provide much-needed funding to leverage the untapped financial support and energy of other NGOs, governments, and conservation-minded citizens.
With the development of a national conservation plan, the Government of Canada has an opportunity to harness the momentum building within the conservation community while removing barriers to its success.
For any of us entrusted with habitat conservation—and I mean any of us—choosing not to act is a decision in itself, a decision that will enable the continued loss and degradation of valuable habitat. If we choose to live with the status quo, we must be prepared to live with the consequences—historic levels of flooding, loss of biodiversity, as well as a variety of climate change impacts that will only compound the issues we face today. Many already-degraded systems—Lake Winnipeg, for example—will only recover with a strategy that ensures a net-gain emphasis in wetland and grassland habitat conservation.
The challenge is daunting, but Ducks Unlimited Canada sees it as an opportunity that exists nowhere else in the world. We have inherited an incredible natural legacy here in Canada, and the public has high expectations that we will all act responsibly.
This is a huge task, and no one body, whether government or non-government, can tackle it alone. With funding and legislative leadership from the government, Canada's conservation organizations are ready to tackle the challenges before us. Ducks Unlimited Canada has 75 years of experience and a strong base of conservation-minded supporters ready to go, and we applaud the Government of Canada for taking this important step in building a national conservation plan.
I appreciate the opportunity to be here. I look forward to answering any questions you may have and engaging in a dialogue on conservation.