Good morning. Thank you, Mr. Chair and honourable members.
It's a great opportunity to be here to speak to a subject important to me and to many Canadians, the subject of habitat conservation in Canada. The AWA has been working in this area since the late 1960s. We work with governments, private landowners, and first nations to achieve greater protection for wild species, wild lands, and wild waters in all the natural regions of Alberta.
I know you've received some good input already on some of the same themes that I hear from my colleagues here today, including the views of our sister organization, Nature Canada, a few weeks ago. We support the notion that all wildlife species deserve a no net loss of productive capacity of habitat as a principle underlying federal policy and law governing habitat conservation. We are in complete agreement that we need strong networks of protected areas focusing on areas of highest conservation value. We have examples such as important bird areas, habitat for species at risk, and un-fragmented, un-roaded areas. In Alberta we have things called environmentally significant areas that have been mapped.
Canada is a signatory to many important conventions on biological diversity, migratory birds in the wetlands, and for example, Ramsar. We've made commitments to protected areas. Unfortunately, we haven't met our targets nor, I believe, the aspirations of most Canadians who consistently state in polls that this notion of protected wildlife and their habitat is important to them. I have many examples of those polls if you want to see them. They include rural people as well as urban people. There's a myth that there's a split there. We have different ways of going about it, but there's a lot of support from Canadians for this.
Canada has led in the past in establishing national parks, national wildlife areas, migratory bird sanctuaries, and national marine protected areas. We need federal and provincial governments to complete these systems if we're going to meet our goals. Unfortunately, one could characterize government policy—not just federal but also provincial policies—as going fast on economic development and slow on conservation. This must come more into balance. We would argue that conservation, especially in some threatened regions of the country such as the grassland region, needs to be sped up dramatically. We can't just talk about it anymore. We have to act.
In 2011 Canadian farmers got 16% of their revenues from federal and provincial governments, according to the OECD. All together, direct support payments to farmers totalled almost $2.5 billion in 2011. Yet, an insignificant amount of money goes into subsidies for conserving biodiversity either on private land or on leased public lands. Even less of that subsidy ends up with ranchers who steward large areas of native grassland that support a rich biodiversity and some of the largest populations of species at risk in Canada. Since the removal of agricultural subsidies, although it may be a good idea, seems politically unlikely, we believe that all these subsidies need reform. A good proportion of the subsidy, we believe, must go toward providing the ecological goods and services that Canadians say they want.
We have not looked critically for some time at the forest industry and energy subsidies, but we did look at them over the eighties and nineties. Both direct and indirect subsidies of these industries have worked against conservation and promoted massive changes in habitat quality in Alberta. While we would be happy to see all these types of subsidies that promote habitat degradation removed, again, it's politically unlikely. At least some of them should be refocused on conservation and the provision of ecological goods and services.
As an immigrant, and one who came to appreciate Canada and its wild spaces after coming here from the UK, I believe it's important to help connect new Canadians to wild spaces and wild species. As someone who has spent a good part of my youth and my later life outdoors, I've been fortunate in that regard. I think it is essential to find ways to connect and reconnect our young people to the outdoors, both for health and conservation support reasons.
The AWA is working with local ranching communities and first nations on initiatives such as the sage grouse partnership in southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan, and the Hay-Zama committee up in northwestern Alberta. We co-manage with the local community a large protected area in the grasslands of southeastern Alberta along the Milk River canyon, and we advise on management of the Hay-Zama wildland park, as we phase out oil and gas activity in that internationally significant wetland complex.
These types of processes, which government facilitates but does not lead, have been some of our most rewarding. In the end, a national approach to conservation must be both place-based and people-based, and must be well resourced. If we fail on any of those, we won't be as effective as we should be.
The AWA recommends considering the following: a no net-loss principle for conservation, especially on federal lands; completing Canada's system of protected areas and conservation lands at all levels of government; finding ways to engage Canadians, particularly new Canadians and youth with wild places and wild species; reform agricultural and energy policies to fully recognize the value of native habitats and the communities, ecosystem services, and biodiversity that depend on them; institute payments for ecosystem services from private and leased public lands through both private markets, such as those being created for carbon credits, and direct government payments.
As I said, this is an area where we'd rather there be no subsidies, but if there are going to be subsidies, let's balance it out. We also need to expand support for first nations' interests in biodiversity conservation that builds on their traditional linkages of their cultures and economies with wild places and wild species. We need to conduct a review of all federal lands to determine if they are being well managed for biodiversity and ecosystem services, and no federal land should be sold without such a public review.
There's an example of the Suffield military reserve, which is being managed for multiple use right now and contains a national wildlife area, but the British Army is reconsidering whether they're going to continue in that area. That may be an opportunity for conservation.
The government is dismembering the PFRA, and the Govenlock pasture is actually in federal ownership. It's one that we believe should be designated a national wildlife area and would contribute to the conservation of many species at risk, including sage grouse.
We need to provide education and extension services that enable private land managers to manage their land and businesses in ways that are both profitable and sustainable, and that continue to support that full range of ecosystem services and their associated economic benefits.
The last one is this notion of matching funds. Political parties get a very good match on their donations, if you wish, and charities don't get anywhere near as much. We believe that conservation charities and other charities.... What better way for the public of Canada to express its support than by donating to these organizations that do so much good work across Canada? If we had a better match, I think a lot more would get done.