Evidence of meeting #75 for Environment and Sustainable Development in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was sara.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Heather Kleb  Acting President, Canadian Nuclear Association
Bob Bleaney  Vice-President, External Relations, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers
Sarah Otto  Director, Biodiversity Research Centre, Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia, As an Individual
Jeannette Whitton  Associate Professor, Department of Botany, University of British Columbia, As an Individual
David Pryce  Vice-President, Operations, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers
Alex Ferguson  Vice-President, Policy and Environment, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers

8:45 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

I call to order meeting 75 of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development.

We have appearing today from the Canadian Nuclear Association, Heather Kleb, the acting president. We also have from the Canadian Petroleum Producers, Bob Bleaney, vice-president, appearing in person, and by video conference, Alex Ferguson and David Pryce. Welcome.

We also have appearing as individuals by video conference from Vancouver, Sarah Otto, director, Biodiversity Research Centre, and Jeannette Whitton, associate professor, Department of Botany, University of British Columbia.

Welcome to our witnesses. You will each have a 10-minute opening statement and then we will go to our committee members for their questions.

We'll begin with Heather Kleb, the acting president of the Canadian Nuclear Association.

Welcome, Heather, please proceed.

8:45 a.m.

Heather Kleb Acting President, Canadian Nuclear Association

Thank you.

Good morning, Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, and the public.

My name is Heather Kleb. I am the interim president and CEO of the Canadian Nuclear Association.

The CNA has about 100 member organizations that mine uranium, process fuel, generate electricity, and advance nuclear medicine. Our industry provides a safe, reliable, low-carbon energy that offsets the greenhouse gases released by fossil-based energy sources.

In all, we represent about 60,000 Canadians whose livelihoods depend directly or indirectly on the nuclear industry. Our members work and live in the communities that are home to our industry, and they have a strong interest in conserving the environment where they live and work. They share the interests articulated in the “Study to Provide Recommendations Regarding the Development of a National Conservation Plan”, and routinely take steps to protect Canada's natural spaces, restore degraded ecosystems, and enter into partnerships that connect Canadians with nature.

Today l'm going to speak to you about some of these contributions to environmental protection and restoration. I will also speak about the opportunity to increase these contributions through partnerships and other means.

First, let me set the context regarding the rules that govern our industry and how we see them. The nuclear industry is very highly regulated. We are subject to the same legislation that applies to other major resource industries. This includes the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the Species at Risk Act, the Fisheries Act, and other legislation aimed at protecting the environment.

In addition, we have a dedicated regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. The commission ensures the protection of health, safety, and the environment, through the application of the Nuclear Safety and Control Act. In this act and its supporting regulations, we find the principle of ALARA, which stands for “as low as reasonably achievable”. In other words, our industry expects not just to comply with regulatory requirements but to go beyond them. In fact, our industry has developed a culture of going beyond compliance when it comes to safety and the protection of the environment.

As an example, let's look at the approach to habitat enhancement that Ontario Power Generation took at the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station, in Clarington, Ontario. OPG constructed a settling pond to intercept drainage from its construction waste landfill. Instead of simply constructing the pond, they went beyond what was required to develop a pond that supports amphibian reproduction and provides habitat for northern redbelly dace. The redbelly dace has no commercial value. It's a small fish, like a minnow, with silver on its back and black stripes down its sides, and it's common in southern Ontario. Scientists monitor it because the health of its population depends on the health of its habitat.

In 2008, initiatives like this one earned OPG the Corporate Habitat of the Year award. This award recognizes continuous site improvement in wildlife habitat enhancement. Darlington was selected from among 146 sites across North America to receive this award.

Mr. Chairman, this is one example of the measures our industry takes, not only to meet requirements but to exceed them. The benefits of such an approach are clear. Of course, there are also times when our industry must work not simply to enhance habitat but to restore it.

We have developed considerable knowledge, experience and technology in the field of environmental restoration. You can see this at Atomic Energy of Canada Limited. AECL is considering decommissioning a stack that was built some 60 years ago, for safety reasons. The stack has gone unused for more than 25 years, except by some chimney swifts who now call it home. Chimney swifts are small, black and white birds whose population has declined as their habitat has disappeared. They use chimney-like structures as roosting or nesting sites, but industry doesn't build them anymore. Changes in operations have caused them to tear down the stacks and not replace them. This is one of the reasons that the birds are now a threatened species.

Three years ago, an AECL biologist confirmed that the birds were using their stacks. They also determined that there was a real lack of information about the species and almost nothing on their roosting behaviour. AECL sought out a chimney swift specialist at Trent University and launched a research program to find out more about the species. The knowledge they have gained to date and will gain in the future will not only help them understand the species better, it will also feed into AECL's operations. Now the company has solid information on which to make decisions about the maintenance or decommissioning of the stacks.

They are also looking to gain knowledge on how to build successful replacement habitat for the chimney swifts. As you can see, we take a proactive approach to environmental restoration, and we're committed to going beyond compliance. We also enter into partnerships to help us achieve these goals.

Our members agree that the national conservation plan must foster and support strong, long-term conservation partnerships between stakeholders. Here's an example of how we see these conservation partnerships at work. In 2012, the finalized recovery strategy for the boreal woodland caribou population in Canada identified significant information gaps regarding Saskatchewan's woodland caribou habitat. Woodland caribou are found in old-growth forests where they feed on lichen, willow, and other plants. They occur in seven provinces across Canada, including northern Saskatchewan, and in 2002 they were deemed to be a threatened species.

One of our members, Cameco Corporation, mines uranium in northern Saskatchewan. When they became aware of the data gaps, they responded by developing a woodland caribou monitoring program in their area. They also sponsored a broader provincial research initiative aimed at filling the gaps. Given the amount of data required, a government-led project of this scale could only succeed with industry funding and support. So Environment Canada teamed up with the province, Cameco, and other industry stakeholders to gain a better understanding of Saskatchewan's woodland caribou habitat.

Moving forward, the stakeholder relationship that has been established in Saskatchewan will serve to better inform provincial management decisions. Through the funding of the provincial program and the development of their monitoring program, Cameco has collected valuable information regarding an at-risk species and its habitat.

Mr. Chairman, whether it's researching woodland caribou habitat, building habitats for chimney swifts, or enhancing the environment for northern redbelly dace, you can see how the nuclear industry approaches conservation. These three projects demonstrate our industry's commitment to environmental protection, our experience in environmental restoration, and our willingness to enter into partnerships in carrying out such projects. They also demonstrate the need to find new opportunities for partnerships and projects to offset environmental effects.

Looking at the national conservation plan, our members see the need for provisions to offset effects on species and their habitats through flexible means. We also see the need for documented policies and guidelines for offsetting. While some species recovery policies and strategies have been successful, the regional variation in Canada's natural environment means that a one-size-fits-all approach does not work. A prescriptive national conservation plan would be difficult to implement at a provincial level. The provinces are responsible for species recovery, but the federal government could provide a national guiding framework for habitat conservation. This should be developed in collaboration with other jurisdictions and supported with policies and guidelines or best management practices that help guide habitat conservation efforts provincially. Coordination and collaboration between the two levels of government is essential to avoid duplication, and will ultimately lead to improved habitat conservation outcomes.

Provincial governments should lead the efforts on habitat conservation by implementing and managing habitat conservation strategies that align with the national plan. One aspect of such a framework could be the use of habitat banks to offset habitat loss. Habitat banks have been established in several Canadian provinces to varying degrees. A well-defined and formalized habitat banking process would provide yet another tool for improving habitat conservation. Of course, any frameworks, policies, and guidelines would need to be developed in consultation with those who have experience in environmental protection, restoration, and conservation partnerships—like us, the Canadian nuclear industry. Given our knowledge, experience and technology, we must be a part of these conversations.

Mr. Chairman, l've covered a lot and I'm sure your committee has questions. I'd be pleased to answer them.

Thank you.

8:55 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Thank you very much, Ms. Kleb, and thank you for honouring the time guideline as well. You're well within the 10-minute framework and that's much appreciated.

We'll move now to Mr. Bob Bleaney, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

Mr. Bleaney, proceed please.

8:55 a.m.

Bob Bleaney Vice-President, External Relations, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers

Good morning, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee.

My name is Bob Bleaney and l am vice-president, external relations, of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, or CAPP. Joining me today by teleconference from Calgary are Alex Ferguson, vice-president of policy and environment; and David Pryce, vice-president of operations at CAPP.

CAPP represents Canada's upstream oil and gas sector. Our members find and develop over 90% of Canada's petroleum resources, invest more than $60 billion a year, and employ more than 550,000 people across the country.

We welcome the opportunity today to provide CAPP's perspective on habitat conservation in Canada.

Let me start by saying that CAPP is supportive of efforts to develop a broad vision for conservation in Canada. CAPP previously provided our views on the development of a national conservation framework when we appeared before this committee in May 2012. We highlighted the importance of recognizing that conservation involves many governments and a multitude of stakeholders, and we observed that it would be constructive to focus on establishing broad goals, principles, and priorities, under which conservation would be advanced.

We also view it as important to consider existing legislation, such as the Species at Risk Act, SARA, as it's illustrative of the restrictions that legislation can put on the options available to provide for habitat conservation and positive environmental outcomes. CAPP has provided the federal government with our perspectives on the need for changes to SARA, which could serve to assist in habitat conservation.

Prior to addressing the committee's specific questions, I would like to outline CAPP's considerations on habitat conservation in Canada.

First, the overall focus should be on responsible environmental outcomes, rather than a prescriptive plan, with inherent flexibility to adapt to the circumstances of specific regions and interests. Second, protection of species must look beyond conservation of habitat, although conservation is certainly a dimension of species protection. Third, conservation must not be focused on exclusion of use, but rather consider working landscapes, which enable more balanced policy by allowing more flexibility in land use, including temporal flexibility.

Turning now to the specific questions posed by the committee, I'll provide the following CAPP perspectives.

With respect to the types of stakeholders involved in habitat conservation, CAPP considers these to include all levels of government; aboriginal peoples; habitat conservation organizations; academic institutions, as centres for scientific research; non-governmental organizations with specific interests in relation to conservation; private landowners; and land users, both industrial and non-industrial rights holders. Collectively, these represent major contributors to habitat conservation. However, it's important to note that the general public also plays a key role, through demands on the land and consumption patterns.

With respect to available knowledge and expertise on habitat conservation, Canada has considerable capacity in this arena, in large part due to private sector investment. CAPP believes publicly available or accessible information is necessary to achieve better habitat conservation outcomes. This information is also important to help instill public confidence in those outcomes. Our industry has funded several bodies that conduct research or gather information to inform habitat management, including the Petroleum Technology Alliance of Canada, the science and community environmental knowledge fund, Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute, Canada's Oil Sands Innovation Alliance, and the Foothills Research Institute.

With respect to the most effective groups or organizations, CAPP views landowners and users and conservation organizations as the most effective. Resource industries, agricultural, recreational, and other land owners and users can be significant contributors to habitat conservation through their daily choices.

Conservation organizations with an on-the-ground focus—such as the Nature Conservancy of Canada, Ducks Unlimited Canada, and the Alberta Conservation Association—are effective because of their ability to collaborate with multiple stakeholders. They also recognize the need to manage landscapes over time, and the value of working landscapes as one of the many tools for habitat conservation. As well, they are effective because of their technical capacity to prioritize, implement, and assess the efficacy of habitat conservation projects; their priorities being consistent with national or provincial habitat conservation objectives; their capacity to leverage resources; and their excellent reputations with Canadians.

CAPP is highly supportive of the continued presence of such key conservation organizations and of a conservation framework that would support and incentivize appropriate practices of all of these groups.

Next, regarding how conserved land is defined and accounted for in comparison with other countries, the existing definition of “conserved lands” emphasizes the exclusion of land use in order to maintain wilderness, whereas in many other places conserved lands are simply managed lands. The acceptance of managed lands has allowed countries with limited wilderness, such as Germany, to use land more efficiently to achieve many social, economic, and environmental objectives concurrently, including habitat conservation. These countries have transitioned from trying to conserve land to achieving habitat conservation—outcomes that are not the same.

There is an opportunity for the federal government to explore policy options that would recognize and consider both wilderness and habitat conservation as well as managed lands, and through such consideration, promote working landscapes; therefore enabling balanced policy considerations. The key to defining conserved lands must be that the lands are achieving conservation outcomes, rather than a prescription for obtaining an outcome. This outcomes-based definition provides sufficient flexibility to ensure that appropriate actions are recognized and encouraged.

The next question was about best management practices for recovering a species. Flexibility is what's needed here. Effective habitat conservation depends on a framework that involves voluntary best management practices and stewardship initiatives in parallel with government-mandated measures. Notable examples of species management successes are attributable to initiatives outside of government-mandated measures, and include experiences with the grizzly bear and the swift fox.

Canada has not enabled alternative means of achieving the intended environmental outcomes of SARA, or means for voluntarily managing habitat for species at risk. This is especially noteworthy, as the focus of SARA is largely on habitat conservation. Given the number of different species listed and the number of different activities that occur on the landscape, it is essential that different tools are enabled and made available through an improved SARA to ensure that conservation outcomes are achieved.

The last question was about how the federal government can improve habitat conservation efforts. Our view is that an effective habitat conservation framework must be balanced and flexible, and include consideration of a multitude of factors to ensure outcomes that are in Canada's best interest. It must enable and promote voluntary best management practices and stewardship initiatives in parallel with government-mandated measures. It must recognize a broader definition of conserved lands to include both voluntary and formal habitat conservation efforts, as well as consideration for both wilderness and working landscapes. It must ensure that SARA effectively enables species conservation and that compliance mechanisms that are available will enable multiple pathways to attain desired outcomes. The federal government also has a role in communicating to both the Canadian public, and internationally, Canada's conservation efforts.

In summary, we need to focus on achieving responsible environmental outcomes rather than prescriptive measures, support greater use of flexible tools to address habitat and conservation needs, and enable a more balanced policy framework for the benefit of all.

Thank you. We look forward to your questions

9:05 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Thank you very much, Mr. Bleaney, and thank you as well for your awareness of the time.

We'd like to thank both of you for the written submissions. Those will be very helpful for us to refer back to as the committee progresses.

We now move to the University of British Columbia. Sarah Otto, director of the Biodiversity Research Centre, is appearing as an individual.

Ms. Otto.

9:05 a.m.

Dr. Sarah Otto Director, Biodiversity Research Centre, Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia, As an Individual

Thank you. My name is Sarah but feel free to call me by my nickname, Sally.

Thank you for this opportunity to present my views on habitat protection in Canada. I'm a professor at the University of British Columbia, where I have been teaching biology for nearly two decades now. My expertise is in evolutionary biology. I use mathematical models and conduct experiments to better understand how biodiversity has evolved and to determine the factors that place species at risk of extinction.

Since 2007 I have served as director of the Biodiversity Research Centre, with over 50 faculty and 200 graduate students. Our research has discovered new species in places as far away as Papua New Guinea and as close as the backyard of the Biodiversity Research Centre. Our research has uncovered the evolutionary and ecological processes that generate biodiversity as well as those that are important to maintaining biodiversity. Our researchers have also been interested in what happens when a species goes extinct or is lost to a community. When will that ecosystem be robust and when will it unravel?

My comments today are those of a scientist but also those of a public citizen and a mother. When we were children we grew up in an infinite world. To us nature seemed unbounded. Forests stretched for miles with trees, and fish were teeming in the sea. I remember when I was a child that we would throw garbage of the windows of our cars because it just didn't seem possible that we could have a cumulative impact on the world. We washed our clothes with phosphates, we sprayed our crops with DDT, and we drove our cars as plumes of smoke were emitted from their exhaust pipes.

This infinite world is not the world of our children. Our children grow up in a bounded world. They know that every point of earth has been affected by our actions, even areas where no human has ever set foot. We have learned that the cumulative impact of billions of people has entirely reshaped our earth from the seas to the skies.

Scientists such as Alberta's David Schindler have discovered that our lakes and streams were being transformed into algal soups by the phosphates in laundry detergent. The soap in our homes no longer contains those phosphates. Scientists also discovered that DDT thins the shells of birds, leading to catastrophic declines in many raptor species. The ban on DDT has allowed these species to recover, and visitors to Vancouver can now watch as peregrine falcons and bald eagles soar over our skyline.

Scientists have also discovered the impacts of many of the pollutants, leading to increasing regulations on emissions, with some success. For example, reductions in CFC emissions have led to the beginning of the recovery of the ozone layer and the ozone hole. It's been estimated in the United States by the EPA that over a million people in this century have been saved from death due to cancer by these regulations.

The bounded world in which our children now live contains many fewer natural resources than there were when we were born. In southwestern British Columbia, 75% of the old-growth forests are no longer there. In the world's oceans, 80% of the larger fish, the predatory fish such as tuna, are now gone because of overfishing in the last century. Globally, over one in five species of vertebrates and plants are at risk of extinction—I'm including critically endangered, endangered, and threatened. These rates of extinction we now know are 100 to 1,000 times higher than background rates of extinction, because of human activities. This is not the background level we're talking about.

These dramatic reductions in resources from our oceans to our forests have had tremendous negative impacts on local communities and on jobs. In British Columbia, direct employment in the forest sector has gone from 100,000 to 50,000 since 2000. In part, this is due to the declining availability of our old-growth forests, management practices that are focused on short-term returns, and the shift of timber-processing jobs to other countries.

In the maritime provinces, as you well know, 40,000 people lost their jobs due to the cod fisheries collapse, after warnings by scientists that sustainable management was essential were repeatedly ignored. Poor habitat protection and environmental policy also puts at risk Canadian exports as the world's markets increasingly demand sustainably harvested and low environmental impact products.

In my opinion, the situation is only getting worse. A comparison of the status of species in British Columbia from the 1990s to the 2000s found that more than half of the species had declined. Likely, over your term in Parliament another species will be extirpated from Canada, the northern spotted owl. When I became an adult there were hundreds of owls in British Columbia, and at this point there are only two breeding pairs left in the wild. This decline is directly due to the loss of old-growth forest.

Gone already from my province of British Columbia are the sage grouse, the pygmy short-horned lizard, the white-tailed jackrabbit, and the list continues. More worrisome is that habitat does not necessarily recover if we push it too far. If we remove a species, we do not know how the interactions among the remaining species are altered, how the food web is altered. That means we can't necessarily stop our actions and have the ecosystem recover. For example, cod remain in extremely low abundance 20 years after a moratorium on their catch, in part because of these shifts in the food web once they had been overfished.

Science has helped to point the way to recovery from major environmental catastrophes such as those brought on by phosphates, DDT, and CFCs. But we, as scientists, do not know all that we need to know to safeguard our future economy and welfare.

We do not know, when we lose a species, what potential medical discoveries we are losing with them. Who would have guessed, for example, that sea slugs would be important in discovering how memories are laid down, and figuring out what is going wrong in patients with Alzheimer's? Who would have guessed that the rosy periwinkle, a pretty little pink flowered plant, would be the source of a drug to help combat childhood leukemia? Who would have guessed that soil fungi would be responsible for some of the most important medical discoveries ever—antibiotics such as streptomycin, neomycin, and erythromycin?

Scientists cannot say for certain which species, when lost, will unravel the ecological communities within which they are embedded. We cannot perfectly predict which habitats will form key refuges and corridors linking the current habitat of a species to the future habitat of that species, an issue of particularly increasing concern with the rising temperatures due to global warming. We do not even know all of the species that are out there to lose.

Given scientific uncertainty, the only way forward that I see is to protect our natural lands and waters from our impact. The precautionary principle impels us to set aside more of our country from our impacts before those have become too severe to recover from. Why? Habitat protection provides a buffer, a reserve where natural ecosystems can prosper and continue, and those reserves act as a source of species and individuals to surrounding areas, whether that source be fish larvae or pollinating bees. Habitat protection is also a promise to our children to save some of Canada relatively untouched for their discoveries.

Canada is one of the signatories to the 2010 UN Convention on Biological Diversity set out to preserve at least 10% of marine areas, and 17% of terrestrial areas and inland waters by 2020. We are not on target. We currently have about 1% of marine areas and about 10% of Canadian land in protection. But the slope of the changes in these numbers is too shallow for us to reach the targets. Furthermore, many of our protected lands are disconnected and they are often very far away from the ecosystems and species at greatest risk.

I believe so strongly that we must act to protect land for future generations that last year I donated $100,000 from an award I received from the MacArthur grant to the Nature Trust of B.C. and the Nature Conservancy of Canada to help purchase lands in the Okanagan, one of the most endangered ecosystems in Canada. But this donation is a drop in the bucket. We must work together, individuals—

9:15 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Excuse me, Dr. Otto.

9:15 a.m.

Director, Biodiversity Research Centre, Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia, As an Individual

9:15 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Your time is up. If you could wrap up within a minute, I'd appreciate it. Thank you.

9:15 a.m.

Director, Biodiversity Research Centre, Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia, As an Individual

Dr. Sarah Otto

Okay, thank you.

We must work together—individuals, corporations, and government—to protect habitat, but habitat protection cannot be all that we do. While many species are at risk due to habitat destruction, fragmentation, others are not. Some are at risk because of the toxins in the environment such as phosphates, DDT, and CFCs. Some are at risk because of invasive plants and animals, and some are at risk because of overharvesting.

We need to push forward with a balanced approach, preserving a large fraction of our lands and waters, but doing so in a manner that is mindful of where species are most at risk. We need habitat protection not bare earth protection.

At the same time, we must act to reduce excessive risk to the species that call Canada home and build a sustainable economy for our children.

Thank you.

9:15 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Thank you, Dr. Otto.

We'll move now to Jeannette Whitton, associate professor, Department of Botany, University of British Columbia.

Dr. Whitton, please proceed.

9:15 a.m.

Dr. Jeannette Whitton Associate Professor, Department of Botany, University of British Columbia, As an Individual

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today.

My expertise is in plant ecology and plant evolution, where I focus on the study of the origins and interactions of species. Through that work, I'm fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend days and weeks in natural areas experiencing the wonders that so many of us rarely get to see. As a result of these experiences, my concern for the impact the human population is having on our natural world compelled me to find ways to contribute my expertise to the public dialogue on conservation issues. Therefore, I'm pleased to take the time to speak with you today.

My involvement in conservation includes serving as a member of COSEWIC, the expert committee charged, under the Species at Risk Act, with assessing wildlife species in Canada. I'm currently a member of COSEWIC, and while my opinions are informed by that experience, I should add that I'm not here as a representative of that committee.

As a result of my involvement with the Species at Risk Act, I have also worked on research projects aimed at assessing the implementation of SARA. Most recently, I've led a project analyzing recovery strategies under SARA with a group of Simon Fraser and UBC students and other researchers. We've amassed a database with the aim of assessing progress in achieving recovery under SARA. I'd like to share with you a couple of the key results from those findings and summarize how these results, among others, might inform habitat conservation policies. I want to focus today on our results related to terrestrial and freshwater systems.

Recovery strategies include a section that describes the threat to species at risk. We've summarized those threats and looked for patterns that emerge. Previous analyses by other researchers have highlighted that habitat loss and degradation, exotic invasive species, over-exploitation, and pollution are generally the top threats globally to imperilled species.

However, we took a slightly different approach to our analysis of Canadian species and used descriptions of threats that try to break down, for example, a particular factor into root causes. For example, habitat loss could be caused by all sorts of activities. It could be housing. It could be road building. It could be industrial activities, agriculture, mining, or oil and gas. The way we address these different threats are different, so it's important to break them down.

As with previous studies, our findings show that threats associated with habitat loss and degradation are most important and that invasive species and pollution impact many SARA-listed species. But most of the impacts related to habitat loss that we saw were associated with residential and commercial development, housing and commercial development, and other impacts of human activities such as recreation. We also found that most species at risk are impacted by multiple threats.

In fact, these key findings are well in line with the fact that most Canadians live, and therefore much of our impact is felt, in areas near urban centres and in the southernmost reaches of the country. These southernmost areas are not only where we live but also where many of our most threatened ecosystems occur and where many rare species in Canada eke out their existence. These threatened ecosystems include such places as the Garry oak habitats on southern Vancouver Island, the south Okanagan of B.C., the prairie grasslands, the remnant prairies of southern Ontario, and the Atlantic coastal plains of Nova Scotia.

These habitats are restricted in Canada, and they hold many rare and threatened species. They're the focus of intensive conservation activities, including assessment of species at risk, management of human impacts, and impacts of our sheer numbers—recreation, housing, roads, pollution—and the consequences of these impacts, such as the influx of invasive species. Managing our impacts is hugely challenging and will not get any easier.

In addition to these localized threats, our analysis also shows that modification of natural systems—through changing or managing water levels and activities such as fire suppression that safeguard our homes but permit changes to habitats that allow invasive species to encroach—are also important threats to many species at risk.

Resource use such as forestry and fisheries, pollution, and the impacts of oil, gas, and mining activities round out the list of key threats to species at risk. All of these activities have negative impacts on the availability of the healthy habitats needed to sustain Canada's biodiversity and underscore the role that habitat protection must play in conservation. The fact that these threats are not at the very top, the way that threats close to urban areas are, should be interpreted with caution though, as these threats are often the most important for the set of species they do impact.

A more detailed exploration of individual species and recovery strategies also shows that the details do matter for each species. It's not enough to generically preserve habitats, and it's certainly not true that land is equal to habitat, or that habitat alone promotes or preserves biodiversity. Although, of course, habitat conservation is essential for these initiatives. The habitats we preserve have to have the qualities to maintain the species they contain, and in fact, when we think of habitat, we have to imagine a living, breathing system with links among species, from soil bacteria through top predators, each playing a role in defining the habitat requirements for a species.

As a result, when we talk about ecosystem approaches to conservation, we have to mean approaches that consider the needs of individual species but focus on maintaining a balance of natural processes that help nature take its course as best it can, given the many assaults of human populations and activities.

Science-based policy decisions are critical to these efforts—science-informed strategies for choices of land to preserve, for management of invasive species, and to understand the key stages in the life history of species in communities where we can most impact their health and persistence.

At present in the species-at-risk world, science plays an essential role in the assessment of species by COSEWIC and in the development of recovery strategies. In species assessment, where we have the longest track record, our Canadian system of assessment is well viewed within Canada and internationally. One of the key strengths of this process is that it is purely evidence-based and it is available for peer-based and public scrutiny. As a result, a healthy debate can ensue, such as we have seen with certain high-profile species. This model, where science leads the process, is one means of ensuring that when compromises are made—and we understand even as scientists that compromises will be made—those compromises are clear and transparent.

When a scientist comes out and advocates for a science-based approach, there is the risk this will be seen as self-serving, in essence, lobbying for additional resources for our industry. However, I assure you that science in the public good, as underscored by my colleague Dr. Otto, is a defensible and sound investment that can and will contribute to sound policy, and ultimately must be central in informing our conservation policy.

I welcome your comments and questions. Thank you.

9:20 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Thank you very much, Ms. Whitton.

We'll move now to the opening round of our questions. The opening round is seven minutes each.

Mr. Sopuck, please.

9:25 a.m.


Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Thank you very much.

Mr. Bleaney, I was very interested in your testimony, especially your statement that the Species At Risk Act is illustrative of the restrictions that Canadian legislation can put on the options available to provide for habitat conservation and positive environmental outcomes.

Again, I'm not singling out the Species At Risk Act here, but it's just the idea that current environmental legislation can actually inhibit habitat conservation, which I think people would find remarkable.

Could you expand on that and give me some specific examples?

9:25 a.m.

Vice-President, External Relations, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers

Bob Bleaney

I can kick that off and then I'll probably pass that question to my colleagues in Calgary, who are also very well versed in this subject.

I guess one of the key points that comes into effect with SARA, which we're aware of, is that it is very prescriptive in its approach. So it doesn't facilitate, at this point in time, the opportunity for there to be other means or other considerations for how one might be able to address a particular situation or a particular problem by way of other compensatory programs.

With that, I'll basically pass this on, if I could, to I think Alex in Calgary.

Alex, perhaps you could follow up with that.

9:25 a.m.

David Pryce Vice-President, Operations, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers

Actually I'll take that one, Bob.

Thank you for the question.

I think the perspective we have on SARA is that it is largely focused on habitat conservation, meaning setting lands aside. Where we find the limitation is in the ability to exercise active management tools.

If you look at a species like caribou, at being able to help recover that species with penning of the cows so they can do their calving without the significant threat of any predation, the provinces are trying to move to the broader suite of tools to enable a more dedicated, more active approach to recovering species at risk. So, in our view, SARA is limiting in that scope. We'd like to see SARA expanded to enable the provinces, as our regulators, to make best use of all of those tools.

9:25 a.m.


Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Thank you.

Also, Mr. Bleaney, in your testimony you said we should be focusing on responsible environmental outcomes. In testimony last week, a previous witness said there's too much focus on input—hectares of land set aside and that kind of thing. Although that's important, the actual outcomes are probably what we're really after. Could you expand on how policy could be changed to enhance positive environmental and ecological outcomes in terms of species, for example?

9:25 a.m.

Vice-President, External Relations, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers

Bob Bleaney

If I may, Mr. Chair, could I also pass that one to my colleagues in Calgary?

9:25 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Proceed, please.

9:25 a.m.

Alex Ferguson Vice-President, Policy and Environment, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers

I'll start the answer for this.

I think an overall construct that we're looking for is to enable and provide a platform or an incentive for more voluntary industrial and non-industrial habitat conservation measures on the land base. We found, certainly, in a lot of the jurisdictions where we operate in northern parts of Canada that, without those above-policy efforts by companies—operators on the land, whether they're industrial or non-industrial.... If we don't allow those extra measures around conservation to take place, then you're limiting the overall objective of, for example, recovering a particular species. Most of the efforts and most of the successes that have happened on a smaller scale have resulted from above-legislated requirements.

I think the key message we have is that SARA, with an emphasis on the number of hectares that are excluded from operating on the land base, limits the incentive for our operators or other non-operators to come forward with additional measures that could work on that same land base to increase the objectives of recovering a particular species.

So, it's more of a results-based approach.

9:25 a.m.


Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

I certainly agree with that.

Ms. Kleb, I was fascinated by your example of the chimney swifts, because if an environmental outcome of what people desire is chimney swifts, I mean building chimneys is what you would do. I don't think anybody considers chimneys as habitat, but they do provide a certain environmental outcome.

Ms. Kleb, I'd like to ask you about the concept of habitat banking. It has come up a few times as a way to provide industry with the flexibility to mitigate any habitat losses that may result from some of its operations. Can you expand on the concept of habitat banking and how Canadian federal policy could be changed to enhance that?

9:30 a.m.

Acting President, Canadian Nuclear Association

Heather Kleb

Yes, I find that AECL example fascinating myself. Not only is it a situation where you're looking to tear down habitat, but AECL is federally mandated through the nuclear legacy liabilities program to tear down those stacks. At the same time, another department, Environment Canada, would probably advocate to retain them. This is a situation where we can't avoid or mitigate effects, so we need another solution, and that is offsets. A habitat banking program would allow us to have the flexibility to develop those offsets and to also enter into arrangements where we have direct or indirect offsets. So, they're not just habitat for habitat but also habitat for research or other options.

9:30 a.m.


Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Mr. Bleaney, in terms of the oil sands, one of the habitat remediation techniques is to take a mined area and return it to.... I think it may have been a sphagnum bog, but after the work is done, the best you can do is a savannah forest grassland kind of environment. That seems to me to be not a bad replacement for that habitat. It isn't the same, but it does generate certain kinds of environmental outcomes. What is the experience in the oil sands with that kind of habitat mitigation?

9:30 a.m.

Vice-President, External Relations, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers

Bob Bleaney

Again, I'll probably request that I pass this back to my colleagues. But I do know that there has been some very successful reclamation of late with respect to some of the oil sands mining sites. In particular, I think the Suncor site has had its first reclamation of its first tailings pond and has restored that to the normal habitat.

Let me pass this on to my colleagues just to expand on that.

9:30 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

We're out of time on Mr. Sopuck's round, so maybe one of our other members can pick up on that question.

Thank you, Mr. Sopuck.

We'll move now to Madame Quach.