Good morning, everyone. Thank you for having me. This is a great privilege.
My name is Andréanne Blais, and I am a biologist at the Conseil régional de l'environnement du Centre-du-Québec, a not-for-profit organization that promotes efforts to protect and improve the environment from a sustainable development perspective. Our niche area is joint action to promote the common interests of the various environmental stakeholders. I have been invited here today to talk more specifically about wetlands and the management of wetlands and wetland ecosystems.
Wetlands have been abused for many years now, particularly by agricultural and urban development. I will cite only two examples. Approximately 45% of wetlands in the St. Lawrence lowlands in Quebec and Ontario have been lost, and 65% of the remaining natural environments have been disturbed. Sixty-eight percent of lowland wetlands have been lost in Ontario.
We are seeing losses in the arctic and boreal wetlands in northern Canada. However, those are related to the impact of climate change, particularly the drying up of peat bogs, which I will discuss a little later in my presentation.
Fortunately, however, attitudes are changing. Society's decision-makers and players are starting to take a more informed look at wetlands management, particularly at what we call the ecological goods and services provided by those wetlands. I am talking, for example, about the benefits that wetlands contribute to society, such as water filtration and water management. During dry periods, wetlands gradually release water to charge water tables and watercourses. There are also recreational, research, hunting and fishing benefits. So these are some of the many goods and services that benefit society as a whole.
Wetlands currently cover 10% of the area of Quebec and 14% of Canada. Canada is one of the countries with the largest number of wetlands in the world.
As I mentioned, this increasing awareness has resulted over the years in the adoption of various policies and statutory instruments. Of course, one need only consider the powers and duties provided for under several legislative frameworks, particularly those respecting transborder and international matters, as well as migratory birds, wildlife and fisheries. There is a significant body of legislation respecting wetlands, and Canada also has the Federal Policy on Wetland Conservation, the Convention on Wetlands and Habitat Joint Ventures.
However, the legislative framework is very weak in Quebec, even with its Environmental Quality Act, which applies mainly to public lands and private lands with the largest development areas. That is where the legislative framework is weaker. However, there are good initiatives, particularly in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and some regulations in Ontario.
Other deficiencies in wetlands management include the way wetlands are taken into consideration before projects are implemented. Wetlands are considered too late in the decision-making process. If they were examined earlier, they could be integrated into that process, particularly by weighing the economic value of ecological goods and services. The fact that they are overlooked is obviously the result of deficient wetland information, knowledge, monitoring and cartography—people do not know where wetlands are or what their value is—and a lack of awareness among private owners.
We recommend that the committee establish clearer legislative guidelines and increase basic research in wetland cartography, monitoring and management practices.
We also recommend developing financial incentives. This can be done by improving existing programs. I am talking about the EcoAction Community Funding Program, the Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk and the Natural Areas Conservation Program in partnership with the Nature Conservancy of Canada. Technical support must also be provided so that wetlands can be considered in the pre-project phase.
We also recommend providing a broader educational framework by developing a network of high-profile wetlands across Canada. Furthermore, with regard to climate change, we recommend adopting the precautionary principle to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As I mentioned, peat bogs here in Canada hold 14% of all Canadian carbon and of all the world's carbon. If they dry out, that carbon will be released into the atmosphere and result in considerably higher greenhouse gas levels. If peat bogs dry up, they will release 25 times as much fossil fuel carbon as is released every year, which will have a major impact on climate change.
To summarize, we absolutely believe that action must be taken to strengthen the legislative framework and to ensure that wetlands are taken into consideration before projects are undertaken.
That completes my presentation. Thank you for listening.