Good morning, committee members and guests.
I'm Rick Bates, executive director of the Canadian Wildlife Federation. My colleague, James Page, is our manager of the species at risk program.
The Canadian Wildlife Federation is the largest conservation organization in Canada by membership, with more than 300,000 supporters. Our board of directors includes the presidents of the provincial wildlife federations in all 10 provinces and two territories. These provincial federations have an additional 260,000 supporters.
We do three things. We do education to foster our conservation ethic, advocacy to ensure government policy incorporates wildlife interests, and stewardship to research or apply solutions to issues facing wildlife. CWF leads implementation of some of Canada's most important wildlife education programs, including Project Wild, Project Wet, and Below Zero. These programs are approved teacher curricula resource material in every province and territory in Canada.
We are the leading non-government organization in species at risk conservation, having invested approximately $500,000 per year over the past several years on support for species at risk projects.
Some of our current conservation work includes identifying critical habitat for grassland songbirds, developing a status report on aquatic invasive species in Canada, implementing a unique lake-stewardship program across Ontario, and developing a unique land-use model encompassing the western boreal forest that will help improve public discourse on development in an area under intense development pressure, as well as provide strategic guidance on conservation planning in the area. We also provide analysis and input on important policy issues, such as the Fisheries Act and the Species at Risk Act.
We work at both the species level and at a very broad landscape level. We do high-concept planning and research. We also get our hands dirty in implementation.
We are pleased on behalf of all our supporters to contribute to the committee's study on ways in which a new national conservation plan can strengthen habitat conservation in Canada. We'd like to congratulate the government on the initiative to create a national conservation plan, and the work of this committee in reaching out to others for ideas on how to best strengthen habitat conservation.
We have focused our comments on two of the committee's questions to which we feel we can best contribute. They are: “How can the federal government improve habitat conservation efforts in Canada?” and “When it comes to recovering a species, how do best management practices and stewardship initiatives compare to prescriptive, government-mandated measures?”
We will provide both general guidance as well as specific recommendations in the areas we are commenting on.
First, how can the federal government improve habitat conservation efforts in Canada? Natural resources, of course, are primarily a provincial responsibility. Areas of federal responsibility are migratory birds, fish, species at risk, and oceans. The federal government's national conservation plan should focus on these areas, and in particular, the underserved gaps in these areas.
For example, good-quality fresh water is important for human health, energy production, industrial processing, tourism, agriculture, and many other foundations of our economy, health, and social well-being. Of the total amount of water in the world, surface supplies of fresh water hold less than 0.01%, but the critical freshwater aquatic areas are under severe threat by drainage, pollution, and overuse. In Canada, approximately 147 aquatic species are listed as being at some form of risk. Global warming will continue to strain supplies of fresh water and aquatic ecosystems.
Among freshwater ecosystems in Canada, wetlands have had and continue to receive excellent support through the 25-year commitment from governments and non-government organizations to the North American waterfowl management plan. We support the government's continued support of that program.
The Great Lakes have been the focus of an excellent bilateral effort over 25 years to clean up contaminated sites in the lakes. We also support the government's continued commitment to that program.
The government recently announced a commitment of $10 million over two years for fisheries projects. That help notwithstanding, aquatic areas like streams, rivers, and lakes across Canada are under tremendous stress. They supply most of our fresh water, and we have seen serious declines in salmon and collapses of fisheries in some lakes, yet these areas receive relatively little attention in terms of long-term financial support. There is also a lack of strategic vision, associated planning, and partnerships with non-government organizations for conservation of aquatic habitat.
An important recommendation, therefore, is that we urge this committee to take action to correct that situation by supporting the development of a national plan for fish habitat conservation as a component of the overall national conservation plan.
Habitat programs within a national conservation plan should capture some of the characteristics of our most effective conservation programs. Some of the most successful conservation initiatives in Canada have shared some commons characteristics. These include providing a compelling vision, identifying high-priority habitat areas, establishing clear and numerical targets, and establishing long-term, 25-plus year, commitments. They are integrated with other levels of government, partnered with NGOs and industry, and focused—for example, having targets such as the number of ducks, the full flight target, in the North American waterfowl management plan, or the cleanup of specific polluted sites in the Great Lakes agreement. Lastly, they are landscape- and ecosystem-based. We recommend that the component programs within the NCP, national conservation plan, incorporate these principles.
The NCP has referred to creating a network of protected areas that were initially talked about as parks. These have their place, but many other tools can also be effective in conserving habitat. We believe that it is important to take a broader definition of conservation management and therefore recommend that land conserved through other tools, such as purchased property, easements, management agreements, tax incentives, or other mechanisms that provide long-term habitat security, be included in the network of conserved areas.
By mapping the full range of conserved areas, the government could gain a better understanding of where these areas line up spatially, where corridors of connectivity exist, and where high-value properties are. This will help increase the impact of conservation investment by ensuring that funds are targeted to the most important areas.
Another important step of the conservation plan should be to help transition conservation programs, and for the federal to be more proactive. Proactive planning and actions can help achieve positive outcomes as part of a plan that helps wildlife and that also helps industry and society. For example, in areas where there is much crown land, this could be achieved through the support of regional conservation plans. These would likely have to be watershed-based and done in association with provinces, since the federal government is responsible for fish and fish habitat, but not most terrestrial habitat or species that aren't endangered.
Regional conservation plans like this can achieve several goals including greater clarity for industry, improved conservation outcomes in areas of development, and improved understanding of shared goals such as maintaining market access or perhaps acquiring new market access for industries in the area. An important step in being less reactive would be for the national conservation plan to support a net gain approach to habitat management in which the principles of avoid, minimize, and mitigate loss of habitat are applied. In other words, first avoid loss, then minimize any loss, and when loss is unavoidable, mitigate it by compensating to restore and conserve a greater amount of similar habitats so that there is a net gain of habitat achieved.
The CWF reviewed economic incentives and programs aimed at promoting stewardship in Canada, Australia, and the United States in preparation for this hearing. The most common instruments were grants, tax reductions, easements, conservation auctions or tenders, and various combinations of those tools. These are all also common in Canada. However, there are three things we observed about these programs that we believe are important to consider in the development of a national conservation plan.
Our first observation is incentive levels. Although not a comprehensive analysis, one observation of the programs' review to date is that the programs providing incentives or payments of some type in the U.S. appear to pay landowners a higher amount of the cost for the conservation action being encouraged. For example, the U.S. wildlife habitat incentive program, which is aimed at improving, protecting, and restoring habitat of significant and important areas, pays up to 90% of the incurred cost to implement conservation practices. This is up to $50,000 per year for individual landowners. Through the U.S. wetlands reserve program of permanent easements, 30-year easements, and restoration cost-share agreements, payments range from 75% to 100% of restoration cost. That also allows compatible uses of the land, so it includes industrial agriculture. Similarly, the tax credits for donations of land easements in the U.S. are often greater than those allowed here.
Second is market-based approaches. There are two market-based habitat conservation tools that we'd like to bring to the attention of the committee. We are not endorsing these programs. We have not done a really serious review of the implications. However, they are unique and worthy of examination for potential application in Canada.
The first is a tax credit transfer. This tax credit system differs from other conservation easement or property donation tax credits common in Canada in that the tax credits can be sold by the landowner to a third party. That's either an individual or a corporation.