Mr. Chair, thank you for this opportunity to discuss chapter 3, Conservation of Migratory Birds, of the commissioner's 2013 fall report. Joining me at the table is James McKenzie, the principal who was responsible for the audit.
Although we have not done an audit specifically on licensed hunting and trapping in Canada, our 2013 audit is relevant to this topic, given the important relationship between hunting and the conservation of waterfowl.
I should note that the work for this audit was completed in July 2013. We understand that, since the audit was released, actions have been taken by Environment Canada to further support bird conservation. However, we have not audited those actions.
I would like to start by providing a bit of background information about myself and how I plan to fulfill my mandate. As some of you may know, I have worked in the federal government, as well as in national and international nature conservation organizations, and in the mining industry. These past experiences have allowed me to understand the importance and benefits of bringing together different perspectives to the issues of environment and development. It is clear to me that a prosperous economy, a vibrant society and a healthy environment complement each other.
During my mandate, I intend to focus on the federal role in promoting sustainable, long-term development that meets the needs of current generations and does not compromise the ability of future generations to meet theirs.
With an economy, society and identity rooted in its natural resources, Canada has a long history of leadership in protecting natural landscapes—including forests, prairies and wetlands—as well as the species living there. Given Canada's vast geography and the range of species in our country—from fish and amphibians to birds, plants and large mammals such as caribou—protecting our natural heritage is an immense challenge.
When we looked at the conservation of migratory birds, we found that Environment Canada and its partners had achieved good results from their efforts to restore waterfowl populations through the North American waterfowl management plan. Implementing the plan has involved contributions from a wide variety of partners, including the hunting community.
Assessments of the North American waterfowl management plan indicate that it has played an important role in the recovery of waterfowl and in the protection of wetlands in Canada. Although challenges remain, such as the loss and degradation of wildlife habitat, many waterfowl populations have in fact increased. The plan's success shows how results can be achieved through partnerships, concerted efforts over the long term, and shared conservation objectives.
I am concerned, however, about the overall state of birds in Canada. Research indicates that some groups of birds, such as shorebirds, grassland birds, and insectivores, have declined by 40% to 60% since the 1970s. These would be birds that you might even recognize, such as the barn swallow, which we used to see in abundance and now we just don't see nearly as much.
Successful conservation requires not only partnerships but also conservation strategies that are informed by scientific research and monitoring. In our audit we found that Environment Canada had missed key deadlines for more than half of the bird conservation strategies the department was developing.
We have been informed by the department that all of these strategies have since been completed. The challenge now is to ensure their implementation. Declines in bird populations highlight the need for actions on these strategies.
Scientific research and monitoring of bird populations are important activities that can be used to track and guide the results of conservation actions.
In 2012, Environment Canada completed a scientific review of the bird monitoring programs it supported. The review found that most programs support the department's information needs. However, it also concluded that many information gaps exist. We found that the department was responding to the recommendations in the review, but that according to the department, significant new resources would be needed to address major gaps.
Before concluding, I'd like to draw the committee's attention to the results from the 2012 Canadian nature survey, which was released in 2014 and was led by Environment Canada in collaboration with provincial and territorial governments. I have a copy of it right here, and I think it will be very useful for your study. As noted in chapter 2 of the commissioner's 2013 fall report, the Canadian nature survey is an important initiative aimed at better understanding how Canadians interact with nature.
The results of this national survey, which was the first of its kind in Canada in over 15 years, indicate that approximately two million Canadians age 18 and older participate in hunting or trapping activities in Canada. The survey also indicates that $1.8 billion was spent on hunting and trapping in the 12 months before the survey was conducted.
These results are important because they point to the number of Canadians involved in hunting and trapping, who in addition to their contributions to the North American waterfowl management plan could be even further engaged in conservation activities. These conservation activities could be used to help Environment Canada address some of the challenges faced by the department and Canada as a whole in conserving Canada's wildlife.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening remarks.
We would be pleased to answer any questions the committee may have after you have heard from the department officials.