Evidence of meeting #46 for Environment and Sustainable Development in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was habitat.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Julie Gelfand  Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development
Robert McLean  Executive Director, Canadian Wildlife Service, Environmental Stewardship Branch, Department of the Environment
James McKenzie  Principal, Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development
Kevin Cash  Director General, Wildlife and Landscape Science, Science and Technology Branch, Department of the Environment

9:40 a.m.

NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Have any comparisons been made between those birds and hibernating animals? If a more significant decrease is occurring in the population of migratory birds, is the same thing being observed among hibernating mammals?

9:40 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Julie Gelfand

I am not a scientist. That question should be put to scientists. I don't know whether Environment Canada's scientists have done any work on that.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

A very brief response, please, because we're well past the time.

9:40 a.m.

Kevin Cash Director General, Wildlife and Landscape Science, Science and Technology Branch, Department of the Environment

Thank you.

Ultimately, the food availability and the conditions that the birds receive when they come back to Canada are going to be dependent on a great number of factors, as the commissioner has said, and it is possible that climate change and the timing of migratory return could affect food availability. We are looking at that, but for the moment they remain hypotheses, and they are currently the subject of a number of studies, including the points you raise, but we don't have definitive answers right now.

We are hopeful that we'll have those in the coming years, but we're dealing with a situation that is already inherently terribly variable, so every year is very different from the last and very different from the subsequent. We know this in wetlands, for instance. It becomes very challenging to detect a signal against all of this variability, and it takes quite a while and quite a bit of data to understand what the true trend is underlying what is naturally an incredibly variable situation.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Thank you very much.

Next, Ms. Moore.

9:40 a.m.

NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Can we ask them to provide the study that he is talking about? He said that there is—

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

When it's finished, you mean?

9:40 a.m.

NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Yes, and write back to the committee just to forward the information.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

I'm not sure if there's a timeline established for that study.

9:40 a.m.

Director General, Wildlife and Landscape Science, Science and Technology Branch, Department of the Environment

Kevin Cash

The research is ongoing at this moment, but we would be more than pleased to provide the results as they become available from this work, absolutely.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Okay, all right. Thank you.

We will move to Mr. Toet, please, for five minutes.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Toet Conservative Elmwood—Transcona, MB

It's always interesting when we look at main estimates and try to look at the allocations from the year before to this year. I know it's challenging for a department to do that. You can't allocate anything into the main estimates unless that program has been established for the following year or the parameters for that program have been established. That's why we have supplemental estimates. I find it somewhat frustrating to sit in these committees and have people trying to compare main estimates to main estimates, because doing that is an exercise in futility that brings you to nowhere. It would be good if members would have an understanding of that and continue to understand that.

Mr. McLean, I want to start with a question for you. I found it very interesting that in your first sentence you referred to this as an important study that the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development is undertaking. Some have questioned the validity of this study. I wonder if you could expand on your opening remarks and explain why you see this as an important study.

9:40 a.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Wildlife Service, Environmental Stewardship Branch, Department of the Environment

Robert McLean

At the risk of repeating myself, the primary reason has to do with the voice that hunters and trappers provide for conservation. They not only speak about the sustainability of the harvest, which I've mentioned already, but also are, I think, really an important voice for the need for conservation and the importance of habitat conservation and restoration, as was just mentioned in the earlier questioning.

The third point is that these people actually get out on the ground and do things themselves. As I refer to it, they get their hands muddy and their feet wet to do some of the conservation work on the ground. They're an important constituency with respect to helping us as Canadians understand the importance of our natural environment.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Toet Conservative Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Basically you're saying that hunters and trappers—and I know you also referred to anglers—are in a unique position to observe the decline or growth of a population, whatever species that might be.

You touched on it briefly, but I wonder if you could speak to the reaction to these observations of declining population. Can you give some specific examples of how they've actually reacted to that and been at the forefront of making sure those populations are able to recover and are working within the context of the habitat for these species to make sure there is opportunity to recover?

9:40 a.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Wildlife Service, Environmental Stewardship Branch, Department of the Environment

Robert McLean

On the harvest side of the equation, they certainly have been a voice for reducing harvest where they're finding it becoming more difficult to obtain the species they're either hunting, trapping, or fishing for. With respect to harvest management, they go one step further as well. They provide important information to us, as the management department for migratory birds, on the species they've hunted, and they actually go one step further. We randomly sample hunters, and they provide, believe it or not, duck wings or goose tail feathers that allow us to identify the species and whether it's an adult or juvenile, a male or a female. That information is fundamental to sustainably managing the harvest. In our experience, that's one of the ways hunters are contributing to conservation.

On the habitat side, I mentioned already the contribution that hunters are making, for instance, financially though the habitat conservation stamp as well as through the hunting and advisory panel. That panel is recommending to my minister that we consider actually increasing the stamp fee to generate even more funds for conservation, so they're willing to put more money into habitat conservation. I've mentioned other ways such as the direct on-the-ground involvement of hunters in habitat conservation on a voluntary basis.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Toet Conservative Elmwood—Transcona, MB

You see their stewardship of the land all the time. The reference was made that as soon as we have human interaction, we do have an impact, but you'll see that when they go into an area, the hunters and trappers will actually minimize their impact as much as they possibly can. They really want to be integrated into the conservation of species and habitat, because they realize very much the tie-in of habitat to that species, and they want to see that population sustained. They're very involved in the sustainment, because that's their future. That's also what they want for their children and their children's children, because it's a way of life to them. It's important that we recognize that.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Thank you, Mr. Toet.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Toet Conservative Elmwood—Transcona, MB

I was just leading up.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

You were just getting started, I know.

Ms. Leslie, for five minutes.

March 10th, 2015 / 9:45 a.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Thank you, all, for your testimony. Welcome.

I want to pick up from where my colleague, Ms. Moore, was going when she cited the March 2013 report and talked about habitat loss, because this is a very serious issue, especially when it comes to species and when it comes to hunting and trapping. When I look at the Species at Risk Act, the term “species” is a special concern under this act. What exactly does that mean, and of the species of special concern, I think there are about 130 of them, how many of those are hunted?

Mr. McLean, do you have the answer to that?

9:45 a.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Wildlife Service, Environmental Stewardship Branch, Department of the Environment

Robert McLean

I'd have to get back to the committee with the answer to that question.

9:45 a.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Okay, thank you.

Actually, I wanted to ask the full panel. This is the first day of our study, so we're just getting a grasp on how we are going to do this and what this study will look like. I wonder if it would be possible to ask you back at another time once we have a better sense of where we're going with this study. I'm seeing nods. That's fantastic. Thank you.

When I think about habitat loss, one species in particular I think about is caribou, because habitat loss is having a devastating impact on caribou. I remember seeing a newspaper article—I guess it was online—about the George River caribou herd which is in decline. What was really important about the way that scientists were talking about this herd being in decline is they said that it was factors like strain on the habitat and climate change that were an issue, not the hunt, because the hunt was being managed. It wasn't over-hunting. There was a comment earlier that hunters know. The hunt was being managed very well. This herd is very unlikely to sustain sport hunting ever again. That's what I've been reading. There's a huge gap here.

I don't even quite know what my question is for you, so maybe I'll just turn it over to you for any comments about how this is happening. What do we need to do to prevent that habitat loss?

Mr. McLean.

9:50 a.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Wildlife Service, Environmental Stewardship Branch, Department of the Environment

Robert McLean

Thank you for your question and I'll take a stab at it.

I think it is about the fundamental question around biodiversity conservation and in some ways my answer—and I hope it doesn't get too technical—relates a little to earlier questioning around climate change.

I was responsible for the boreal caribou recovery strategy. I think the nugget for all of us as Canadians in that strategy is that it speaks to scale. There are 51 boreal caribou populations. We need to work at the right scale and then within that scale manage habitat change over time. Climate change will change habitat, so we need to monitor and track and see how that habitat's changing. It also then applies to how we manage development in terms of what areas within a range can be conserved so that we do have sustainability of the resource, while at the same time having sustainable development.

As somebody who's been around conservation for almost four decades, one of the most significant changes I see in conservation is happening at the provincial and territorial level. The real levers for biodiversity conservation are held provincially and territorially, because they make land use decisions and natural resource management decisions. What I see is a beginning of a shift from working on a project-by-project basis to beginning to move to landscape scale considerations. I think the boreal caribou recovery strategy dovetails well with that kind of, I'm going to call it, evolutionary change that is happening in the provinces and territories with respect to natural resource management.

We have one jurisdiction that actually legislated a scale approach to sustainable development and conservation, and that's Alberta. The Alberta Land Stewardship Act divides that province into seven regions, and that jurisdiction is developing regional plans for the very purpose of sustainable development and conservation.

That's the answer to the question.

9:50 a.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Where does the federal government fit into this?

9:50 a.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Wildlife Service, Environmental Stewardship Branch, Department of the Environment

Robert McLean

I think there are several ways the federal government could contribute constructively into those processes that are being led by provinces and territories. One is information. If we have good information coming from a recovery strategy, coming from one of our bird conservation region plans about how a species is using habitat and what its habitat needs are, then that's information that can be taken by a jurisdiction and integrated into how it plans for conservation and sustainable development at those scales. I think information is one key.

In terms of the federal house, if we have lands within those areas that are federal lands, then I think it's important that we also look after the lands that we're accountable for administratively, whether it's a natural park, a wildlife area, DND, a defence base, for example. Are those fitting into a bigger picture for conservation?

Those are two ways the federal government can contribute.