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

8:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

I call meeting number 46 of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development to order.

Today we're meeting to discuss the issues regarding hunting and trapping.

We have witnesses today from the Office of the Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development, Julie Gelfand and James McKenzie. From the Department of the Environment, we have Robert McLean and Kevin Cash. Welcome to all.

My understanding is that Julie and Robert will each be making a 10-minute presentation and then we'll go to questions.

We'll begin with Ms. Gelfand.

8:45 a.m.

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

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.

Thank you.

8:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Thank you very much, Ms. Gelfand.

I'd welcome you to my area to see some barn swallows. We have a lot of them there yet, thankfully.

Mr. Bob McLean is next.

March 10th, 2015 / 8:50 a.m.

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

Thank you, Chair, and good morning.

I welcome this opportunity to speak today on the important study that your committee is planning on undertaking on the issue of hunting and trapping.

As a party to the Convention on Biological Diversity, Canada is committed to the conservation and sustainable use of biological resources. Within Canada, provinces and territories are generally responsible for wildlife management, including regulation and management of the hunting of big and small game species, and of trapping. The federal government is responsible for conservation and management of migratory birds.

Hunting and trapping continue to represent economic benefits to Canadian communities. Hunting, fishing, and trapping activities contribute approximately $14 billion to the Canadian economy each year. For example, about 70,000 people are directly employed by the Canadian fur trade. Approximately 60,000 active trappers in Canada, including 25,000 aboriginal people, are undertaking trapping activities. Hunting and trapping activities are particularly important to communities which may have limited employment opportunities, particularly aboriginal and remote communities.

In 1997 Canada reinforced its commitment to a sustainable and economically viable fur trade by signing the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards with Russia and the United States. The agreement outlines science-based standards for the trapping industry and applies to trapping for pest control, conservation, fur, and food. Over the past decade, approximately three million federal dollars have been invested in humane trapping standards related to research and testing of traps, and Canada has earned a reputation of being a leader in this field.

The importance of non-commercial trapping, hunting, and nature activities in general to the national economy and individual Canadians' quality of life is described in the 2012 Canadian nature survey which the commissioner just mentioned, which was undertaken on behalf of Canada's federal, provincial, and territorial government departments responsible for biodiversity. The nature survey found that approximately 8% of Canadians—that's 2.1 million adults—participate in hunting and trapping activities for non-commercial use, which on a per-capita basis is higher than the number in the United States. On average, each individual participating in these activities spends about $996 per year with a total Canadian adult direct spending on hunting and trapping of $1.8 billion per year.

The nature survey also found that Canadian adults who participated in nature conservation activities were three times more likely to participate in hunting, trapping, or fishing than those who did not participate in nature conservation. Of these 2.1 million Canadians who hunt and trap, approximately 175,000 purchase migratory game bird hunting permits to hunt waterfowl which, as mentioned, is an area of federal responsibility. Management of the hunting of migratory birds and elimination of commercial harvest were an important impetus to establishing the 1916 Migratory Birds Convention with the United States. Since that time, Canada and the United States have leveraged contributions and support of the hunting communities to manage harvest levels and to establish conservation programs such as the North American waterfowl management plan.

Since the establishment of the plan, over 8 million hectares of wetland and associated uplands have been permanently secured in Canada, while an additional 41 million hectares have been directly influenced through stewardship activities.

The success of the plan is due in large part to the contribution and support of the hunting communities in Canada, the U.S. and now in Mexico, which have been instrumental in securing habitats for waterfowl. This includes the active engagement of organizations such as Ducks Unlimited Canada and Delta Waterfowl Foundation.

Hunters and trappers play an important direct role in wildlife management. For example, special conservation measures, including spring hunts enacted for overabundant greater snow geese, halted and reversed the decline of their populations in Canada since the late 1990s. Hunters similarly played an important role in reversing the decline in the Atlantic population of Canada geese in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In response to hunter concerns about the sharp drop in Atlantic population Canada geese, wildlife managers completely closed the hunting season for this population until 1999. As a result of those restrictions, the Atlantic population of Canada geese has recovered and stabilized, and in fact, all hunting restrictions on the species were lifted in Canada in 2002. The harvest continues to be managed carefully, even though the population is now restored.

Trappers, anglers, and hunters represent some of Canada's most dedicated conservationists, contributing billions of dollars over the years to conservation projects across Canada through the purchase of tags, licences, and stamps in addition to countless hours spent in conservation efforts. For example, Canadian waterfowl hunters contribute to habitat conservation through the purchase of a Canadian wildlife habitat conservation stamp. Since 1984, hunters have provided over $50 million to fund habitat conservation projects through Wildlife Habitat Canada, which is the recipient of the stamp revenue.

The hunting and angling advisory panel was established in 2012 to provide inclusive and broad-based advice on a range of policies, programs, activities, and emerging issues related to conservation, hunting, trapping, and angling. In their recent presentation to federal, provincial, and territorial ministers, members of the panel articulated five issues where cooperation among jurisdictions would be important, some of which may be important for the study you are embarking on. The panel recommended pursuing reciprocal suspensions of hunting, angling, and trapping privileges; addressing chronic wasting disease; addressing invasive alien species; pursuing a national economic study on hunting, fishing, and trapping activities; and considering alternate sources of funding, such as excise taxes which are used in the United States to supplement current programs for fish and wildlife management in Canada.

Canada has a strong wildlife management system, one that is based on sound science. For Environment Canada this means recognizing the importance of monitoring and research relating to migratory bird populations to ensure that management decisions, including the establishment of harvest levels, regulations, and wildlife management, are responsible and consider the sustainability of the resource.

The recognition of the importance of wildlife conservation was recently confirmed through investment in the national conservation plan, a $252 million investment to conserve and restore Canada's natural environment for present and future generations. The national conservation plan, including its new national wetland conservation fund, builds on and complements long-standing partnership programs, such as the North American waterfowl management plan mentioned earlier.

In closing, pressures on wildlife continue to mount, with important decisions needing to be made about how to most appropriately manage the landscape in a way that is supportive of a strong economy while also supporting the needs of wildlife. Hunting and trapping is a way of life for many Canadians and is an important aspect of conservation in our country. Continued investment in efforts to support responsible hunting and trapping and recognizing the many values of this investment is crucial to all of us.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Thank you, Mr. McLean, and you're right on, in terms of your time.

I have one quick question. On page 2, at the bottom of your notes in English, the second-last paragraph, in relation to the greater snow geese, when you were speaking, you said “halted and reversed the decline” and your notes say “halted and reversed the increase”. I'm assuming it's “increase”.

9:05 a.m.

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

Robert McLean

Yes, sorry.

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Okay, that's just for the record, in case it's going from the verbal record and not the written.

Thank you.

We'll move now to our questions.

Mr. Sopuck, for seven minutes, please.

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Thank you very much, Chair.

I'd like to compliment the presenters on the quality of their presentations. They were filled with sound facts and terrific information. They'll be a great help to us as we move forward.

I was especially delighted to hear the commissioner's definition of sustainable development as “long-term development that meets the needs of current generations and does not compromise the ability of future generations to meet theirs”. Of course, the commissioner knows that's directly from the Brundtland commission's report, and I couldn't agree more with this definition.

Too many people seem to forget that this is the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. I think that studying sustainable development in the context of the definition that the commissioner presented is very important.

I'd like to ask the commissioner a question. Compared to other economic activities in Canada, where do you think that modern managed hunting and trapping stands in terms of their sustainability as economic activities?

9:05 a.m.

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

Julie Gelfand

As the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, I'm really interested in the concept of sustainable development.

When I look at the work that the commissioner's office has done in the past, I feel it's very much focused on the environment part of the three Venn diagram and less so on the other two parts, and how they integrate really well. When I look at the commissioner's office, I think, “Wow, we've really audited these guys almost to death”. We've been in Environment Canada many, many times, but we haven't really tried to figure out how to look at all three parts of the sustainable development equation.

This year we're launching a study on how to actually do that in the world of audit. I'm now in the world of audit and I have to figure out how to audit sustainable development. We can define it, but how do we actually audit it? We're going to be spending some time trying to figure out how to do that.

Unfortunately, because of my position, I can only talk about things that we have audited. We haven't audited the question that you asked me, so it's difficult to provide you with an answer, because I don't have any data in front of me.

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

To any of the panellists, you had talked about hunting and trapping generating about $2 billion per year for the Canadian economy. Does that include the dollars that hunters and trappers spend on conservation, or are the dollars that they spend on conservation over and above that $2 billion?

Mr. McLean.

9:05 a.m.

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

Robert McLean

The amount that hunters put into, say, the conservation of wetlands, would be a separate number from the $1.8 billion that hunters and trappers spend directly. That number includes what they would spend on accommodation, transport, food, and buying equipment, but not on those additional contributions.

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Okay, so the community that I'm very proudly a part of definitely puts its money where its mouth is in terms of environmental protection and conservation.

Again, Mr. McLean, there's something I've written about in the past called the paradox of hunting and trapping, which is that these are species that are harvested by people, in the case of waterfowl in the millions, yet I can't think of a single species that's harvested in this manner that is scarce. They are all reasonably abundant, in spite of the fact that they're harvested.

Can you perhaps address that paradox, Mr. McLean?

9:05 a.m.

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

Robert McLean

I'll take a stab at it.

I'm not sure I actually see it as a paradox. I think it's a direct relationship. I was trying to bring that out in my comments earlier.

The hunters are in fact a strong voice for conservation, for example, in habitat conservation, which you alluded to a moment ago. They are also strong advocates of sustainable management of the resource. Hunters know that if they take too many birds, in our case, they're not going to be there five or ten years down the road. As I mentioned in my example of the Atlantic population of Canada geese, hunters will take measures to reduce the harvest. They will support the restrictions we put in place so that the use of the resource remains sustainable.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

I share the commissioner's concerns about the decline in bird species. I think the commissioner was right to flag that. Interestingly, none of these species that are declining are hunted species—not that I'm recommending that they be hunted.

The fact that the hunted species have a strong lobby group that basically asked to be taxed to fund conservation activities I think speaks to the conservation commitment that the hunting and trapping community does.... Interestingly, hunters and trappers are the only conservationists who actually cherish abundance. That's what we as hunters look for.

Mr. McLean, the national conservation plan just came out. Have the first group of wetland conservation grants been announced yet?

9:10 a.m.

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

Robert McLean

We funded about 40 or 50 projects in fiscal year 2014-15 and we're now working on the second slate of projects to be funded under the national wetland conservation fund.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

I know this is a difficult question to answer in a short time, but could you speak to the kinds of projects that were funded under the wetland restoration component and which groups by and large received most of the funding?

9:10 a.m.

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

Robert McLean

In response to the second part of your question, we certainly have recipients who are what I would characterize as traditional recipients of funding, for example Ducks Unlimited Canada and the Delta Waterfowl Foundation. However, we made a concerted effort to reach out to new partners. I don't have the number off the top of my head, but we do have quite a number of first-time recipients of funding from that particular funding source and we're delighted with that result.

In terms of some specific projects, the Credit Valley Conservation Foundation has a marsh restoration project removing about, believe it or not, 10,000 cubic metres of sediment. What that will do is it will restore the native aquatic species that are buried underneath that sediment. That project is also going to put into place some habitat structures to improve spawning in that area for the warm water fish community in the Port Credit area.

In Saskatchewan the Water Security Agency has targeted the restoration of wetlands in some of the watersheds where there's been a fair bit of flooding. For example, the Assiniboine River watershed, the Lower Souris and the Lower Qu'Appelle watersheds are targeted for wetland restoration. The more wetlands that can be put into the watersheds, the less the flooding can be.

Those are a couple of examples of the concrete result we're getting from that fund.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Thank you, Mr. Sopuck.

We'll move now to Mr. Choquette, for seven minutes.

9:10 a.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Ms. Gelfand, hunting, trapping and biodiversity are interrelated. You mentioned that Canada is a party to the Convention on Biological Diversity, which we discussed during our study on the National Conservation Plan. At the time, a number of witnesses told us that we were nowhere near reaching the targets in terms of protection of biological diversity set for 2020.

I went over Canada's Fifth National Report to the Convention on Biological Diversity, which covers a number of interesting topics such as the change in the Arctic ecosystems, acidification of lakes, habitat loss, climate change, biological diversity, vulnerability, adaptation, and so on.

As commissioner, have you ever audited the work Environment Canada has done to reach the targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity? If not, do you plan on doing that eventually?

9:10 a.m.

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

Julie Gelfand

According to the study we carried out in 2013, the former commissioner did look into chapter 2 to determine whether or not Canada had reached the targets. That was chapter 2 of our 2013 report. I don't have all the information on hand, but I see that Environment Canada did set targets. However, there was some uncertainty over how Canada would reach them.

9:10 a.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

There was also mention of the National Conservation Plan and the $252 million invested in the plan over four or five years. One of the issues identified during the study on the National Conservation Plan had to do with the fact that some funding was provided to third-party organizations whose mission was to carry out conservation activities.

Have you broken down the amounts of money invested each year? If so, could you send that information to the committee? Is the office of the commissioner planning to audit the results of the National Conservation Plan? How will you go about auditing organizations that are not part of the government such as the Nature Conservancy of Canada and others?

9:15 a.m.

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

Julie Gelfand

You have a lot of questions. I will try to answer you.

The recently established National Conservation Plan has not yet been audited. It's highly likely that our office will audit that organization or fund. So we could conduct an audit, but we haven't done so yet.

As for the more technical question regarding the audit of a third party, I will let Mr. McKenzie provide explanations. I am not an auditor, and he will be able to explain it better.

In a similar ongoing study, we have noted that the federal government has provided funding to a third-party organization. I think that we can still proceed in a technical manner and carry out an audit on how the money is being used in those organizations to achieve the objectives. I think Mr. McKenzie could give you more information on that.

9:15 a.m.

James McKenzie Principal, Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Thank you, Mr. Chair and Monsieur Choquette.

Essentially, the Auditor General and the commissioner take the same approach in terms of looking at third parties, and it's really putting the onus on the federal department that is providing the funding. We look to see if departments are in fact tracking or monitoring the results that are being achieved through the transfer of payments to third parties. The federal government's policies surrounding grants and contributions are essentially what we hold the government accountable to, and that policy typically requires that departments have a performance measurement strategy in place, for example, to be able to track the impacts that the funding is achieving.

Typically, there are certain provisions in those contribution agreements regarding reporting back to the federal government, so that the federal government has an opportunity to collect that information and then use it to assess the type of performance it's achieving, but we don't typically look at the third parties themselves. We look more at the federal government's responsibilities in terms of providing that overall stewardship for the funding it provides.

9:15 a.m.

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

Julie Gelfand

In the report I published last October, we considered the fast-start financing the federal government had provided to third parties. As Mr. McKenzie told you, we looked at whether the federal government had set objectives, whether it could receive reports and whether it was reaching its objectives. So we can do that, but we haven't yet done it for the National Conservation Plan.

9:15 a.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Thank you.