Thank you so much, Madam Chair.
Good morning. Thank you for the opportunity to present to the committee today. It's great to be here with friends and colleagues, and we're happy to provide our input to your study.
I'm John Lounds, president and CEO of the Nature Conservancy of Canada. Joining me today is Lisa McLaughlin, our chief conservation officer.
The Nature Conservancy of Canada—the other NCC, not the National Capital Commission and not the National Citizens Coalition—is a made-in-Canada, non-profit charitable organization that is this country's largest land trust. We work with Canadians to conserve and care for some of our most threatened natural areas and the species they sustain.
The lands we conserve come to us most often through purchase, donation, or conservation agreements. Our partners include individuals, communities, corporations, governments, and indigenous peoples. Ours is a collaborative conservation model that facilitates lasting results.
I'm sure many committee members are already aware of our work. More than half of your ridings feature Nature Conservancy of Canada projects. In fact, more than 80% of Canadians live within 100 kilometres of NCC conservation lands. There are a couple of other aspects of our work especially relevant to today's discussion that you may not be familiar with, such as mineral rights relinquishment and conservation planning.
NCC has helped lay the groundwork for some large publicly protected areas. We are uniquely positioned to bring together industry and government to address private mineral rights, which is an important step in the creation of large federally protected areas, terrestrial or marine. We negotiated with six companies to relinquish the mineral rights to more than 4,000 square kilometres in the Yukon, paving the way for the creation of Vuntut National Park. We have done similar work to help create Gwaii Haanas, Canada's first designated national marine conservation reserve, and in the Flathead River Valley in British Columbia.
We've also assisted marine protected areas by acquiring fee simple ownership along adjacent coastlines. NCC projects are located along the Musquash Estuary in New Brunswick, the Lake Superior national marine conservation area, and the Gulf Islands of British Columbia. We look forward to continuing to play this role as Canada considers new protected areas.
NCC is also a Canadian pioneer in conservation planning. We have spent a lot of time thinking about the integration of protected areas and developing tools to ensure that we are targeting the highest-priority places. We have completed highly detailed assessments of all of Canada's southern ecoregions, and we are now beginning similar work for northern geographies.
Far from academic exercises, our ecoregional assessments and nature atlases are available for public use. I am happy to have copies of our Labrador nature atlas here. The author, Lindsay Notzl, is here in the back row. The atlases are available for public use and help determine where to invest limited funds for the greatest conservation impact. These assessments support more than 80 finer-scale natural area plans, which means we can roll up our data and report on the local and national significance of our work. They allow us to develop science-based conservation plans, and they guide our investments and our decision-making. They help us to integrate our work within the greater protected area ecosystem.
That brings us to the key message we want to leave with you today. In our view, the range of federally protected areas is not currently integrated in any formal way to achieve Canada's targets and objectives, and nor are they coordinated with provincial, indigenous, or privately protected areas. We should not let this current lack of integration stand in the way of immediate progress toward our commitments. The work on integration can and should occur concurrent to reaching our international commitments by 2020.
Canada has agreed to the 20 Aichi biodiversity targets, including target 11, committing signatories to protect 17% of their lands and inland waters, and 10% of their marine areas, by 2020. Target 11 is clear that the areas must be of a certain quality: equitably managed, ecologically representative, and connected. The good news is that we believe Canada can reach terrestrial target 11 by the end of the decade. Marine conservation will be more challenging.
Perhaps more than any other nation on the planet, Canada has sufficient natural and wild spaces left to allow us to become a world leader in conservation, but we need a road map to guide us. To address this we recommend two immediate steps. First, the federal government should consider urgently convening a panel of thoughtful Canadians tasked with devising this road map for achieving our Aichi targets by 2020. At present a lot of players are working diligently and independently on Aichi-inspired projects, but we are working in silos. We need a mechanism to bring us together to make sure we're making meaningful contributions toward common goals.
We imagine a panel that can gather stakeholders, government, indigenous peoples, and NGOs. Its work needs to begin immediately and, frankly, needs to be completed by the end of 2016. Panel members could bring a level of science-based expertise to the table and a keen understanding of government structure and decision-making. The recommendations must be designed to obtain the political buy-in needed for success.
In considering the 17% terrestrial component, the panel might begin by considering the list of protected area proposals contained in the report “Protecting Canada: Is it in our nature?”, by our good friend sitting next to us here, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. We'd be happy to assist with this panel.
Our second recommendation would be to implement a road map to 2020. It must be an inclusive process. That means counting the achievements of provinces, indigenous conservation initiatives, NGOs, and the private sector. The federal role is to ensure that core areas are protected, but it will be up to all partners to fill the gaps so protected areas are ecologically representative and connected. These are also conditions of the Aichi targets.
Let's establish a process for counting our conserved lands that is clear, credible, and consistent with other countries, such as the United States and Australia, and let's ensure the process is auditable and resolves jurisdictional differences. Shared recognition results in shared responsibility and shared action to achieve our collective objectives.
Achieving the Aichi targets will be an ambitious step forward, but if it's all we do, it still won't be enough to protect the areas that sustain us. Ecologists are now telling us that as much 50% of our landscapes need to be conserved to protect Canada's essential biodiversity and the delivery of ecological services. How much is enough to ensure fully functioning landscapes for nature and for people? How much is enough to ensure our species have space to move and adapt in the face of climate change?
To answer those questions, we recommend the government work with key partners to undertake a science-based conservation assessment for Canada as a whole, not just Labrador or other places, much like the NCC has done for individual ecoregions. This major assessment will take some time, perhaps a few years. It should speak to the integration of greater protected area ecosystems. It should identify priority areas and connections and outline the roles that each level of government, indigenous communities, and non-governmental organizations can play. It should also consider building on winning strategies that produce significant conservation results and are integrated into the landscape in a cost-effective way—such as, we would argue, the current Government of Canada-NCC partnership in the natural areas conservation program.
The program is designed to protect habitat for species at risk and for migratory birds and to create and enhance connections or corridors between protected areas, including national wildlife areas, national parks, and migratory bird sanctuaries. It's an integrated model. With an investment to date of approximately $275 million from the Government of Canada, the program has resulted in more than 400,000 hectares conserved in southern Canada. Additionally, NCC has raised $500 million to match these funds. Cash and land donations have come from individuals, foundations, corporations, and other levels of government.
The program has also supported 38 local land trusts and served to engage more Canadians in nature and conservation through the various volunteer programs, with more than 10,000 people over the past several years. The lands conserved so far provide habitat for 201 terrestrial and freshwater species at risk. The program directly complements federally protected areas with conservation lands that contain samples of the full range of existing ecosystems and ecological processes. In fact, half the program's conservation projects are within 25 kilometres of a federally protected area. Quality conservation is about integrating biodiversity strategies across all landscapes.
To conclude, Canada has an opportunity to build a natural legacy beyond 2020, with conservation in the right places done the right way. Let's reach our Aichi targets by establishing an expert panel to draft the road map to get us there, include all stakeholders, and create a clear process to define and count all contributions.
At the same time, let's begin the work to go beyond Aichi by launching a science-based conservation assessment for Canada that speaks to the integration of protected areas and the roles for all stakeholders, and building on matching fund models, such as the natural area conservation program, to encourage Canadians from all walks of life to participate in a conservation future worthy of this great country. Again, we'd be pleased to assist in these initiatives.
Canada's 150th birthday is just around the corner. Let's celebrate 2017 by demonstrating significant progress in advancing a plan to ensure our natural heritage is still here, and better, when Canada turns 300.
Thank you very much.