Species at risk in B.C. could soon get better protection if the provincial government follows recommendations made by a task force it appointed in 2009.
Most notably, the task force recommended protection be sought through an ecosystem protection-based approach rather than patchwork legislation that focuses on individual species by implementing a Wildlife Amendment Act.
That is a good first step and could be implemented in other parts of the province where Crown land is prevalent, says Wilderness Committee spokeswoman Annette Tanner. But on the east coast of Vancouver Island, 95 per cent of the land is private and “is all open for business and it’s all trading on the stock market,” posing a challenge in the protection of habitat for plants and animals.
One-fifth of Vancouver Island was given to former coal baron Robert Dunsmuir to build a railroad so Vancouver Island and British Columbia could be included in Confederation. That land grant remains in private hands – mostly forest companies.
“The coastal Douglas fir ecosystem is one of the most endangered and rare biogeoclimatic zones and one of the most biologically diverse,” said Tanner. “The species that are threatened, there are so few left we almost know them by name and we know where they live and they need protection now that is enforceable.”
B.C. is considered the most biodiverse province in the country, but is one of two provinces – Alberta is the other – that does not employ standalone legislation protecting species at risk.
Environmental management, First Nations engagement and public engagement were also were also included in the recommendations.
“We were asked to develop practical and fiscally responsible recommendations,” said Bruce Fraser, chairman of the task force, in a press release. “We have elected to build on the many conservation initiatives that have already been accomplished. Our report is aimed at making early gains on both public and private land while proposing direction for the long term that will help address the continuing pressures of development and climate change.”
On Monday, the 10-member task force released 16 recommendations after six months of work identifying initiatives that could serve to protect the province’s 1,598 species considered at risk, including grizzly bears, Stellar sea lions, several species of owl, killer whales and bison. Under the B.C. Wildlife Act, just four endangered species are protected.
“I believe the task force has come up with recommendations that, if implemented, will put British Columbia in a leadership position in Canada for managing species at risk – fostering their recovery while at the same time enabling B.C.’s natural resources sectors to continue generating wealth,” said Pierre Gratton, task force member and president the Mining Association of B.C.
Tanner said unless legislation enforceable and addresses the issue of development on preferred land such as coastal Douglas fir ecosystems, species at risk will continue to be threatened. S
he added that just two per cent of important ecosystems are protected on the east coast of the Island, compared to an average of 12 per cent in other parts of B.C.
“We still have a long way to go,” said Tanner. “The problem is, in the meantime we will probably lose most of what we have.”
Public consultation, according to Environment Minister Terry Lake, will play a large part in considering the recommendations.
“The issues around species at risk are critically important and also highly complex, and that’s why the province is inviting public comments and closely reviewing the recommendations to help determine future steps,” said Lake.
The province is expected to take several months to issue a formal response. During that time, British Columbians are encouraged to read and comment on the task force’s report at www.env.gov.bc.ca/sartaskforce.