One of my proudest moments came in 1992 at the inaugural Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Along with UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (which in turn led to the Kyoto Protocol), a second key outcome of this international meeting was the signing of the Convention on Biological Diversity, a groundbreaking agreement founded on the principle that conserving biological diversity is "a common concern of all humankind". Canada was the first of 189 countries to sign the agreement.B.C.'s Conservation Framework for protecting wildlife, released on July 9, made me realize, though, that all the agreements in the world won't add up to much if they aren't followed with action. For B.C., the stakes couldn't be higher.
The government's new policy was accompanied by research on the health of the province's wildlife and wilderness, which paints a dire picture. Some 1,640 species (or 43 per cent of assessed wildlife) and four "biogeoclimatic zones" (about five per cent of B.C.'s land base) are threatened enough to be of conservation concern. While these statistics are striking, we should remember that what scientists have actually identified might represent as little as 10 per cent of all species. B.C. and Alberta are the only provinces that don't have endangered species laws. But these laws are essential to addressing such a serious problem.
B.C. is home to 76 per cent of Canada's bird species, 70 per cent of its freshwater fish, 60 per cent of its evergreen trees, and thousands of other plants and animals. That biological richness makes it a critical part of Canada's overall wealth. But the action elements of the government's new wildlife policy rely on a fragmented, weak, and discretionary patchwork of existing approaches that haven't shown much success in the past, such as predator control, captive breeding, and piecemeal habitat protection. The sad reality is that most of B.C.'s species and ecosystems at risk remain poorly protected by law.
And so, although only 16 northern spotted owls are left in B.C., the government has not put a stop to logging in the old-growth forests where they live. In fact, of all the species identified as being at risk in B.C., only four are afforded marginal protection under the province's Wildlife Act.
British Columbia needs a clear law to recover wildlife at risk and to protect habitat to prevent species from becoming at risk in the first place. B.C. could look to Ontario, which enacted a new Endangered Species Act in 2007. Although the Ontario law isn't perfect, it includes strong wording for habitat protection and mandatory planning for the recovery of endangered and threatened species.
Without healthy ecosystems and species diversity, we can't hope to have healthy economies and healthy human societies. The loss of biodiversity affects not just the production of commodities like the food we eat, the timber we use to build our homes, and the medicines we use to heal ourselves, but many other so-called "ecosystem services" as well, like clean air and clean water.
However, according to the United Nations, two-thirds of the ecosystem services provided by nature are threatened by human actions, such as unsustainable logging, pollution, and global warming.
A strong endangered species law in B.C. would identify, protect, and recover at-risk biodiversity by protecting habitat. It would use sound science to identify and assess the risks and develop recovery strategies. It would take into account the effects of global warming. It would enshrine the precautionary principle, whereby the absence of full scientific certainty could not be used to postpone decisions when there is a real threat of serious harm. It should also include participation from all citizens and communities, including First Nations. And it must be adequately funded and enforced.
It's been 16 years since my hopes were raised that humanity was on the right track to creating a world that recognized the importance of biodiversity to human survival. And yet, the crisis in biodiversity has worsened. The B.C. government, along with all of Canada, still has the opportunity to lead the way. Its new policy for wildlife protection may be a start, but it doesn't match the kind of leadership the province has shown in combating global warming.