BC Species at Risk
Next month representatives from nearly 200 countries will gather in Montreal for COP15, the United Nations biodiversity conference. The hope is to reach an agreement that will reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 and achieve full recovery by 2050. Nevertheless, maintaining biodiversity and the ecosystem services our planet needs is more important today than ever before. In fact, it’s mission critical.
That’s why British Columbia needs to step up its game, in a big way. For too long our province has lacked a coherent plan and legislation to protect species and biodiversity. The result is an ongoing series of trade-offs with the resource extraction sector and an incremental loss of habitat.
Wilderness and wildlife are our calling cards as a world class adventure and tourism destination. From the grasslands of the South Okanagan and the Interior Rainforests of the Incomappleux River Valley to the Columbia River wetlands and the Great Bear Rainforest fjords, BC is blessed with a biodiversity and topography that is arguably unrivaled. It’s also home to more species at risk than any other province or territory, with more than 1,900 species, sub-species and ecosystems officially at risk of extinction, including southern mountain caribou and spotted owls.
During the 2017 election campaign, the BC NDP made special mention in its platform of the fact that BC has no “stand-alone species at risk legislation.” They promised to do something about it.
“We will bring in an endangered species law and harmonize other laws to ensure they are all working towards the goal of protecting our beautiful province,” the NDP boldly stated in its campaign. Half a decade later, not enough has changed, and that’s a travesty.
In 1996, the territories and all the provinces (except Quebec) signed the National Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk, agreeing to enact legislation and create programs to protect species. BC was one of four provinces that let the ink dry on the accord then didn’t follow through.
As reported recently in The Narwhal, the BC government says it protects at-risk species with a basket of legislative tools, including the B.C. Wildlife Act, the Land Act and the B.C. Forest and Range Practices Act.
However, a new report from the Wilderness Committee and Sierra Club BC highlights big gaps in this approach that is putting at risk species and habitat in even more peril. The report is based on an independent audit by biologist Jared Hobbs, who was commissioned by the groups to analyze existing federal and provincial species protections in BC.
The result, says Hobbs in his report, is “continued unabated habitat loss and consequent decline for many species.” He notes that mapping of at-risk species habitat is outdated and incomplete, and BC’s patchwork approach fails to address all the threats facing critical habitat.
It’s a sad indictment of land use in BC. That’s why the Sierra Club and Wilderness Committee are urging incoming Premier David Eby to quickly create at risk species legislation in collaboration with Indigenous communities and make it law by the end of 2023.
As Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, said in a recent Sierra Club press release, government already has the reports and directives in its hands.
“One of the key recommendations of the 2020 provincial Old Growth Strategic Review Panel was for B.C. to enact a new law to establish ecosystem health and biodiversity as an ‘overarching priority’ across all sectors,” said Chief Phillip. “There is no more time to waste.”
In other words, we need a reset on species and habitat protection. Yes, it will take a paradigm shift on a landscape level, like how we develop our urban areas or carry out logging. But it’s possible, and necessary. For example, I recently visited two small scale woodlots in the Comox Valley whose operators have been practicing a very different type of forestry for the past 30 years. They manage their woodlots like living and functioning ecosystems, with timber and fibre being just one of many benefits they provide. It seems simple on paper, but this sort of thinking needs to be applied across the province, and it starts with robust at-risk species legislation. It’s time to get with it, BC.
Written by Andrew Findlay – @afindlayjournalist