Boreal Woodland Caribou Recovery Plan (by V. Nader)

caribou

Source: The Canadian federal government is employing SARA to protect the threatened boreal caribou.

 

On July 27, the Canadian federal government released the federal action plan proposal for the protection and recovery of the boreal caribou. The following are recovery measures, under three categories, that the federal action plan presents to protect the threatened species:

  • science to support recovery, including the establishment of a knowledge consortium
  • recovery and protection, with a focus on critical habitat
  • reports on progress to ensure that recovery efforts are effective

The boreal caribou are significant to Canadian culture as they are part of our landscape and contribute to our unique biodiversity, so much that they appear on our quarter. According to the David Suzuki Foundation, “Caribou are barometers for healthy forests. If caribou aren’t doing well, our forests are in trouble.” The fact that the species are threatened with extinction indicate that the forests are not doing well and this is due to the impacts of industrial activity in the boreal. As a result of human actions, such as over-hunting and habitat destruction, their habitat is disturbed and fragmented. This, in turn, has resulted in boreal caribou being susceptible to the attacks from wolves, their natural predators, because they do not have the protection of an intact habitat to survive.

A scientific research found a direct relationship between the total level of habitat disturbance in a caribou’s range and calf survival. This approach was utilized by Environment Canada as a framework from which to create management directives for provinces in the recovery strategy. The strategy directs provinces to maintain or restore a minimum of 65 per cent of each range in an undisturbed condition. This affords caribou only a 60 per cent probability of persistence. Consequently, in 2012, the federal, provincial, and territorial government collaborated and agreed on a recovery strategy for the boreal caribou which fulfills Canada’s commitments under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA).

SARA was enacted in 2002 by the federal government and its purpose is, essentially, protect and prevent wildlife from disappearing. Seven out of thirteen provinces and territories have stand-alone species at risk legislation. This means that those that don’t, although they possess wildlife acts and regulations, they do not have a piece of legislation that is specific to endangered species and the protection of critical habitat. This is noteworthy because provinces and territories need to ensure that they are trying their best to safeguard various species, such as the threatened boreal caribou. The action plan is partial at this time since it does not address all of the measures, as required in the SARA. Fulfillment of SARA requirements will be accomplished as provinces and territories complete their range plans or similar documents by October 2017.

Many provinces have tried to prevent caribou from becoming extirpated by employing inadequate solutions, such as killing caribou predators (wolves and bears) or creating barriers between caribous and their predators. These actions are just as damaging to the ecosystem because they are further hurting biodiversity. Instead of inflicting violence against animals, I think provinces and territories need to shift the focus onto ourselves, humans, and recognize the damage that we cause through industrial activities. Perhaps we should take a hands-off approach, literally, and work towards no longer disturbing their habitat. The David Suzuki Foundation has many recommendations for this issue such as restoration initiatives for highly degraded habitat, the government helping industry to understand the importance of preserving the land whilst conducting business, and society changing consumptions habits and holding the government accountable for ensuring that species have the necessary habitat to survive.

I believe we should care about protecting species because of the intrinsic value they offer. At first glance, it may appear that they do not offer direct economic or extrinsic value, so people may think “why should we care?” But species, such as the boreal caribou, contribute to Canada’s diverse ecosystem and are crucial to our well-being, in addition to landscape and culture. In the case of the boreal caribou, it is part of Canada’s rich historical background and gives Canada its unique identity. It would be difficult to imagine Canada without the boreal caribou and it would be so sad to lose the species, or any species for that matter, as a result of human exploitation of resources. I hope that the provinces and territories involved put their full efforts towards restoring the caribou population and adopting sustainable practices involving the protection of all species. Otherwise, the next few generations may not be able to recognize the significance of the caribou on the quarter.

 

Green Party Win in BC

The provincial election in British Columbia was held yesterday. And it was a nail bitter down to the end.

It is fair to say, perhaps, that the Green Party emerged as the winner – even though they only won three seats. How does that work?

BC electionAs you can see from the graphic in the Globe and Mail, the Liberals won 43 seats and the NDP won 41 seats. In BC, you need 44 seats in the 87 seat House to win a majority government. Umm. If the Liberals only have 43 seats then they will need some ONE else to vote with them on legislation – to get the 44 votes need to pass. They would likely work to get the three Green Party members to vote along side them – passing a bill with 46 votes. HOWEVER, the NDP could just as easily work with the Greens to vote against the Liberals – because together the NDP and Greens have 44 votes. Wow. That means that EVERY time a bill is voted on, it will come to down to what the Green Party decides to do.

In fact, it could be the case that the Greens and NDP try to get together and form a coalition government. But that seems a little unlikely – given the relationship between the Greens and NDP in the province. It is not a strong one. Often those two parties are fighting it out! A more likely alliance might actually be for the Greens and Liberals to form a coalition government. But I am going to assume that Clark with try and govern from a minority gov’t position and negotiate on a bill by bill basis.

So, I am saying the Green Party won the election.

But I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. There were a lot of close races and there will be a lot of recounts. The outcome could still change a little in the coming week(s).

What does this mean for the environment? I think it will mean staying on the course on aggressive climate change policy. I think it might present challenges to LNG/fracking and maybe to the Site C Dam. On the whole, it is good news for the environment. The NDP picked up seats in urban areas. All three Green Party seats come from Vancouver Island. That Liberals held their ground in rural areas. This means there is likely some tension between rural-urban populations and that will play itself out in environmental policy. But so long as the Greens carry the balance of power, the environment has a fighting chance.

My Letter to Parks Canada

The Government of Canada opened consultations about Parks Canada a few months ago. Essentially, the government was asking Canadians an important question:

“How should Parks Canada respond to the environmental and social changes it is facing in managing national parks, national historic sites, and national marine conservation areas?”

On Friday, I took some time to write to Catherine McKenna, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada, about our national parks and why they must be protected for NATURE. She has promised Canadians a response in a few months time. I will keep you in the loop. In the meantime, I want to share my letter (some of the language is borrowed from CPAWS, the NGO that encouraged me to write the letter):

Dear Minister,

I am a Canadian from the prairie grassland ecosystem. Currently, I am a professor of political science and geography at the University of Toronto, where I study and teach environmental policy. My area of expertise is species at risk and biodiversity conservation. I cannot stress enough to you the importance of parks in Canada. Through the Species at Risk Act the federal government has the authority, and legal responsibility, to recover and protect COSEWIC listed endangered and threatened species. Given the limitations of the Canadian constitution, the federal government – as you are well aware – only has jurisdiction over federal lands, some aquatic species, and migratory birds. Federal lands do not amount to much across the ten provinces. However, national parks are federal lands. Thus, the federal government can – and should – use that land for nature first.

I am writing to you today to insist that you refocus Parks Canada on protecting nature as the first priority in our national parks. Conservation biology suggests that we need HALF for nature. Yes, 50% of our land should be for nature. This means that the federal government must stop expanding the development footprint in our national parks, particularly in Banff and Jasper. Natural resource extraction is important in Canada, but it does not belong in our national parks. No “ifs, ands, or buts” about it. The federal government needs to re-invest in science and ecological monitoring to guide park management. This is especially relevant in light of Donald Trump’s administration in the US. If Canada does not speak up for science, who will? The world – and nature – needs us today more than ever. The federal government must create more new national parks and national marine conservation areas. We made a promise – to the international community, to all Canadians, and to future generations. We need to protect more habitat. From sea to sea to sea. Canada is the second largest country in the world by landmass and we have less people than California. We are obligated to the world to protect nature. If not us, who?

I know you love parks Ms. McKenna. I follow you on twitter. I love parks too. The Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan is my favourite park. The prairie grassland system is fragile and in serious danger. It is possible that grasslands will go extinct from Canada. Can you imagine? We need the Grasslands National Park. We need more parks where nature is safe at home.

 

Sincerely,

Andrea Olive

Assistant Professor

Political Science and Geography

University of Toronto Mississauga

Andrea.olive@utoronto.ca

Western Chorus Frogs: A Ribbetting Victory (by U. Khan)

With all the news regarding the future of the European Union in the last week, you might have missed an important event here in Canada. Catherine McKenna, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change recently unveiled an emergency order against a proposed housing project in Quebec to protect the habitat of the Western Chorus Frog. This is a landmark event, because it is the first time the Federal Government has issued an emergency order pertaining to a project on privately owned land. The move has been criticized by the Quebec government, but hailed as a victory for species protection by many environmental groups. The emergency order goes into effect starting July 17th 2016, and covers an area of 2km2 in La Prairie, Quebec.

frog(An image of the Western Chorus Frog. Source: Montreal Gazette)

How does the federal government have power to make this decision?

The Species at Risk Act (SARA) of 2002 is the primary legislation in Canada that protects various species from extinction. The Emergency Order provision of this Act allows the federal government to create an emergency order when they feel a species is at imminent threat. In the case of the Western Chorus frog, the government stated that over 60% of the suitable frog habitat in the region was destroyed between 1992 and 2013. The federal government also felt that the current measures in place were not in accordance with those laid out in SARA and thus decided to step in.

The following actions are prohibited in the area of the emergency order:

  • Removing the soil or any vegetation in the area
  • Draining or flooding the ground
  • Altering the surface water in any way
  • Using Fertilizers or Pest Control in the area
  • Operate a Vehicle off road

Failure to comply with the order can lead to various penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment.

The emergency order has been used once previously in the case of the Great Sage Goose in Alberta. The protections offered under that order only applied to federal and provincial crown lands, compared to private lands in this case. So it comes with no surprise that the Quebec government is unhappy with the decision. The Minister of Environment for Quebec David Huertal has said that the provincial government had already protected 83% of the area under the emergency order, and the federal government’s plan did not collaborate with the province. He also said that the government made its decision without using a balanced approach.

mapThis map indicates the region of La Prarie, Quebec where the emergency order regarding the Western Chorus Frog will be in effect. Source: Species at Risk Registry

This might cause you to wonder, should the government impose a protection order on private land?

In my opinion, an emergency order should be kept as a last resort when all other methods to protect a species have been exhausted. The Species at Risk Act gives the government the power to step in when the provinces are not doing a good job at protecting species. The Species at Risk Registry, which contains information regarding wildlife species at risk, indicates that the frogs were expected to be extirpated from their habitats by 2030 if growth in the area was left unchecked. Thus the government had to make a decision if it wanted to protect the species. It should be encouraging to all of us that our government is looking out for species at risk and trying to protect them for future generations.

If you would like to get involved and help save species at risk, there are a number of things that you can do. You can visit the Species at Risk Public Registry and get informed about the species at risk in your area. After getting informed, you can make sure you are in compliance with any regulations that might be in effect in your area, and try to preserve the habitat of any species in danger. Habitat loss is a major cause of species going extinct and preventing it could go a long way in saving species. There are also public consultations held by the government where concerned individuals can give their input about how to ensure critical habitats are protected. Lastly, you can educate others about the species at risk and motivate them to also get involved.

(Potentially) Exciting Environmental News

The Liberal government is kicking it into high gear with environmental law. In the past week, Minister McKenna has made 3 huge announcements:

  1. The federal government is reviewing the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (which was gutted by the Conservative government). See Chapters 1 and 4.
  2. The federal government is reviewing the Fisheries Act (which was gutted by the Conservative government). She Chapters 1, 4, and 6.
  3. The federal government is invoking the emergency order (safety net) clause of the Species at Risk Act to protect the western chorus frog inside the province of Quebec. This is the second time since the Species at Risk Act passed in 2003 that this clause has been used (the first was for the Sage Grouse in Alberta and Saskatchewan). See Chapter 5.

That is an impressive week. Right now it is too soon to call it as “successful” week since the government is only REVIEWING the assessment process and the Fisheries Act. However, I anticipate changes are afoot. And I will keep everyone posted on these developments. A post on the western chorus frog is forthcoming – check in on Monday for that post!

Something Close to Home (by A. Koundourakis)

Just this past Thursday, the Federal government committed to amending the Rouge National Park Act. They have agreed to extend the park’s size and protect its natural integrity for the next decade, while also providing long term security for park farmers by lengthening their lease agreements. Rouge National Urban Park is a combination of natural, cultural and agricultural landscapes containing several exceptional features: there is a large biodiversity of over 1,700 species of plants and animals; one of the oldest working farms in the GTA; Carolinian forests; the only campground in Toronto; the region’s largest marsh; beaches; fantastic hiking trails; and human history dating back to 8,000 B.C.E., which includes some of the oldest known Indigenous sites and villages in Canada.

Since 2012, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has been pushing the Ontario Liberal government to transfer over 9,000 acres that it owns in Scarborough’s Rouge Valley, yet this was only met with arduous conditions. Subsequently, there was a several year standoff whereby the Conservatives have fought against a defiant Liberal front for park land transfer. Prominent conservation groups such as the David Suzuki Foundation, Ontario Nature, Environmental Defence and Friends of the Rouge Watershed advocated against the transfer of land due to the concern over the Conservative’s vision for Rouge Park as a place where nature and farming had equal protection. There was serious reluctance to transfer lands over because of their abandonment of a nature first mentality. There were continuously amassing concerns over the wellbeing of the natural park as it was viewed that, to the Conservatives, nature and farming were mutually exclusive.

However, on Thursday June 9, the Federal Liberal government rewrote the law governing Rouge National Urban Park. This change came after talks between the province, park stakeholders and Federal Environment and Climate Change Minister McKenna, where she said that amendments to the Rouge National Park Act will “ensure that the ecological integrity of the park is the first priority.” Trudeau’s Liberal government has committed to match the Conservative’s proposed contribution to Rouge Park of $170.5 million over 10 years and $10.6 million a year after that. Further, federal authorities will offer greater assurances, which include leases of up to 30 years to farmers who continue to lease park land. On Saturday June 18, the Ontario government reaffirmed its commitment to transfer 6.5 square kilometres of land to Parks Canada as well as relinquish reversionary rights to 15 square kilometres of additional lands that were purchased by Ontario and subsequently transferred to Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.

trudeau

(Trudeau & his family at “Paddle the Rouge” – photo is from Trudeau’s twitter feed).

 

Brad Duguid, the province’s minister of economic development, employment and infrastructure (he also happens to be a Scarborough MPP), called the amendment “a significant improvement.” He is also the man who refused to hand Rouge National Park over to the Harper government and had been a direct player in the current approval of the transfer. He further called the legislation “a significant improvement that both elevates ecological integrity as the guiding principle, yet remains sensitive to agricultural interests in the park.”

Now, for all those of you who haven’t been to Rouge National Park, GO! It’s beautiful and an amazing date destination and only an hour away. I’ve never been a dinner and a movie date kind of guy, and frankly don’t know if people still do that anymore. This park is breathtaking and I really recommend it for anyone. There are plenty of things to do, for example when the plan to expand the park was announced the Trudeau family was attending an event called ‘Paddle the Rouge’. But back to the story at hand, what’s the big deal about this amendment, why does it matter to any of us? Because the remarkable features of Rouge National Park that each of us can observe and enjoy are being expanded upon and transferred into Federal jurisdiction, they will come with stricter regulations whose goal will be to protect the diverse list of species living there. When you enter any National Park in Canada or even a hiking trail, you’re a guest in someone else’s home. To increase their square footage allows you to enjoy their home that much more and longer and ensures that the residents are still there. It’s not the trees, grass and water that we enjoy when we’re at any National Park, it’s the relationships between each species and what they produce that we are able to enjoy. You either get something or nothing. I think that protecting it is important to Canadians.

Also, Rouge National Park isn’t just nature, it’s also agriculture. By increasing lease term agreements from 1 year to 30 years, it provides much more security for farmers who were unsure whether or not they would be welcome to continue growing crops the following years. Now unless there was some reason why the Harper government didn’t want to extend these terms that I couldn’t find, I can only see this being a positive for residents in the GTA. The park holds some of Canada’s best Class 1 farmland, which is among the rarest and most fertile land in the country. This Class 1 farmland accounts for 70% of the park itself. For those of us concerned with job supply, increased security will increase the demand for new hires in the agriculture industry. Furthermore, as local food becomes increasingly popular for their freshness and low transportation costs, increasing the job security for farmers should become a priority. Farmers feed cities, and I don’t slap the hand that feeds me.

Say No to Site-C

Things are heating up with Site-C. At the time I wrote The Canadian Environment in Political Context there was not too much to say/guess about the Site-C dam in British Columbia. So it is only briefly mentioned in Chapters 8 (Energy) and 9 (Indigenous Politics). But now over 300 scholars have signed a statement AGAINST Site-C. I don’t need to say too much about it here because there is already a great webpage that explains everything. Check it out:

site c

Endangered Species Legislation Across the Provinces

In the book, there is a list of provincial endangered species policies on page 108 (table 5.1). It has come to me attention over the past two weeks that the table is woefully inadequate. I am presently doing research on a paper about the 20th Anniversary of the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk in Canada (more on that this summer). With the help of my graduate student research assistant (Katrina Jansen), I have created an updated and more complete list of all provincial laws that include provisions for endangered species.

Perhaps most important thing is to note the inclusion of earlier acts and later acts. Manitoba passed new and innovative legislation in 2014. I would explore it in more depth in a future blog post. And British Columbia is finally (finally!) considering updating its 1996 legislation. Whoo-hoo! That bill has not yet passed so stay tuned.

Year Province Act
1971 Ontario Endangered Species Act
1973 New Brunswick Endangered Species Act
1984 Alberta Wildlife Act
1989 Quebec Act Respecting Threatened or Vulnerable Species
1990 Manitoba Endangered Species Act
1993 Manitoba Endangered Species Act – Amendments
1996 New Brunswick Endangered Species Act
1996 Alberta Wildlife Act – Amendments
1996 British Columbia Wildlife Act
1997 Quebec Act Respecting Threatened or Vulnerable Species – Amendments
1998 Nova Scotia Act Respecting Endangered Species
1998 Saskatchewan Wildlife Act
1998 Prince Edward Island Wildlife Conservation Act
1999 British Columbia Wildlife Act – Amendments
2000 Alberta Wildlife Act – Amendments
2001 Newfoundland Endangered Species Act
2002 Yukon Wildlife Act
2003 Nunavut Wildlife Act
2004 Newfoundland Endangered Species Act
2007 Ontario Endangered Species Act
2009 Northwest Territories Species at Risk Act

 

2010 Nova Scotia Act Respecting Endangered Species – Amendments
2012 New Brunswick Species at Risk Act
2014 Manitoba Endangered Species and Ecosystems Act
2016 British Columbia Sustainable Wildlife Management Act – in ProgressWildlife