I am pro zoo (accredited zoo)

In the past year I have published two peer reviewed co-authored articles about the role of accredited zoos in species at risk conservation. One piece was published in an open-access journal called Global Ecology and Conservation and you can access it here. The other was published in The Canadian Geographer and you read the abstract here.

Once published each of these articles made rounds through social media, especially twitter. Zoos and organizations like Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA) tweeted links and positive comments about the articles. Interesting, there was a LOT of negative reactions to my articles – and by extension me – on Twitter in response. For example:


Untitled 2


However, I stand by the research. It is both thoughtful and objective.

The fact of the matter is accredited zoos – specifically the Toronto Zoo, the Calgary Zoo, the Assiniboine Zoo, and the Vancouver Aquarium – are doing a lot of work with species at risk conservation. Through direct work at the zoo, including research, and indirect work through staff members who serve on national and international committees, these institutions are helping species at risk.

Thus, I am pro accredited zoo. Yes, there are lots of problems at lots of zoos. Look no further than the Bowmanville Zoo here in Ontario that closed in 2016 because of animal cruelty issues.

I am not saying – nor does my research claim – that all zoos are wonderful and perfect and saving the world by ending the biodiversity crisis. Instead, my co-author and I are drawing attention to the good things that 4 accredited zoos in Canada are doing to help federally listed species at risk.

What is an accredited zoo? There are two main organizations that accredit zoos: Association for Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and the Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA). Not all zoos in Canada are accredited so when you go to visit one, you should check to make sure it has accreditation. This ensures that high standards, such as those against animal cruelty, are met at that institution. You can find a list of accredited zoos on CAZA and AZA’s websites.

Our research focused on 4 AZA/CAZA accredited zoos. We went into the zoos and interviewed staff members and observed different exhibits for species at risk inside the zoos. We also examined peer reviewed literature as well as federal documents regarding species at risk and zoo-collaboration.

There is good reason to support the conservation work of accredited zoos. I invite you to read the research and decide for yourself.

No doubt this post will invoke more backlash. But that is okay. I am pro accredited-zoo and will stand-by the research.


The G7 Rejects U.S.’ Desire to Renegotiate Paris Agreement (V. Nadar)




Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change reaffirms Canada’s commitment to the Paris Agreement at the G7 Ministerial Meeting on Environment Source: NewEurope

In continuation of last week’s post about the 43rd G7 meeting, the G7 Environmental Ministers and European Commissioners responsible for environment and climate met for the G7 Ministerial Meeting on Environment in Bologna, Italy between June 11 – 12, 2017. The Ministers from the G7 countries, less the United States in light of their withdrawal from the Paris Accord, came together to reaffirm their commitment to the 2030 Agenda and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).

The goals of the 2030 Agenda are “to end poverty and hunger everywhere; to combat inequalities within and among countries; to build peaceful, just and inclusive societies; to protect human rights and promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls; and to ensure the lasting protection of the planet and its natural resources. We resolve also to create conditions for sustainable, inclusive and sustained economic growth, shared prosperity and decent work for all, taking into account different levels of national development and capacities.” The seventeen SDG’s can be seen below:


Source: WeForum

In the issued Communiqué, which outlines the meeting and its initiatives, it discusses how the G7 countries will fulfill their obligation to the Paris Accord. The first being achieving the long-term goal of “limiting global temperature increases to well below 2°C, pursuing efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C” and, secondly, “jointly mobilizing US$100 billion annually by 2020 from public and private sources to support climate action in developing countries.”

However, the footnotes of the Communiqué show the U.S’ unwillingness to cooperate. It states “We the United States of America continue to demonstrate through action, having reduced our CO2 footprint as demonstrated by achieving pre-1994 CO2 levels domestically. The United States will continue to engage with key international partners in a manner that is consistent with our domestic priorities, preserving both a strong economy and a healthy environment. Accordingly, we the United States do not join those sections of the communiqué on climate and MDBs [multilateral development banks], reflecting our recent announcement to withdraw and immediately cease implementation of the Paris Agreement and associated financial commitments.”


The U.S. refuses to commit financially to the Paris Agreement because President Trump believes it is economically disadvantageous for their country. Funnily enough, on the same day of the conference, Trump did not release a single tweet about the conference, but rather tweeted a Fox News article which announced the opening of the first coal mine during Trump’s presidency. The article discusses how the mine may bolster the local economy in Pennsylvania.

I find the US statement hilarious because the reduction of the CO2 footprint was an outcome during Obama’s presidency and it was a result of a shift from coal to natural gas energy for which he heavily advocated. Due to this shift, in 2013, “energy-related carbon dioxide emissions actually declined 3.8% in 2012 even though the U.S. economy grew 2.8% that year, according to data by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the Department of Energy.”

Unfortunately, Trump’s encouragement of coal energy will most definitely not ensure the preservation of a healthy environment and it will increase their C02 footprint to post-1994 levels.

In great contrast, Catherina McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada, released multiple tweets from the conference which showcased her enthusiasm for reaffirming Canada’s commitment to the 2030 Agenda and threw some shade at Trump. Some of her tweets can be seen below:


Catherine McKenna also expresses through her tweets her displeasure at the aforementioned footnote left by the U.S. and she rejects Trump’s desire to renegotiate stating that “Paris agreement is not open for renegotiation although we are in the phase of negotiating the rules.”

What does this mean for the environment? Well, as mentioned earlier, the U.S’ reintroduction of coal energy will reverse all of the previous administration’s efforts to lower CO2 emissions and will be detrimental to their environment. For Canada, our environment will improve because McKenna is dedicated to the Agreement and, as her tweet suggested, there may be a price on pollution and ameliorated policies to combat climate change.

Back, and yet far away

The academic year passed in a whirlwind. In the winter semester I taught three classes and feverishly read American environmental news. I hardly had time to think let alone write. It is probably for the best – as news on Trump and the environment was overwhelming, and would likely drive a thinking person into a deep depression. Most days I would squint as the New York Times loaded onto my screen. I am afraid to take it all in at once. What Executive Order has he passed now? What lake or park or ecosystem is under invasion today? Nature cannot hide from America.

I just finished my yearly migration from the crowded ant hill of Southern Ontario to the grassland pIMG_2803rairie ecosystem. My husband and I had a summer home built on a small lake in Saskatchewan. It is a dream come true: a place all our own where we can think and write. Last night was our first night here. A restless, almost sleepless night. It will take some time to get used to the silence. How can anyone sleep in all this silence?


The lake is still this morning. I am sitting at my laptop with my coffee. The environment, or specifically wilderness, is at my doorstep. I am thinking about transborder governance this morning as I work to finish up an edited volume on Canada-US environmental governance. I wonder if Trump’s policies will impact my homeland. The wilderness is under threat these days. And migratory birds like myself are on high alert.

Trump and the Environment

Donald Trump’s victory on Tuesday, November 8th, took most of the world by surprise. It certainly took me by surprise.

In the past few days there has been a lot of speculation (and worry) and the implications of a Trump presidency on the environment.

I am still speechless. But I want to provide a list of some useful/insightful commentary.

  1. My colleague Matt Hoffmann (political science, University of Toronto) wrote an informative piece on his blog.  (It is also a good blog of follow if you are interested in climate change more broadly).
  2. Scientific American wrote a piece on Trump’s selection of Myron Ebell to head his EPA transition team. Ebell is a well-known climate skeptic.
  3. The Guardian has a good piece on what Trump means for the global climate change efforts.
  4. The Globe and Mail asks what Trump means for climate change plans in Canada.
  5. The New York Times has run many pieces of relevance here, but I will link you to Andrew Revkin’s opinion.

That is a good list to get you started. Overall, there is reason for real concern. There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding what Trump may or may not do. So far, his only action has been to appoint a climate skeptic to lead the EPA transition team. That does not bode well or set a good tone for the next 4 years.

However, as many authors in the above links remind you: US states and cities do have REAL power when it comes to the environment. There is reason for concern, but there is also reason to be hopeful.

Project on Fracking

The Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada has finally made grant announcements public. Thus, I am pleased to report that I have been awarded funds to examine the political ecology of the Bakken Formation (this is the shale play in North Dakota, Montana, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba).

As part of this grant, I am working with 3 undergraduate students and 1 MA student (for now – more students in the future). Two students are going to conduct web-surveys with non-governmental organizations in the region. One student is conducting media analysis. And one student is going to interview landowners and government officials in the region.

Over the next few months, this blog will feature the students’ work. The book The Canadian Environment in Political Context deals with hydraulic fracturing in chapter 8 specifically. But it is also relevant to other issues and concept in the book – such as federalism, air and water pollution, governance, and climate change (to name just a few).


My Journey as a Blogger (U. Khan)

As the summer draws to a close, with it ends my time at this blog. Fourteen weeks have passed since I joined this blog. In that time, I have written about topics ranging from the forest fires in Fort McMurry to Canada’s sovereignty in the Arctic. The unifying factor between all these blogs has been the fact that they all feature ideas presented in The Canadian Environment in a Political Context, demonstrated through various current events happening all over Canada. In the process of writing these blogs, I have learned a lot about environmental policy in Canada, and also improved my writing abilities.

One of my favourite blogs from this year was the post about microbeads. It was great because I learned a lot of new information writing the blog, which continues to influence my consumer habitats. It was also interesting because the issue is ongoing. Since the writing of the blog, the government decided to act on the issue and labelled microbeads as “toxic substances,” thus moving closer towards a ban of the substance. I have always had an interest in current events, but writing this blog forced me to read a lot of newspapers and truly stay on top of the news. This is one habit I hope to continue in the future.

Lastly, I want to thank all of you for taking the time to read these blogs. I hope that these blogs have been informative and increased your understanding of some of the environmental issues in Canada.


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.

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 & 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.

Microbeads: The Cleansing Contaminants (By U. Khan)

If you look through the personal care products around your house, you will likely find a product that contains microbeads. Microbeads are plastic particles that are 0.1nm-5mm in size. They are used as an abrasive in personal care products like facial scrubs, cosmetics, and toothpaste. Microbeads are commonly made from polyethylene, a plastic material and are terrible for the environment. They are too small to be detected by water filtration system and commonly end up in lakes and rivers. Once in the water, microbeads are ingested by fish and other aquatic species. The danger to the environment is not from the microbeads itself but from the fact that microbeads accumulate toxic chemicals as they move through the water. These chemicals can then make their way into the food chain and harm humans and animals.

The federal government has long proposed a ban on microbeads. The first attempt to ban them was started by John McKay when he introduced bill C-680 that would prohibit the sale of microbeads smaller than 5 mm. Another bill C-684 also proposed to have microbeads listed as a toxic substance under the Canada Environment Protection Act and prohibit their sale and importation. Unfortunately the bills could not proceed before the dissolution of the parliament for the 2015 elections. The current government has also expressed its interest in banning the use of microbeads in cosmetic products. This plan is currently in the public consultation phase, and the government was accepting public opinion on the ban until March 10th this year. The current government proposal is to ban the manufacturing and import of microbead containing products by 2017, and ban the sale of these products by 2018. A survey done by the Canadian Cosmetics, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association of Canada (CCTFA) found that currently members of the association use between 30kg/year to 68,000 kg/year of microbeads in their products.

Canada is behind our neighbour on the issue of plastic microbeads. The United States already created a law last year that prohibits the manufacturing of products containing microbeads from July 1st, 2017, with the aim of phasing them out in the next 2 years. Although some might argue that the microbeads have a useful purpose and the government has no right to ban them outright. I think that there are other alternatives to microbeads that can be used as an abrasive material in cleansing products. This article by the Huffington post explores some of these alternatives, which include biodegradable as well as rice-based cleansers. The negative impact of these microbeads on both marine and human health is immense as found by various research studies. Therefore, the government should go forward with the ban as it is the best plan forward for the environment.

What can we all do to help solve this problem?

The biggest impact we can all have on this issue is to not buy products that contain these microbeads. Consumers have a lot of power and if we collectively decide to not buy these products, businesses will have to listen and stop creating them. Loblaws has already stated that they will stop making products that contain microbeads by 2018. We can also try to look for innovative solutions for cleaning up the bodies of water that already have a large quantity of microbeads. Students at one Mississauga high school recently created a new filtration system for microbeads. The students won the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Award for $ 50,000 to develop the idea and create the filtration system. The system works by making water containing microbeads flow through a charged tube and having the negatively charged microbeads attach to a positively charged plate that can be removed from the water. This shows that there is something we can all do to help keep our lakes and rivers free of microbeads.

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