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Only stand-alone act can protect B.C. species at risk from disappearing

Apr 29. 13

By Mara Kerry, director of science and policy at the David Suzuki Foundation.

The Vancouver Sun

Little has been said during this B.C. election campaign about our wildlife. That's a shame because it's one area where the provincial government can make a big difference, to people and species at risk, by introducing a separate act to protect and restore wildlife.

B.C. is blessed with a bounty of nature and the highest level of species diversity in Canada. We say we value this, yet many of the very species that we value, as well as the ecosystems where they live, are at risk of disappearing. Anyone who has ever experienced the thrill of seeing an orca or dolphin leap and play in the ocean knows what a tragic loss it would be if they disappeared.

Of the more than 3,000 animal and plant species that call B.C. home, 43 per cent - more than 1,900 - are at risk of disappearing forever. Imagine our children growing up without the chance to see western bluebirds or orcas in their natural habitats. And it's not just the species that are disappearing. Habitat loss is by far the greatest threat to healthy biodiversity.

Our current patchwork of laws and regulations is failing to protect B.C.'s species at risk: Only four species are protected under provincial legislation - legislation that wasn't even designed to protect species. A recent report by the auditor general of British Columbia concluded that "B.C.'s legislative framework does not fully support its objective of conserving biodiversity." Because the government is not adequately measuring and reporting on progress in conserving biodiversity, we can't even say with confidence how well we're doing.

We can do better. We just have to look south, or to other provinces, to see the value of legislated protection. A recent report found the U.S. Species at Risk Act has had great success. Ninety per cent of species listed under the Act are recovering at rates specified in their federal recovery plans. While many species have not been listed long enough to reach their full recovery goals and to be removed from the list, they are nevertheless showing signs of coming back.

There's been a 2,000-per-cent increase in the number of Atlantic green sea turtle females nesting on Florida's beaches, and the California least tern has seen a similar jump in numbers of nesting pairs. Some 38 years after the act was established, it has demonstrated that listed species can, and do, recover. This would not have been possible without designated legislation targeted at protecting and recovering species at risk.

We have work to do in B.C. to catch up to our southern neighbours, and to eight other provinces in Canada that have stand-alone legislation. Our federal legislation protects only those species living on federal land - a very small part of British Columbia. More than 84 per cent of species at risk in B.C. are in that position because of the loss of the habitats they depend on for survival.

It's not just animals and plants that are at risk from habitat loss and ecosystem degradation: healthy ecosystems are needed to provide the natural services all life, including human, needs to survive and thrive. We've learned that only a stand-alone act dedicated to the protection and recovery of species at risk in British Columbia will change the dire situation we're facing today.

With an increasing number of animals and plants in B.C. facing decimation or outright extinction, we can only hope the government elected in May will demonstrate environmental leadership by protecting the wild species and spaces that British Columbians hold dear. We're all diminished if we choose to just stand by and watch this monumental loss without making the changes we know we need.

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