Small steps forward in protecting species at risk

Last week the Clark government released the Report of the British Columbia Task Force on Species at Risk which addressed the current status of endangered wildlife and efforts to mitigate loss. Apparently, we’re coming up short.

It seems we’re still not up to speed protecting endangered wildlife.

Last week the Clark government released the Report of the British Columbia Task Force on Species at Risk which addressed the current status of endangered wildlife and efforts to mitigate loss. Apparently, we’re coming up short.

The formation of the task force was announced in August 2009 and the panel has 10 members chosen for their expertise in areas such as environmental protection, mining, ranching, resource management, academia and First Nations’ partnerships.

“We were asked to develop practical and fiscally responsible recommendations,” said Bruce Fraser, task force chair, recent chair of the Forest Practices Board and plant ecologist with UBC.  “Accordingly, we have elected to build on the many conservation initiatives that have already been accomplished. Our report is aimed at making early gains on both public and private land while proposing direction for the long term that will help to address the continuing pressures of development and climate change.”

British Columbia is renowned for its stunning diversity of wild species and spaces. These vast, interrelated, dynamic ecosystems with clean water, rich soils, abundant vegetation and geologic riches were, after all, the foundation for the province’s economy and growth.  There are close to 3,600 species native to B.C. including some 76 per cent of Canada’s bird species as well as 70 per cent of the nation’s freshwater fish species.

But in moving forward we forgot to look back at the damage being done to the very species and spaces that attracted people in the thousands in the first place.

Today there are close to 1,600 animal and plant species together with 329 ecological communities at risk in B.C. The primary reason is habitat loss and that is getting all the more complicated by climate change, warming weather patterns and seasons that are shifting from their historical patterns and putting stress on species time-sensitive to feeding, migration and reproduction.

Historically, the conservation management approach has been to focus on each species at risk to prevent extinction but that one-on-one approach doesn’t work when addressing the real complexity of an ecosystem that must support all the species in it. Then there are the grinding costs and the fact that many species have pockets of population crossing various jurisdictional boundaries.

“One result of the single-species approach is that many people believe the way to influence conservation on the larger landscape is to champion the needs of highly visible individual species,” said the authors in their report. “In areas of complex jurisdictions with greater biodiversity, it is difficult to implement a single-species approach on a mass scale, making it necessary to set priorities.”

According to the report, the conservation movement based itself on a ‘winners’ or ‘losers’ approach. Species received protection based not only on their urgent needs but also on their iconic status. That approach was sometimes at the expense of the losers, or those less visible. Amphibians, for instance, spring to mind where 30 per cent of the world’s 6,285 species are endangered. Yet they are just as functionally important to an ecosystem as flagship bears, marmots or caribou.

Then there’s the plethora of legislation to manage endangered species with the legal implications of federal and provincial laws that can complement or conflict with each other depending on their shared landscape.

Logically, if you take care of the land, the animals will take care of themselves. It’s not a bad guideline to live by and luckily it’s been embraced by the task force members. That eco-system based approach tops the list of the report’s 16 recommendations.

The report can be accessed at the environment ministry’s website: www.gov.bc.ca/env and they are inviting public input.

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