While caribou continue to disappear and old growth forests fall, British Columbia remains without legislation that prioritizes maintaining healthy ecosystems and species at risk.
The Province manages its land through a mishmash of legislation,1 all of which put resource extraction at the centre of decision making while treating the maintenance of ecosystem health as an impact to be minimized. The Province can point to various policies and best management practices; however, these are often dismissed if they conflict with forestry or mining objectives.
Premier Horgan’s election promise to implement all 14 recommendations of the Old Growth Strategy Report (A New Future for Old Forests) provides a level of optimism and should open the door to ecosystem protections. However, now close to a year since the government-mandated report was presented, and nearly six months after the Premier’s commitment, the only action has been some cutting deferrals that included no imminently threatened old growth and several areas with little or no old growth forests. Only after public outcry generated by Wildsight and its partner groups, and with Indigenous Nations declaring their concerns, did the intact caribou habitat and old growth ecosystem of Argonaut Creek get a partial reprieve (there is still old growth on the chopping block there).
Current legislation in British Columbia does not prioritize species at risk such as caribou, nor protect biodiversity and functional ecosystems. Land use continues to be driven by outdated legislation designed to get logs to sawmills, and coal and minerals to market. Without legislative change, we are required to constantly fight the ongoing exploitation of British Columbia’s natural heritage.
In 2020 some world leaders acknowledged that international targets set a decade prior had failed to stop the extirpation of thousands of species. It is clear the global response has been far from adequate as more than a million species are threatened with extinction.
Unfortunately, British Columbia is no exception to the global trends, with experts estimating we could lose more than 2,000 species of animals and plants in this province alone. A report done in 2013 identified approximately 1,535 at-risk species. Today, the number is closer to 2,400. During this period, the British Columbia government began to explore legislating its own Endangered Species Act. Recently, however, not only has the government shied away from any discussion of such an act, they have been lobbying the federal government to weaken its already insufficient Species at Risk Act.
The issue goes far beyond endangered species; British Columbia’s iconic wildlife are in crisis. Since the 1990’s when Wildsight first began our caribou program, mountain caribou in British Columbia have declined from 2,500 animals to 1,260, a loss of almost 50% including extirpation of both the South Purcells and South Selkirk populations. In the Kootenays, goat numbers have dropped 40%, bighorn sheep 30% and moose 50%. Unfortunately, those estimates (based on wildlife census figures) do not reflect the full impact of our ever-expanding human footprint. Major changes in land use decision making are necessary immediately. Managers responsible for environmental protection must have the power to protect and maintain healthy ecosystems, and they have to use those powers aggressively.
Wildsight is working with fish and wildlife, naturalist and tourism groups from across the province in calling for new legislation that will prioritize wildlife and habitat in land use decision making for all resource sectors.
New international discussions are now underway through the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. Hundreds of countries will meet this May in Kunming China to develop urgent actions and bring together the important economic, social and environmental benefits of coordinating global efforts to conserve biodiversity. The Government of Canada has recently declared that it would join the UK and the EU in targets to protect 30% of their land and oceans by 2030 and build global momentum in the development of concrete objectives to address the twin crises of climate change and the accelerating loss of wildlife and flora. British Columbia has thus far resisted signing on to the federal targets of 25% of the land protected by 2025, 30% by 2030.
It’s time for British Columbians to demand that our government establish B.C. as a front-runner in the protection of biodiversity and species at risks. The Province missed its opportunity to become a leader during the past decade.
British Columbians expect our province to be a global leader in biodiversity conservation, not the laggard. The NDP government needs to keep its promise to implement all of the Old Growth Strategy Report recommendations, including “declare conservation of ecosystem health and biodiversity of British Columbia’s forests as an overarching priority and enact legislation that legally establishes this priority for all sectors.”
It’s time to show the world that we are truly committed to Super Natural BC.