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Les Kiss

Vice President, Forestry, Coast Forest Products Association

Protecting BC’s Vulnerable Species

OregonSpottedFrog

British Columbia has just released a draft “Five-year Plan for Species at Risk” for public review and comment. In our opinion, the draft BC plan has the potential to manage species at risk more effectively and with more positive outcomes than the process-driven federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) enabled in 2003.

SARA, as it currently stands, is a detailed piece of legislation heavily focused on process, milestones and timelines. From species assessment listing to recovery and action planning, the federal process is prescriptive towards single species responses. The assessment and listing of species is a science-based approach which often lacks the best available information and, despite this, requires a recovery strategy and action plans based on legislated timelines. The result is that incomplete science is being used to make decisions on habitat protection without consideration for societal values and impact.  Further, SARA also requires the identification of “critical habitat” without exception for listed species, species which already occur in protected areas, species which are not limited by habitat or species whose habitat is not threatened. The federal emphasis on process over outcomes leads to a waste of scarce resources and does not allow for prioritizing species truly at risk.

It is important to note, approximately 200+ species (42%) listed under SARA occur in BC, and that no SARA-listed species have been extirpated in BC to date. BC species at risk management, until now, appears to have largely been driven by concerns for perceived vulnerabilities to SARA, rather than a broader interest in optimizing conservation benefits.

The draft BC Plan offers a more flexible approach to develop and implement recovery measures for species at risk on a prioritized basis, taking into account the social and economic interests of BC’s communities as well.  The draft plan aligns with government’s shift to a “one land manager” approach to managing B.C.’s natural resources focusing on a number of key areas:

  • improving species conservation through management at the ecosystem and landscape scale instead of the SARA “one species at a time” approach;
  • basing resource and conservation decisions on transparent science, consideration of socio-economic factors and consultation with all affected parties;
  • encouraging British Columbians to embrace stewardship of species at risk across all lands and waters;
  • applying protection for species at risk consistently across all sectors; and
  • measuring and reporting on government’s investments (dollar and land budgets, both of which are limited) in species at risk management so we know if objectives are being met and if these are effective over time at achieving our goals.

The draft Plan also recognizes the need for a balanced approach to the identification and designation of critical habitat by ensuring that:

  • Socio-economic implications are considered in conjunction with scientific advice in the decision process for identifying critical habitat;
  • “Best available information” supports the identification, management and recovery of species at risk. Where such information is not readily available, it must be collected before sound decisions can be made in the assessment and listing of species;
  • All directly affected parties are consulted.

The draft Plan recognizes that government alone cannot implement stewardship of species at risk across all lands. It notes that incentives and funding combined with a collaborative approach can provide for better overall outcomes. Coast Forest member companies support this approach as they are well positioned to carry out management regimes with local knowledge and information at hand. Coast Forest will work with government in finalizing the draft BC Plan to ensure it meets objectives for managing species at risk as well as delivering on the socio-economic and community needs of the Province.

The release of the draft Plan is an indication that the Provincial government takes seriously its role of having the primary responsibility to protect species at risk and their habitats in BC.  Going forward, it is hoped that their jurisdictional decision-making authority, expertise and work will be recognized and that SARA will be modernized to focus on outcomes rather than process.

 

 

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