British Columbia is home to more plants and animals than any other province in Canada. Although more plants and animals live here, thousands of the same ones are also found in places around B.C., like Alberta, Alaska, Washington and Montana. And about 40 per cent of these plants and animals — both in B.C. and beyond — are considered endangered to some degree.
A report we released this week shows that nearly all of the provinces in Canada have a law in place to protect at-risk species and their habitat from human development — except B.C. and Alberta. The United States has laws to protect endangered species too. But because plants and animals aren't ruled by political boundaries and can be found on either side of the border, any steps to protect endangered plants and animals around B.C. are undermined by the fact that we don't have equivalent legislation here. If a grizzly bear in Montana wanders a few kilometers north in search of mate, it goes from being protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act to being a possible target for a trophy hunter in B.C. Wolverines, coastal giant salamanders and spotted owls that cross the border from Washington into B.C. unknowingly step into a hostile political landscape that does nothing to prevent their habitat from being destroyed by a highway, ski resort or a mine, even though these critters are considered to be at-risk of endangerment in B.C.
Species like these, and the ecosystems they are part of — like old-growth forests — improve our quality of life just by existing and perform services for us (like water purification and climate regulation) that we would never be able to replicate even if we had enough money to attempt it. What B.C. needs now is a Species and Ecosystem Protection Act (SEPA) — or legal protection for B.C. species and the habitat they need to survive and recover so that this place can really be called the "Best Place on Earth."
Michelle Connolly is a biologist with the David Suzuki Foundation and a co-author of the report, 'On the Edge: British Columbia's Unprotected Transboundary Species'.