Photo: B.C.'s at-risk species need their own law

By Mara Kerry, Director of Science and Policy

British Columbia has the richest biodiversity of any Canadian province. Yet, over 40 per cent of our species are at-risk. That's why we need to take quick action against habitat loss and get an act in place to protect both species and ecosystems at-risk.

Over 60 per cent of B.C.'s ecological areas, such as grasslands, are at-risk according to scientists. That's 1900 at-risk species and devastated ecosystems including the Fraser River Delta, coastal Douglas Firs and Garry Oak meadows. Despite these numbers, only four species are actually protected under the province's current legislation. This compares to 231 of B.C.'s species listed under the federal Species at Risk Act governing federal lands. Since the federal act only applies to federal lands, a standalone provincial act is needed to offer the best protection.

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B.C. is out of step with the rest of Canada. We're only one of two provinces in Canada without a stand-alone law to protect species. We've been relying on the outdated B.C. Wildlife Act, which was designed for other purposes and doesn't give species the protection they need.

Species protection must strike a balance between protecting the environment and opportunities for economic development. Healthy ecosystems rich with biodiversity are essential to human health and economic health.

This year's audit of biodiversity in B.C. by Auditor General John Doyle laments governments' lack of progress on preserving biodiversity: "This audit found that government is not doing enough to address this loss of biodiversity. Specifically, government is not fully implementing or monitoring its habitat-protection tools. I was disappointed to learn this since my Office identified similar issues in an audit we conducted 20 years ago on habitat protection."

To save our valuable wildlife, we need a new Species and Ecosystem Protection Act to make sure recovery strategies are based on sound science and climate change is part of policy, among other things. And it creates the opportunity to prioritize incentives for stakeholders, such as landowners, who share responsibility to protect species.

The Oregon spotted frog, the northern spotted owl and the humpback whale are among the species needing our protection and our action. We're hoping during this provincial election that British Columbians feel compelled to ask their candidates what they plan to do to protect our endangered wildlife.

March 7, 2013

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