Our planet is undergoing a biodiversity crisis. Globally, at least 16,000 species are threatened with extinction, including 12 per cent of birds, 23 per cent of mammals and 32 per cent of amphibians.
Biologists know what is causing this environmental crisis — human impacts from development, deforestation, pollution and climate change are destroying the homes and habitat of wildlife around the world.
More importantly, biologists understand that the trend can be reversed. There was a time when populations of the great whales, Bald Eagles and Whooping Cranes were in rapid decline. But because of strong legislation, habitat protection and international agreements, these populations are bouncing back.
Despite an extraordinary legacy of animals and plants, more than 500 species are either extinct, extirpated (extinct in a particular region) or at risk of extinction in Canada. Weaknesses in the national Species at Risk Act abandon much of Canada's iconic wildlife — such as the polar bear, Atlantic salmon and Peary caribou — leaving them left off the list that's designed to protect them.
For the majority of species that make the list, the government has chronically failed to identify and protect the habitat [link to Habitat Protection and Recovery Strategies] these wildlife need to survive and recover.
Each province has its own obligations to protect wildlife. But British Columbia does not have standalone endangered species legislation, nor does Alberta. The province of Ontario recently updated and strengthened its Endangered Species Act, which is the first step towards responsible environmental stewardship. The David Suzuki Foundation is part of the Save Our Species coalition that helped to bring the Ontario Act into force and is working to ensure that the Act is implemented to best protect Ontario's species at risk.
Protecting the environment and biodiversity is more than a moral responsibility; it has important consequences for human health and welfare.
According to the United Nation's 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, two-thirds of the direct benefits people obtain from biodiversity are currently being degraded or used unsustainably.
These "ecosystem services" include:
- providing materials such as food, fuels and fibres;
- regulating climate, disease outbreaks, wastes and pollination;
- supporting processes such as nutrient cycling and water purification; and,
- providing opportunities for aesthetic, recreational and spiritual use.
Biodiversity loss affects many services that are essential to the functioning of our society and economy. For example, declines in the populations of bees, butterflies and other pollinators because of habitat destruction, pesticide use and invasive species cost farmers millions of dollars each year in reduced crop yields