Posted on January 18, 2010 (updated: January 18, 2010)

Confidential document reveals weak BC government plan for species at risk

A confidential British Columbia government document obtained by the Wilderness Committee and Ecojustice (formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund) reveals that the provincial government is planning to introduce a weak new species at risk regulation that would apply to only a fraction of BC’s endangered plants and animals.  BC is one of only two provinces in Canada with no stand-alone law to protect endangered species. Alberta is the other.

The internal government document, dated July 2008 and authored by a BC Ministry of Environment biologist, reveals that just six mammals, seven birds, six reptiles and six amphibians are currently being considered under the proposed regulation.  If endangered plants are included approximately 100 species would be covered by the initiative – just six per cent of BC’s 1,640 known species at risk.

The frankly-worded document spells out the limitations of the initiative, specifying that the regulation being considered “is not a habitat mechanism for species at risk conservation.” Scientific research shows that over 86 per cent of species at risk in BC are endangered because of the loss and fragmentation of their habitat. Current BC laws and policies provide no automatic protection for the habitat these endangered species need to survive.

“The fact is you can’t recover endangered species if you don’t protect their habitat. This document shows what the BC government is planning for endangered species is really a blueprint for extinction,” said Gwen Barlee, policy director with the Wilderness Committee. “Instead of stand-alone endangered species legislation we are getting gutless regulations that don’t protect habitat and that apply to less than 10 per cent of our species at risk.”

According to the confidential document, the provincial government will discuss the initiative at this week’s Union of BC Municipalities Annual General Meeting in Penticton.

The document refers to environmental groups’ calls “for stand-alone legislation and recent FOI [Freedom of Information] requests,” as necessitating proactive public consultation. The BC government has been under increasing pressure regarding endangered species after a series of Freedom of Information requests filed by environmental groups revealed that the province is politically interfering with the recovery of species at risk including the Vancouver Island marmot.

“BC lags behind virtually every province and state in North America in providing legal protection to our endangered wildlife,” said Ecojustice staff lawyer Sean Nixon.  “The province needs a new stand-alone law to protect species and their habitat – not more of the same politically-driven, outdated approach.”

The proposed regulation would amend the BC Wildlife Act, list species, define the “residence” of some species, and set out rules for permits and exemptions.  The Wildlife Act was designed primarily to regulate hunting and fishing, and currently lists only four species at risk.  The Act protects species’ habitat only at the discretion of politicians, and contains no provisions for the recovery of endangered species.  The Wildlife Act amendments that the proposed regulation would bring into force do not address these fundamental flaws.

Some of BC’s 1,640 endangered species include: the Vancouver Island marmot, spotted owl, mountain caribou, grizzly bear, western bluebird, glacier lily, burrowing owl, badger, great blue heron and coastal tailed frog.

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