The sage grouse is a protected species under the Species at Risk Act, one of the areas of federal jurisdiction examined in the latest report by federal Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development. C. Olson/Alberta Wilderness Association/Canadian Press
Canada’s environmental watchdog says that while the federal government talks a good game about biodiversity, and the protection and restoration of ecosystems, creating and executing a plan to follow up on those priorities remains a challenge.
“The challenge of protecting Canada’s natural heritage is immense and pressures are growing. To make any headway, government needs to look differently at the problems and find new solutions,” Neil Maxwell, interim commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development committee, writes in his fall report released Tuesday.
Of the report’s nine chapters, seven focused specifically on issues related to biodiversity.
From the International Convention on Biological Diversity, to the state of Canada’s National Parks, to plans to save Canada’s 518 species at risk, Maxwell noted a “pattern of unfulfilled commitments and responsibilities” that appear to be the result of departments with too many demands and too few resources.
For instance, staffing for conservation at Parks Canada has declined by 23 per cent in recent years, with scientific staff taking the biggest hit. Yet the agency remains far behind in carrying out crucial management activities such as managed burns in parks where fire is an important part of the ecosystem.
Of even greater concern to Maxwell is the state of Canada’s protected wildlife areas — patches of land that are important rest stops for migratory birds and homes for various species at risk. They are found across the country and put together, they cover an area the size of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia together.
The report found protected wildlife areas are in a pathetic state. Two-thirds of them and more than half of migratory bird sanctuaries “are considered to have less than adequate ecological integrity.”
Maxwell found Environment Canada is not properly monitoring the sites, so can’t identify emerging problems.
Two of the report's chapters were devoted to species at risk and the federal legislation that deals with their impending extinction.
The report congratulates Environment Canada for tracking individual projects designed to save at-risk animals. But then it points out that the department doesn’t know how far it has gone with various elements of each plan.
Maxwell holds his heavy fire on species at risk for the number of plans the responsible departments have created.
“Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Parks Canada have not met their legal requirements for establishing recovery strategies, actions plans and management plans under the Species at Risk Act,” he writes.
The report points out that 146 recovery strategies have yet to be completed, and of 97 action plans that are required by law, only seven are in place.
On the world stage, Environment Canada is the lead agency on the International Convention on Biological Diversity a 1992 treaty signed by 193 countries.
While Canada has lofty goals and targets to live up to the treaty, the department is sorely lacking in detail on how it will achieve them, the report notes.