Going to the Dogs - Where Is BC's Species at Risk Act?

For the BC NDP, dogs matter. Other species, not so much.

Loys Maingon

bee on purple thistle flower

Wild bumblebee on Carduus acanthoides.

In January 2024, seven years (two elections) after the BC NDP promised to enact a provincial Species at Risk Act, Premier David Eby demonstrated his silken sensitivity for other species by passing a law that requires that pets be treated like children than possessions in divorce proceedings.

Dogs matter. Other species, not so much.

The province isn’t talking about a Species at Risk Act anymore. Rather than deal with the spectre of broken environmental promises that could haunt campaigning politicians, the NDP has decided to distract the public with the release of another aspirational document: the Draft BC Biodiversity and Ecosystem Health Framework, released in November 2023.

A set of electoral mirages

This is really a set of electoral mirages: promises of broad, hazy good intentions, none of which is a deliverable with a firm implementation target and deadline. It is hard not to remember that these are promises from a government that began by betraying its voters on Site C and has continued to break its environmental promises ever since.

The eloquent “Message from the Minister,” signed by Nathan Cullen, Minister of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship, sets the tone. It is a rephrasing of key recommendations from A New Future for Old Forests, the 2020 report written by professional foresters Al Gorley and Garry Merkel after they conducted the provincially commissioned Old Growth Strategic Review. Both this report and BC’s Old Growth Forest: A Last Stand for Biodiversity, published in June 2020 by independent scientists Dr. Karen Price, Dr. Rachel Holt, and Dave Daust, call for a paradigm shift in BC forestry towards sustainable practices. So do reports and recommendations from many decades past.

And yet, for the last twenty or more years, the rate of deforestation has continued unabated, with forestry corporations protected by the government and the law courts.

The Draft BC Biodiversity and Ecosystem Health Framework is a political promise to implement the old-growth deferrals recommended by the Old Growth Strategic Review. The NDP promised to act on the recommendations in the last election (2020), but has not yet done so.

This framework is simply fodder to re-build confidence in the NDP’s “green” vote, which has been betrayed by, and lost to, the past seven years of dismal government performance on the environment. While it talks about the importance of nature and biodiversity, a careful reading of the document should reveal that the economy remains the only real priority.

Nowhere does the Draft BC Biodiversity and Ecosystem Health Framework contain any real protection for nature. Most notably, it talks about “ecosystem health” without ever really defining it.

It abuses cherished terms like “resilience,” “adaptive management,” and “ecosystem-based management,” but nowhere does the Draft BC Biodiversity and Ecosystem Health Framework contain any real protection for nature. Most notably, it talks about “ecosystem health” without ever really defining it.

In British Columbia, forest operations do not require a biological assessment of site biodiversity before clearcutting. As a result, we have little or no idea of what species are being impacted or exterminated. A case in point was the discovery of BC’s biggest population of Old-growth Specklebelly Lichen (Pseudocyphellaria rainierensis), a federally listed species at risk, at Fairy Creek. There was no previous record of the presence of this species in the cutblock, and in spite of the discovery being documented and reported to the Ministry of Forests, the Ministry of Environment, and the Pacheedaht Nation, no effort was made to protect this listed species or consider the biodiversity impact of forest operations.

While claiming to champion ecosystem-based management, the Draft BC Biodiversity and Ecosystem Health Framework does not propose that any requirement for a biological survey of forestry operations sites be mandated. How can biodiversity actually be protected if the proponents are just proceeding on a large-scale idea of general biodiversity, not the actual biodiversity of a given ecosystem at all scales?

The urgency of protecting BC’s species and biodiversity has long been understood by scientists, and was clearly pointed out in 2020 in the Price, Holt, and Daust report and the Old-Growth Strategic Review, both of which called for an immediate deferment or moratorium on old-growth logging. There has been some progress – but four long years on, that simple first step has yet to be implemented.

Damage to species at risk and biodiversity could be curtailed by creating Species at Risk and Biodiversity Acts that would guarantee nature legal rights, and not be subject to political and ministerial tampering. However, these concepts are not found in the draft framework.

What is the real priority?

If, as the government claims, it “is committed to protecting and conserving the province’s biodiversity and ecosystem health,” it needs to begin by making biodiversity – not the economy – the real priority.

It must protect the intact spaces and intact forests that are essential to species with a Biodiversity Protection Act. It must recognize the rights of nature by fulfilling its long-standing and repeatedly broken promise to deliver a robust and enforceable Species at Risk Act.

And it should deliver on these commitments before the next election, not in the nebulous hereafter.

Loys Maingon PhD, RPBio is a retired biologist and BC Director of the Canadian Society of Environmental Biologists. He lives in the Comox Valley. A longer version of this article was published by the Evergreen Alliance. 

The Wilderness Committee advocates for strong BC Species at Risk legislation based on eight guidelines. Visit https://www.wildernesscommittee.org/BCSpecies to learn more.

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