B.C. gets a C grade in protecting land and oceans: report

B.C. may be doing some things right when it comes to protecting the environment, but not enough to receive top marks, says a new environmental report card.

The province has been given a C grade for protecting land and water by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, in a report released today.

Three provinces — Ontario, Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador — got failing grades for not keeping protected-area promises Canada made at the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity last year.

Quebec, Yukon, and Northwest Territories garnered top marks.

B.C. received an average mark, with the report acknowledging successes such as the establishment of Dene K’eh Kusan, which covers 40,000 square-kilometres of intact forests home to caribou and bighorn sheep in the Kaska Dena territory in Northern B.C.

However, it also noted the province’s failures such as its poor record of protecting old-growth forests and slow pace to secure more conservation land.

Jessie Corey, terrestrial conservation manager for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society B.C., said the province needs to safeguard more habitat to support wildlife populations.

In the last decade, the province has only protected one per cent of land, rivers and lakes, she said.

The majority of that one per cent came in the 2016 Great Bear Rainforest Agreement but there hasn’t been much focus on adding new protection areas, added Corey.

A decade ago Canada pledged to protect 17 per cent of its land and waters by 2020. Today, only 13.8 per cent is protected, according to the report, and yet the federal government has pledged to reach 30 per cent by 2030.

Quebec, which received the highest grade of A- in the report card, committed to the 17 per cent target and delivered 16.7 per cent by creating new protected areas, the report says.

Corey said Quebec’s progress demonstrates what strong political will combined with Indigenous leadership and public support can achieve.

While the B.C. government’s progress on protected areas has been limited, Indigenous groups are forging ahead with proposals to protect significant areas of their territories, the report says.

And Corey believes the government should listen.

“If we want to have healthy, thriving ecosystems and wildlife population then it’s really important for us to conserve a minimum of 30 per cent,” she said. “Here in B.C. the opportunity is there to work with First Nations and their vision for conservation.”

Other Indigenous-led conservation projects in B.C. that kept the province from getting a failing grade include a land use planning process led by the Tahltan First Nation, a new Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area (IPCA) in the Taku River Tlingit territory in northwestern B.C., and a formal declaration by the Ktunaxa Nation, and partnership with the provincial and federal governments, to create the Qat’muk IPCA in an area of the Central Purcell Mountains.

However the report card also points to long-standing challenges with park management in B.C. for most of the last two decades.

In 2010, a report by B.C.’s auditor general found that the province was not meeting its goal of conserving the ecological integrity of B.C.’s protected areas. Two decades of chronic underfunding of the parks system have resulted in limited park management, monitoring, and enforcement.

The recent announcement of $83 million over three years for B.C. Parks is “a positive step for improving accessibility and visitor infrastructure in B.C.’s parks,” the report says.

Corey said moving forward, B.C. has the opportunity to be a conservation leader by committing to protect 25 per cent of the province by 2025 and 30 per cent by 2030.

The old-growth forest ecosystem and B.C.’s watersheds need to be top of the priority list for the province when it comes to places for new protection, she said.

“We are seeing a resurgence in wanting to protect these rapidly disappearing ecosystems,” she said. “Looking across the province, there are proposals by First Nations looking at old-growth forest but also grasslands in the Interior … and these proposals are what are really going to drive progress in the next decade.”

B.C.’s highlights and low points in protecting the environment

2011: British Columbia Auditor General finds BC Parks is not meeting its goal of conserving the ecological integrity of the province’s parks and protected areas.

2012-2013: Twelve new conservancies, covering 6,655 km2, created as a result of First Nations leadership and historic cross-sectoral collaboration in the Great Bear Rainforest.

2014: B.C.’s Park Act amended to allow private companies to conduct industrial research in parks, to then be used in proposals to remove lands from parks for development purposes.

2016: BC Parks Future Strategy announced by the provincial government. This created the BC Parks specialty licence plate program and launched the BC Parks Foundation.

2019: Legislation passed to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

2021: B.C. government invests $20 million to create over 250 youth conservation jobs, and $83 million for BC Parks capital investments and operations.

2021: B.C. Auditor General releases a report stating that British Columbia failed to adequately manage its Conservation Lands Program aimed at protecting habitats for fish and wildlife species.

(Source: Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society)

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