Enacting an endangered species law is the last item on British Columbia (B.C.) Environment and Climate Change Strategy Minister’s Mandate Letter from Premier John Horgan. It is a process Environment and Climate Change Strategy Minister George Heyman began in March 2018 with the release of a discussion paper, “Protecting Species at Risk: A Primer To Support A Conversation With British Columbians”. Now, a panel of 18 conservation experts has produced its own set of recommendations on what a new species protection law for B.C. should look like.
B.C. has no legislation specifically aimed at species protection, despite having the greatest biodiversity of any province and arguably the greatest number of species at risk. To protect them, B.C. currently relies on what these experts describe as a patchwork of provincial laws and regulations, such as the Wildlife Act, the Forest and Range Practices Act and the Oil and Gas Activities Act. And they have not worked.
“Critically,” they write, “these legislative and policy frameworks were not intended to protect species at risk; the province has repeatedly been criticized for prioritizing resource development over the needs of species.” B.C.’s new legislation must allow for timely listing of species and prioritize recovery actions based on effectiveness. Recovery should be subject to ongoing monitoring, and the government must be accountable for any lack of implementation.
The panel recommends the automatic listing of all B.C. species listed federally under the Species at Risk Act. This would overcome the hurdle of creating the initial list. Separately, a process would assess and list all other species whose status requires special consideration.
Canadian species at risk laws generally follow a four-step approach: assessing risk status, designating (or listing) a species as in need of protection, taking immediate action to protect species and habitats, and planning and implementing further actions over the long term. B.C. should follow these four steps and add a fifth, the panel says. It should require reporting on outcomes against specific indicators, and the government should be held accountable for results.
The panel does identify one advantage B.C. has over the federal government: land ownership. Species recovery under the federal Species at Risk Act is hampered by the small portion of the Canadian land mass that is federally-owned. In B.C., 94% of the land is classified as Provincial Crown land, although much of it is still subject to Indigenous land claims. Land claims notwithstanding, the panel believes B.C. is in a strong position to implement species protection, particularly if it engages in joint recovery programs with Indigenous peoples and private landowners.