Auditor general John Doyle issued a critical report in February taking the provincial government to task on its failure to effectively protect biodiversity across B.C.
In his indictment of programs and departments, Doyle found significant gaps in the understanding of biodiversity in the province and no strategy to address those gaps either. He also found inconsistencies and barriers within the legislative framework that are actually inhibiting the conservation of biodiversity in B.C.
“Biodiversity is critical to the health and well-being of British Columbians. Therefore we expected government to be ensuring that its actions are effective,” Doyle said after the report was released. “We found that government doesn’t know if its actions are conserving biodiversity. There are several barriers to government being effective, including a lack of information, gaps in legislation and poorly implemented policies.”
Despite decades of political and government promises to protect biodiversity and commitments made nationally and internationally, Doyle found government is not implementing or monitoring its own habitat-protection tools.
“Habitat preservation is critical to the conservation of biodiversity and government’s lack of implementation and monitoring is troubling,” Doyle said. “My office reviewed the government’s habitat conservation efforts 20 years ago and many of the issues identified in that report were also identified in this audit.”
The report was a significant one for Bob Brett, coordinator of the Whistler Biodiversity Project and director with the Whistler Naturalists.
Brett heads up the local biodiversity efforts with a multi-year project to catalogue and help conserve Whistler’s native species.
“The thing that stood out for me is that I couldn’t have said it better,” he said with respect to the provincial audit. “It is hard hitting in terms of basically saying government is not living up to what it has said it is trying to do.”
He said the report gave him hope in the democratic process in that an audit can hold a government accountable to the promises it makes — especially when it comes to biodiversity, which is fundamental to maintaining healthy ecosystems.
It also reinforced what Brett is trying to achieve with the Whistler Biodiversity Project. The project aims to establish a comprehensive inventory of all the species within the area and holds an annual BioBlitz event that sees local school children, community members and visiting biologists head out into the local environment to catalogue species.
“The whole point is to learn more and more about what species are here, what should be here and what shouldn’t be here and then it is easier to figure out what habitats are important to protect,” he said.
“We come to an area that is relatively pristine with native species and intact ecosystems and I think we have a responsibility as humans to do our best to keep those as intact as possible.”
Each year the BioBlitz expands the inventory of local species. Over the past six years between 15 and 20 per cent of species collected have been new to the list. Each year the focus changes to include scientists with specialities that will expand the ongoing count in the area. There currently are over 3,000 species documented in Whistler as a result of this work.
Other Whistler programs also contribute, like the regular bird counts and efforts by the municipality and the Sea to Sky Invasive Species Council, said Brett.
He said the trick is to remember biodiversity is a moving target of understanding what species are in what habitats and then strategically working on monitoring population trends after which active conservation efforts can be taken. It is no easy task, he noted, especially when the land base is province wide.
“The thing that stood out for me is that I couldn’t have said it better.”
In the Whistler area there are several examples of species that are threatened as a result of human activity. Blue listed animals, which are of special concern, include western toads, coastal tailed frogs, wolverines, northern red-legged frogs and the grizzly bear. Red-listed, or extirpated, endangered or threatened in the area include the Keen’s long-eared myotis bat and the Pacific water shrew.
Information gathering is a key part of measuring biodiversity and knowing whether or not programs or policies are working to protect it. It is something recognized in Doyle’s findings.
Three key findings were made in the report and six recommendations.
Doyle found that significant gaps exist in the government’s understanding of biodiversity in B.C., government does not know whether its actions are resulting in the conservation of biodiversity and government is not adequately measuring and reporting on its progress in the conservation of biodiversity.
The first recommendation in the report is for the government to make a long-term commitment to collect sufficient and reliable information about the status of biodiversity in B.C and use that data to make informed decisions about conservation. Other recommendations include reviewing the legislative framework to identify and address gaps, inconsistencies and barriers to conserving biodiversity; assigning responsibilities and timelines to fully implement its habitat designation tools and determine whether other tools are necessary; complete sufficient monitoring to assess the effectiveness of its actions in the conservation of biodiversity and report periodically to the Legislative Assembly and the public on this issue.
The response from government to the report was to accept all six recommendations. In the report the government committed to incorporating biodiversity objectives in its new natural resource sector approach to managing Crown land, which makes up 94 per cent of the province.
The “one land base, one land manager” approach includes assessing cumulative effects of development, mitigating the effects of development on environmental values and further protecting and recovering species at risk.
Brett, however, said he is sceptical.
“Their commitments seemed to me to be extremely vague — I didn’t get any sense of urgency or specifics in terms of action,” he said, adding in the past conservation has been limited by restrictions meant to maximize natural resource revenues. “If they are serious about ‘one land base, one land manager,’ it can’t just be about trying to maximize the annual revenue from the land base.
“They need to seriously take on concepts of long-term sustainability, biodiversity and habitat protection and connectivity.”
Go to www.bcauditor.com to view the full report.