Beautiful British Columbia, the most biodiverse region in all of Canada. But what is currently being done to protect its biodiversity and habitats? Surprisingly little. Earlier this summer, the EcoJustice and Wilderness Committee released a ‘biodiversity report card’ for British Columbia, evaluating the province’s progress towards meeting its past wildlife protection targets. In this report, the province earned a meager “needs improvement” final grade and received failing marks almost across the board.
This failure stands in stark contrast to British Columbia and Canada’s past biodiversity commitments, including those agreed upon in 2010 during the Convention on Biological Diversity in Aichi, Japan. Two noteworthy targets stated that by 2020, Canada would protect 17% of terrestrial land and inland waterways and reduce habitat loss by 50%. As of 2020, though coming close to the first target, Canada still came up short of this goal. Moreover, their efforts appeared unbalanced, as some habitats even received less than 10% protection in total.
Like many other regions in the Global North, British Columbia has yet to impose environmental legislation sufficiently strict and effective enough to prevent habitat loss. Much of the failure to meet the Aichi targets can be attributed to inconsistent, ineffective, or delayed environmental policies and laws. While British Columbia claims that their current environmental laws adequately protect at-risk species and ecosystems, the reality looks more bleak with a hodgepodge of loosely enforced policies with little teeth or cohesive direction. In fact, British Columbia remains one of the only provinces without its own standalone law prioritizing the protection of species-at-risk and critical habitats, which is necessary to cover gaps in the federal Species At Risk Act.
As well, current policies and laws within the province often favour industry over the environment. Through a mix of pro-industry policies and supposed ‘environmental protection’ acts strewn with exceptions and discretionary language, the interests of industries and corporations are offered priority protection, whereas the environment receives exceedingly weak and spotty protection. One BC law, the Forest and Range Practices Act, actually prohibits the government from taking actions to safeguard biodiversity and critical habitat if said action would reduce logging by more than one percent.
To combat this ever increasing biodiversity crisis in British Columbia, significant changes must occur to not only British Columbia’s environmental laws, but also to the overarching approach to biodiversity protection. As concluded by EcoJustice, to enact the necessary reforms conducive to conservation, the province must employ a proactive approach. This includes assessing ecosystems through tools such as impact assessments to identify critical habitats, protecting at least 50% of each ecosystem type, and developing targeted protection that focuses on areas with high levels of biodiversity.
Protecting a critical habitat entails ceasing human actions leading to disturbances, degradation, and exploitation by actively placing regulations on the use of—and allowed activities in—the habitat. Identifying habitats as "at-risk" or "critical" would trigger these regulations while the implementation of a pre-established recovery plan proactively reduces delays in the decision making process. Of particular importance within response plans are corridors that connect ecosystems, as they allow for migration and potential shifts in species’ ranges due to climate change.
Within this reformed approach to biodiversity protection, true sustainability would mean the province recognizing the right of the Indigenous peoples to have influence and a direct say in the decision making process. This must consist of inclusion beyond merely consultations of their knowledge, actively allowing for engagement and authority on a level comparable to that of the provincial government (see Leverage Point 5: Justice and Inclusion in Decision Making).
These approaches can be achieved through reformations to the current policies and acts in British Columbia, including the strengthening of the level of protection for biodiversity offered under the law and stricter enforcement of said laws (see Lever 3: Strengthening Environmental Law). This includes restrictions on the timber industry, especially concerning old growth forests and rare ecosystem types. The target of these laws must be creating long-term protection of habitats and wildlife, beginning with a clear prioritization of ecosystem health and safeguarding biodiversity in a standalone legislation separate from the broader federal act. There also needs to be laws specifically geared towards curbing the environmentally detrimental consequences of decisions motivated by short-term political interests.
While the biodiversity crisis looms over British Columbia, there still remains time for provisions and a chance to double down on the past and future commitments to conservation. The formation of stronger legislation protecting biodiversity and critical habitat is vital if British Columbia is to fulfill their commitments.
However, without changes to the foundational systems of management and governing blocking significant progress towards achieving sustainability, local and regional policies can only do so much (see Lever 2: Improved Management). Generating truly sufficient biodiversity protection requires transformative change. This includes addressing the underlying causes of habitat loss and extinction even beyond British Columbia through systemic reformations recognizing the interconnectedness and complexity of human interactions with natural systems.
But what can you personally do to help conserve biodiversity in BC?
When dealing with broader systemic change, oftentimes small-scale private actions are not sufficient, stressing the need for social signalling and systems-changing actions (see Three Spheres of Influence for Change). Here at CoSphere, we are pushing for this change and we need your help! This may seem like a tall order, but with a collective effort, we can all enact the change we want to see in the world.
Some of the best ways for concerned citizens to help conserve BC biodiversity include contacting their local representative, as well as supporting NGO campaigns working to combat environmental degradation such as the EcoJustice Campaign.
Written by Meg Sheline of the CoSphere team.