A group of conservationists and academics are calling on the B.C. government to uphold its promise of creating legislation to better protect the province’s 278 endangered species.
Despite being home to more at-risk animals than any other province in the country, B.C. currently has no law designed to protect endangered species, according to a report released Tuesday by an 18-member panel of experts that includes professors from universities across B.C., Alberta, and the Yukon.
“With the populations of wildlife species declining and accusations of negligence, B.C. needs to step up its game,” the report’s lead author, Alana Westwood, said in a news release.
“In order to recover species like caribou, spotted frogs, and spotted owls, we all need to roll up our sleeves to support meaningful action.”
In 1996, B.C. signed on to the National Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk, but has never had its own dedicated laws. Instead, it has used the Wildlife Act, Forest and Range Practices Act and others to help manage species at risk.
Following a mandate letter sent by Premier John Horgan in 2017, B.C.’s environment ministry is considering input from experts and drafting legislation, which is anticipated to be introduced next year.
But the experts are urging a quicker and more novel approach, one that would involve an independent scientific body to oversee assessment, recovery planning and reporting on government accountability.
The conservationists said this would include recovery teams that could be quickly assembled when multiple species at risk are found in the same place or face the same threat.
“Prioritizing actions and bundling them together means that we can wisely spend time, effort, and resources to protect and recover biodiversity,” said Brian Starzomski, professor at the University of Victoria. “If the goal is to stop species from going extinct, we have to be smart about it and act fast.”
The report also recommends more specific tracking of how populations are doing and gauging if the action being taken at the time is truly benefiting the animals.
“What we need is ongoing and very transparent reporting about how species at risk are actually doing. If our initial actions don’t work, we need to know that, and we need to rethink our actions,” said Karen Hodges, a professor at UBC Okanagan.
The report also recommends that the legislation include a formal process the government must undergo for if it decides not to recover a species from extinction.
The ministry of environment said in an emailed statement to Black Press Media that input from academic experts and the public are underway as it creates proposed legislation.
“Developing legislation of this magnitude and scope takes a great deal of consultation with stakeholders, Indigenous nations, and the public, and we’re taking the time we need to get it right,” the ministry said.