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Today I had the distinct honour of giving the keynote address at the opening of the Endangered Wildlife — The Next Migration art exhibit at the Robert Bateman Centre.

I took the opportunity to make two announcements. The first is that the we need to form a Natural Resource Board here in British Columbia — one that mirrors the Forest Practices Board and ensures that the cumulative effects of our resource extraction do not put species and ecosystems at further risk.

The second is that I am calling for an end to all old growth logging on crown land here on Vancouver Island.

This call comes in light of the motion put forward by the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities at their AGM on April 10th, 2016, which resolved that the old-growth forests on provincial Crown Land on Vancouver Island be protected from logging.

Below is the text of my speech.

Text of Speech

Good evening. First I would like to thank the Robert Bateman Centre and the organizers of this event from the University of Victoria’s Faculty of Education for inviting me tonight. I am honoured to speak to you and to have the chance to enjoy all of the magnificent artwork on display here. It is also a privilege to meet the talented artists that created these beautiful pieces.

Everyone here tonight would agree that we are extremely lucky to live in such a beautiful place. I truly believe we live in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

We are inspired by our natural environment and it is wonderful to be able to use that inspiration in order to highlight the environmental risks we face.

Having read through many of the artist’s biographies on the event’s site, it’s clear that each of these individuals has a profound connection with, and passion for, nature and wildlife. So it makes perfect sense that this passion would inspire their work. And as is true with any discipline, when passion and work can coexist and inspire one another, the potential for success is boundless.

In fact, the ability for two things to coexist in a harmonious and beneficial manner is exactly what we are here to celebrate and promote this evening.

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), humans have discovered an estimated 1,562,663 different lifeforms on this planet. Of these 1.5 million species – that include both animals and plants – 77,340 have been assessed by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

According to the Red List, 22,784 of these assessed species are currently threatened with extinction. The loss and degradation of natural habitat has been identified as the main threat to 85% of all species identified on the list.

While these numbers portray the problem on a global level, our local circumstances are not much better. According to the David Suzuki Foundation, over 60% of British Columbia’s ecological areas, such as grasslands, and over 40% of our species are at-risk. That’s 1900 at-risk species not to mention the hundreds of ecosystems.

Under the federal Species at Risk act, a total of 231 species are listed as at-risk in this province, yet the BC government explicitly provides protection for only 4 of them (the Sea Otter, White Pelican, Burrowing Owl and Vancouver Island Marmot).

The reason for this discrepancy in protected species is largely due to the fact that there is currently no stand-alone provincial act to protect endangered species here in BC.

Despite having the greatest biodiversity in the country and numerous calls on government to do more to protect our wildlife, BC remains one of only two provinces in Canada – the other being Alberta – that has no Endangered Wildlife Act.

Instead, we’ve been hiding behind the outdated B.C. Wildlife Act, which was neither designed for this purpose nor provides the protection that these species need.

To add to the already fragile situation, we continue to put economic interests ahead of environmental ones, without realising that one cannot flourish without the other.

Without more government regulated oversight, the cumulative effects of climate change and human development will continue to have adverse and unprecedented impacts on all aspects of our natural environment.

There are a number of steps we can and should be taking to diminish the negative impacts we are having on our natural environment. This is especially true of government.

By addressing issues relating to climate change, resource extraction, old growth logging and preservation at a provincial level, we can take major strides towards ensuring that the biodiversity of our province remains healthy.

Climate change is perhaps one of the most serious threats to our natural environment as a whole. Unfortunately, our provincial government is failing to demonstrate any leadership in addressing this issue.

Due to the choices that our government has made since 2012, there is no longer a pathway to meet our legislated 2020 GHG reduction targets. Yet in response to this realization, the BC Liberal government has simply highlighted the need for a new 2030 target, with little offered about how we can get there. Setting targets is meaningless if the policy isn’t there to go along with it.

This approach puts BC at odds with the rest of the global community, who are calling for governments to take immediate action on addressing and mitigating climate change.

At a time when it is imperative that we are making meaningful investments in low carbon technologies, our leaders are pulling out all the stops to building fossil fuel infrastructure that will commit the province to an energy-intensive non-renewable industry for the foreseeable future.

BC has all the tools it needs to tackle climate change head on; we have the renewable resources required, and the innovative, creative, and inspired population. All that is missing is the leadership required to focus these efforts.

We need to stop trying to force through projects such as LNG and Site C and start supporting clean energy development.

We need to start paying attention to the consequences of rapid and poorly thought-out resource development, and I would argue to do so we need to form a Natural Resource Board here in British Columbia.

One that mirrors the Forest Practices Board and ensures that the cumulative effects of our resource extraction do not put species and ecosystems at further risk.

Another leading threat to species at-risk is the loss and degradation of habitat. And arguably one of the biggest contributing factors to habitat loss here in British Columbia is the logging of old-growth forests.

Just this past fall I received thousands of emails from citizens across the province expressing their concerns over planned logging in the Walbran Valley and other old growth forests on Vancouver Island.

Old growth forests provide many important environmental and social functions, serving as homes to numerous species at risk and as popular recreation areas for locals and tourists alike. They are essential for both ecosystem integrity and as substantial carbon sinks. It is time they receive a level of protection that reflects their importance to both our ecosystems and our economy.

To ensure this, it is necessary that we take an ecosystem-focused and science-based assessment in decisions concerning forestry and resource management, and I am concerned that this is not what is happening in our Province today.

Instead, by playing the environmental and social concerns off against economic ones, we are merely allowing an unsustainable status quo to continue.

Protecting our remaining old-growth forests while supporting our forest industry do not have to be competing objectives. It is time we take a closer look at the status quo in forestry management in our Province, and work to ensure that we consider at all factors – social, environmental and economic – when we are making decisions.

By ensuring the protection of old-growth forests we can help to protect countless wildlife populations in our province. We can stop pitting one species against another as a means of wildlife management and instead focus on the preservation of all species and ecosystems.

Take the case of the Woodland Caribou.

Last summer, British Columbia announced a controversial wolf cull as a means to protect the South Selkirk and South Peace mountain caribou populations, which are on the brink of extirpation (or local extinction). Now when you start rationalizing the culling one species to protect another you also introduce an ethical element that needs to be considered alongside science.

If you let one of those species become threatened because of your actions the situation becomes immensely worse. Ethically, the wolf cull is a horrible response to an ecosystem out of balance.

From a management perspective, we should be focusing on endangered mountain caribou and the logging practices that got them to where they are today.

Before humans began changing the North American landscape, the woodland caribou’s range extended across Canada. While northern subpopulations of caribou once roamed in massive herds numbering in the thousands, mountain caribou have always been more sparsely distributed. Mountain caribou survive on a lichen-rich diet, especially in winter months, a food source that is intricately linked to old growth forests.

As industrial development and logging activities began to fragment their old growth forest ecosystems, mountain caribou populations began to destabilize. Not only has logging demolished much of their habitat directly, the associated road networks and areas of new growth forest have also brought an influx of moose and white-tailed deer into the ecosystem.

Populations of wolves then followed the moose and deer (their primary prey) and caribou (their secondary prey) are now being killed as bycatch. We are scrambling to save herds of mountain caribou on the brink of extirpation because we weakened their natural habitat and made them vulnerable to increased predation.

Sadly, the future for these threatened caribou is not looking promising; climate change is altering food supplies and habitat conditions, industrial activities are unbalancing ecosystem composition, and human settlement is steadily encroaching on our natural wilderness. All of which serves to highlight the need for increased wilderness protection.

As per requirements enforced under Canada’s Species at Risk Act, the province has protected 2.2 million hectares of forest from logging and road building where populations of caribou are classified as threatened.

These areas have immeasurable value for preserving British Columbia’s biodiversity, especially in light of ongoing global warming. But these areas, a substantial fraction of which are old growth, also have substantial commercial value.

However, without provincial regulations to protect old-growth forests, I am concerned that vast tracts of forests will stop being preserved the moment the threatened caribou herds go extinct. With their death, the protection of their habitat will no longer be enforceable under the Species at Risk Act.

We need to protect as much land as possible from all human activities so remaining wildlife populations have the space and resources needed to respond to predation and food supply challenges.

With that in mind, as leader of the BC Green Party I am calling for an end to all old growth logging on crown land here on Vancouver Island.

This call comes in light of the motion put forward by the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities at their AGM on April 10th, 2016, which resolved that the old-growth forests on provincial Crown Land on Vancouver Island be protected from logging.

Biodiversity is already stressed by climate change, and human interaction – at least in the heavy-handed way that it exists today – simply acts to make it worse.

We need to start taking calculated and proven steps to lessen the negative impacts of human interaction and create a world in which people and wildlife can coexist in a harmonious and complementary way.

Thank you.

Photo Credit: TJ Watt, Ancient Forest Alliance

One Comment

  1. Clare Attwell-
    April 28, 2016 at 2:23 pm

    Thank you Andrew
    Eloquent as always. Thank you for your compelling words & political commitment – this is so important.