Fundamental changes needed in approach to species at risk: task force
Increased funding for research, greater consultation and an ecosystem-based management approach are among the recommendations of a government-appointed task force on species at risk released Monday.
Committee chair Bruce Fraser, former head of the province's Forest Practices Board, said in an interview that the current system of trying to protect one endangered species at a time is impractical.
"Do it by ecosystem, not individual species," he said. "In the south Okanagan, instead of going after yellow-breasted chat today, sage grouse tomorrow and burrowing owl the day after that, put enough intact ecosystem into some form of protection that would deal with a large number of species as a package."
The report cites 1,207 plant species, 390 animal species and 329 "ecological communities" at risk in B.C.
By developing recovery plans for individual species, "we risk swamping our fragmented resource management system and limited conservation resources," the report found.
It also urged the province to be more transparent, distinguishing between decisions based on science versus politics, and emphasized that protecting species at risk need not hurt the economy.
"B.C.'s protected area system can be complemented by more adaptive measures over larger areas that can accommodate a wide range of sustainable uses without creating unmanageable stresses on ecosystems or species," it said.
"In such cases, maintaining the key components for sustaining ecosystem and species can be compatible with careful development of economic opportunities."
In response, three environmental groups said in a news release that the recommendations are weak and "fall far short" of the legal protection species at risk require.
Ecojustice, Sierra Club B.C. and the Wilderness Committee said they are disappointed that instead of calling for a law the committee recommended "tinkering with B.C.'s antiquated patchwork of existing regulations."
They also noted B.C. and Alberta are the only provinces with no endangered species legislation.
Fraser argued it is better for now to address the dozen or so pieces of provincial legislation with "environmental consequences," creating more clarity while cleaning up and consolidating them up.
The province should also enact the Wildlife Amendment Act -passed by the legislature in 2004 to protect species and critical habitat, but never enacted -first on Crown land, then on private land with incentives, he said.
Environment Minister Terry Lake said the province, which struck the committee in 2010, will study the recommendations for several months before delivering its official response. The full report can be viewed at www.env.gov.bc.ca/ sartaskforce.