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Addressing B.C.'s species an urgent matter, experts say

New report urges the provincial government to take new approach to endangered species law.

New report urges the provincial government to take new approach to endangered species law

VANCOUVER, OCT. 30, 2018 — A team of experts on conservation and biodiversity released a report today urging the Government of British Columbia to take a new approach to endangered species law to better protect and recover endangered species. The report's release is timed to hold the government to account on its promise to deliver effective legislation.

Despite being home to 278 species at risk of extinction — more than any other province or territory in Canada — B.C. has no law designed to protect endangered species. Very few species at risk listed under the federal law have recovered. A provincial law is in the works, and the government has called for expert input.

"With the populations of wildlife species declining and accusations of negligence, B.C. needs to step up its game," says Dr. Alana Westwood, the lead author of the report. "In order to recover species like caribou, spotted frogs, and spotted owls, we all need to roll up our sleeves to support meaningful action."

The report was released by an 18-member expert team that drew on lessons learned nationwide, with the support of eleven additional experts. The panel recommends fixes to problems that have plagued Canada's Species At Risk Act and other endangered species legislation, including slow timelines and a failure to move from planning to action.

Because speed is critical when trying to recover endangered species, the group calls for a novel approach of empowering an independent scientific body to oversee assessment, recovery planning, and reporting on government accountability.

This committee will also quickly assemble recovery teams, particularly in situations where multiple species at risk are found in the same place or face the same threat. These teams would also prioritize recovery actions, to make sure the most cost-effective approaches are tried first.

"Prioritizing actions and bundling them together means that we can wisely spend time, effort, and resources to protect and recover biodiversity," says Dr. Brian Starzomski, coauthor and 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 authors also called for meaningful accountability on the part of government by measuring not just what documents have been written, but how populations are doing, and whether or not taken actions work.

"Other Canadian species at risk laws document activities that could recover a species — but making a list isn't a substitute for actually taking action and ensuring that endangered species start to recover," says Dr. Karen Hodges, a co-author and professor at UBC Okanagan.

"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."

Finally, the bar for not protecting and recovering a species should be high.

"Like all Canadians, British Columbians care deeply about biodiversity. That's why the explicit goal of the law has to be to protect and recover all species at risk," says Dr. Chris Johnson, coauthor and professor at the University of Northern British Columbia.

"If government makes the hard choice not to recover a species at risk of extinction, then they must follow a formal and transparent process and not hide behind bureaucratic foot-dragging."

B.C.'s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategies is currently considering input and drafting legislation. Proposed legislation will likely be introduced in 2019, and citizens and scientists alike are watching carefully.

For more information contact:

Kelly Zenkewich, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative communications and digital engagement manager,

Photos, additional information and files

High resolution photos of at-risk ecosystems and species in B.C. are available upon request from Alana Westwood.

A version of the report has been submitted to the peer-reviewed open-access journal FACETS (Manuscript ID facets-2018-0042) on October 29, 2018.

The report was funded and supported in part by the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative.