Once-proud BC is now a biodiversity loss hotspot

18 May 2021

Dr Trevor Hancock

701 words

There was a time when BC was “a global leader in fish, wildlife and habitat conservation”, stated Jesse Zeman of the BC Wildlife Federation in a May 10th press. But now it is “a landscape which can be characterized as at risk, endangered and extirpated”, he continued. (‘Extirpated’ refers to local extinction; a species may not be extinct overall, but has become extinct in a particular region where once it was found.) Moreover, this has happened in just one generation.

The press release announced the creation of the BC Fish, Wildlife, and Habitat Coalition, which brings together 25 organisations from widely differing sectors: Environmental and conservation organizations, hunting and angling guides, wildlife viewing, ecotourism, naturalists, hunters, anglers, and trappers.

What unites this somewhat disparate group is “the growing concern over the province’s failure – over successive governments – to adequately deal with a mounting crisis of biodiversity loss and cumulative impacts on ecosystem health”, stated Tim Burkhart of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative.

It is nothing short of a tragedy that it has come to this. And how has this come to pass? Because successive governments have valued the economy over nature, and thus over the wellbeing of future generations, not to mention all the species with whom we share this still beautiful but scarred land. The examples are all around us and are coming thick and fast.

For example, a May 2021 study looked at the decline of caribou across Canada and found that it is “habitat alteration from forest cutting” that is at the root of this decline. The research shows the complexity of the ecological processes at play, a complexity that is too often ignored in the more simplistic decision-making used to justify economic benefit.

In this case, cutting down the forest leads to an increase in sunlight and a flourishing of deciduous understorey. That in turn favours moose and deer that do well on this food, which in turn leads to an increase in predators such as wolves – and the caribou suffer.

Its not just forestry that is to blame. A December 2020 report from the Corporate Mapping Project, jointly led by the University of Victoria, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Parkland Institute, notes “scientists have identified coal mining as a key driver of caribou extirpation” – specifically the Mountain caribou in northeastern BC. But the focus of this study is the absurd and false economic justification for the mining; the authors found that “approval of these mines was based on unreasonable benefit expectations . . .  little of the economic gain promised actually materializes, and the scant benefit that is generated arrives years later than promised.”

So not only are the caribou becoming locally extinct, but the supposed economic and social benefits that might – in some people’s minds – justify this ecological abuse, are missing. In the end it’s all for nothing; indeed “not only do the costs of mining activity in northeastern BC outweigh the benefits, but the public helped to fund extinction of caribou by subsidizing exploration and development.”

A third recent example comes from the BC Forest Practices Board, which  has just released its report of a three-year long investigation into forest management in the Nahmint Valley, near Port Alberni. This area was designated as “a special management zone in a high biodiversity landscape unit”, but the Board found that the responsible government agencies failed in their duty to protect biodiversity and old growth forest. Moreover, it found the legislation did not give the Compliance and Enforcement Branch the authority needed to investigate and take corrective action.

Tragically, these are just a microscossm of the appalling record of successive BC governments that have ignored the ethical and legal obligations to protect ‘super natural BC’ in order to extract maximum short term financial and political gain.

We all need to get behind the new BC Fish, Wildlife, and Habitat Coalition in their demand for “a commitment from the province to invest in healthy landscapes, waters, and fish and wildlife stewardship, in partnership with First Nations and communities”. And we must insist the government put a stop to inflated estimates of short-term economic gain that sacrifice the wellbeing of future generations and other species.

© Trevor Hancock, 2021


Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy.


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