B.C. government efforts to protect species at risk should be monitored by a special independent scientific body, a team of conservation and biodiversity experts said in a study released Tuesday.
“This is a key idea that I think helps move to action quickly,” said Brian Starzomski, a biodiversity professor at the University of Victoria. He was co-author of the Protecting Biodiversity In British Columbia study.
As the provincial government drafts species-at-risk legislation expected in 2019, Mr. Starzomski’s team says the proposed oversight organization is central to their proposal for saving species at risk – a necessity given what the group describes as a “patchwork” of provincial laws and regulations it says has not prevented species loss and decline.
The group cites findings by the national Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada that 278 species are at risk of extinction in B.C. – the largest number in any Canadian province or territory – but notes that B.C. has no law to protect such species.
The report comes from the efforts of 18 academics at institutions such as the University of British Columbia, the University of Victoria, Simon Fraser University and the University of Waterloo. They worked in conjunction with the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, a non-profit organization that acts to protect habitation in the region spanning the Yellowstone to Yukon region of North America.
The proposed Independent Oversight Committee would, the group suggests, prioritize the assessment of species, list species, help guide recovery efforts and evaluate the effectiveness of actions.
As part of its work, it would establish recovery teams to help particular species in trouble and prioritize recovery actions.
Members would include experts in ecological and conservation sciences, including those with Indigenous knowledge able, the report says, "to participate independently of their affiliations.”
Mr. Starzomski said the committee would focus its expertise. “It’s a way to get together the people who know these species, the threats to them and the best ways to prioritize action to get together to be able to ensure that the entire process happens quickly and effectively.”
He said he is aware of a similar oversight committee in Ontario as well as the federal Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
Over all, the group says it is calling for provincial legislation on the issue that offers a “systematic, planned and evidence-informed approach” that protects and allows for the recovery of species at risk, offers mandatory reporting on actions taken, and legislated timelines for listing, setting priorities and reporting.
It should also include Indigenous peoples as partners in the effort, the authors said.
Because endangered-species legislation may conflict with the sovereign interests of Indigenous peoples, the authors of the study recommend reconciliation as a guiding principle as well as working on a nation-to-nation basis with First Nations.
In a statement responding to the report, the B.C. Environment Ministry said it is familiar with the work of Mr. Starzomski’s group and welcomes their input.
The ministry said it is consulting with Indigenous leaders, local governments, industry groups and non-government associations, among others.
“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 statement said.