The British Columbia government is not doing enough to protect the province's biodiversity – and it does not even appear to have a clear understanding of what biodiversity is, a report by the provincial Auditor-General says.
John Doyle's review also found the government is not adequately measuring its progress and doesn't know if its actions have been effective in conserving the vast array of life in the province and the ecosystems that support them.
"British Columbia is Canada's most biologically diverse province; however, recent assessments have shown that many of its species and ecosystems are declining," Mr. Doyle wrote in the report released Thursday.
Despite decades of commitments to conservation, Mr. Doyle found the B.C. government has not fully implemented promised policies and tools.
There are gaps in legislation and a lack of information, he wrote.
"Habitat preservation is critical to the conservation of biodiversity and government's lack of implementation and monitoring is troubling," Mr. Doyle said in a statement.
"My office reviewed the government's habitat conservation efforts 20 years ago and many of the issues identified in that report were also identified in this audit."
Mr. Doyle made six recommendations, including a timeline for conservation actions and clear goals.
The provincial government should make a long-term commitment to track biodiversity in B.C., and use it to make informed decisions, the report said.
It also urged a review of legislation to address gaps and inconsistencies, and periodic public reporting of the actions taken.
The government responded in the report with a promise to streamline data collection and review legislation. The province will also implement a more comprehensive program for natural resource monitoring by 2014.
"As the report indicates, every jurisdiction in the world is challenged with issues of biodiversity conservation," said the government response contained in the report.
"Scientists are challenged to measure, monitor, and understand biodiversity; while governments work to manage in ways that balance economic growth, social interest and ecological integrity."
The government is in the midst of a shift from a ministry-by-ministry approach to a co-ordinated natural resource sector approach that will incorporate conservation objectives, it said.
Currently, 37 per cent of B.C.'s land base is covered by one or more conservation designations, the government said – a figure conservation groups call misleading.
The group West Coast Environmental Law issued its own report Thursday on the province's land and resource management, giving a failing grade.
While there are many forms of land-use designations that have been implemented over the years, only about 15 per cent of the land base is protected from most types of resource development, West Coast Law said.
"Most industries get a 'free ride' from land use plan requirements," said their report, which blames impotent legislation and a lack of enforcement.
Legislation in B.C. is riddled with exemptions and loopholes that put economic considerations before conservation, the group said.
"Already B.C. communities are grappling with water shortages, forest fires and the mountain pine beetle epidemic, underlining the need to evolve the way we manage our environment to take climate change into account as part of an integrated, strategic approach to managing cumulative effects," said the report.