Most Canadians have never been to the North, much less the remote Peel watershed, but many are enchanted by it, nourished even by the idea that we still have vast, unspoiled natural areas where wildlife and biodiversity continue to evade the touch of humankind. Places like the Peel are becoming increasingly rare as humans -- the most demanding species ever to live -- continue to erode the intact wilderness on which we depend for clean air, water and food.
Stretching from Alaska to Labrador, the Boreal has more intact forest than the Amazon and nearly twice as much carbon in storage as tropical forests. It is a crowning jewel at the top of the globe. Preserving it now will make bird species more resilient as they face climate change and habitat loss along their migration routes south.
To prevent the destruction of their hunting grounds, the remote hamlet of Clyde River in Nunavut and the Nammautaq Hunters and Trappers Organization appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, which agreed to hear the case later this year. This case is in an isolated region. But the threat of massive development in yet another traditional territory is not an isolated case.
Industrial activity has profoundly affected the Blueberry River First Nations in northern B.C. In much of the territory, which once supported healthy moose and caribou populations, it's difficult if not impossible to walk half a kilometre before hitting a road, seismic line or other industrial infrastructure.
Three years ago, the eastern monarch butterfly population plummeted to 35 million, a drop of more than 95 per cent since the 1990s. More than a billion milkweed plants, which monarchs depend on for survival, had been lost throughout the butterfly's migratory range -- from overwintering sites in Mexico to summer habitat in Canada. A lot has changed in three years, but there's still more work to do if we're to save the ailing monarch population.
On the first day of February 2006, a landmark agreement that has been called "one of the most visionary forest conservation plans on Earth" was inked by First Nations elders, the provincial government and environmentalists. Eighty five per cent of the Great Bear Rainforest -- at 3.1 million hectares, an area roughly twice the size of Vancouver Island -- is permanently off limits to logging.
Under no net loss, the loss of one acre of habitat displaced by development is replaced with one acre of the same habitat. In theory, we should end up with the same features and functions as we had before, and have no loss. Unfortunately, no net loss rarely works this way.
Every year my spirit alternatively soars and then sinks as one to three billion birds migrate to Canada's boreal region to breed and then depart with two billion young for their southern wintering grounds. Each year I wonder, who will survive the journey south and who will come back next spring?
B.C. will continue to kill wolves for at least a decade in an attempt to save endangered caribou according to government documents released this week -- but new research re-confirms that caribou declines are primarily caused by industrial development.
Watching grizzly bears catch and eat salmon as they swim upstream to spawn is an unforgettable experience. Many people love to view the wild drama. Some record it with photos or video. But a few want to kill the iconic animals -- not to eat, just to put their heads on a wall or coats on a floor.
Although the conservation challenge is daunting, nurturing functioning ecosystems offers hope. Healthy oceans ensure we can continue to enjoy seafood -- and they're more resilient to increasing human impacts. If the global fishing industry wants to ensure its survival, it should advocate for marine ecosystem conservation.
Of 345 species at risk in Canada, more than 160 have waited far too long for recovery strategies. Thanks to a recent federal court decision, four luckier ones are finally getting overdue plans detailing steps needed to save and protect them. But court victories are just a start. It will take political will to ensure species and their habitats get the protection they need.
There is a fundamental flaw in the current environmental assessment process: It focuses on each proposed development as something that stands alone. But an individual well or dam is not separate or isolated from its surroundings -- air, water, plants and animals pay no attention to our imposed, artificial boundaries. We can't anticipate long-term consequences of any major technology if we are ignorant of how the world works, yet the consequences persevere.
The protection of at-risk species, once maintained so well by our government, has taken a backseat to business development. Now when habitat needs to be protected to ensure the survival of a species, government and industry often balk and backpedal. This signals a failure to understand that we depend on nature for our well-being and survival.