Evidence for Democracy has launched a new feature: the Network of Experts Panel, where we bring the opinions of professionals in the network to the public on critical issues. For the first edition of our panel, we asked experts in conservation biology to comment on the federal government's 2014 National Conservation Plan (the announcement can be found here, and some journalist criticism of the plan here).
We asked them:
“What, in your view, is significantly effective or missing from the Government of Canada’s first-ever National Conservation Plan?”
Shawn J. Leroux, Assistant Professor of Biology at Memorial University of Newfoundland, member of the Canadian BEACONs project that works on conservation planning for Canada's boreal region.
The Government of Canada’s National Conservation Plan is based on three priority areas i) conservation of lands and waters, ii) restoration of ecosystems, and iii) development of community stewards. A plan meant to achieve these pillars would be an effective tool to help Canada meet the proposed 2020 Biodiversity Goals and Targets set out by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. The current plan, however, seeks to achieve these priorities incompletely by focusing its attention in and near urban areas. As outlined, this plan overlooks the majority of Canada’s lands and waters and therefore is not an effective National strategy. The Canadian boreal region covers over half of Canada’s land area and extends from Newfoundland to the Yukon Territory. The Canadian boreal region is one of the World’s few remaining wilderness areas and it has been recognized as a global conservation priority because its forests, wetlands, lakes, and rivers: 1. provide many ecosystem services such as nitrogen fixation and water filtration which are essential for the production of food and freshwater, 2. support over one-third of the breeding populations of North American migratory land birds and a large number of migratory waterfowl, 3. sustain the largest caribou herds in the World, 4. sequester carbon which helps to mitigate climate change and 5. serve as reference points to assess the health of ecosystems. A National Conservation Plan must engage with local communities and industries and include the vast lands and waters of the Canadian boreal region and other regions far from urban areas.
Yolanda Wiersma, Associate Professor in Landscape Ecology at Memorial University of Newfoundland
We can’t run an experiment to test the effectiveness of the National Conservation Plan (NCP) with two replicate units of Canada – one adhering to the new conservation plan and one without and see how natural systems look a decade or several from now. Instead, we have to evaluate this plan based on current evidence. The NCP has been criticized for being too focused on built-up areas. However, ecologists tell us that the majority of Canada’s biodiversity, species-at-risk, and sensitive habitats are in the south of the country where most of us also live. It is unrealistic to expect a significantly-sized national park here. Research has shown that existing southern parks are not large or intact enough to effectively conserve biodiversity. Thus, co-operation with private landowners and municipalities is necessary. The NCP includes a substantial commitment to the Nature Conservancy of Canada, which is devoted to best-available science to work with private landowners. If the funding committed is sufficient, the NCP could be effective at addressing conservation issues in and around urban areas. Wilderness conservation is not well-addressed in the NCP (although northern landscapes are over-represented in protected areas). Rather than quibbling over whether a plan focused on urban regions should be called “national” scientists should address the omissions within the NCP, most important of which is the lack of detail on specific strategies to work with partners to meet stated goals.
E4D would like to thank both Dr. Wiersma and Dr. Leroux for their contribution, and helping advance informed discussions around public policy.