The B.C. government is failing to protect biodiversity and often does not even know whether its actions are helping to safeguard species and ecosystems, says a report released Thursday by auditor general John Doyle.
The report says there are significant gaps in the government’s understanding of biodiversity, that the government does not know whether its actions are resulting in conservation of biodiversity, and that it is not adequately monitoring progress.
“This audit found that government is not doing enough to address [B.C.’s] loss of biodiversity,” Doyle said.
Biodiversity is crucial for life, but, B.C. ecosystems are declining and species are at risk of local extinction, the report says.
Laws have holes, barriers and inconsistencies that inhibit conservation, and, apart from parks and protected areas, legislation to conserve species and habitat “doesn’t apply equally to all industries,” the report says.
“Furthermore, despite the number of species considered endangered or vulnerable in B.C., few are actually protected under the province’s legislation.”
The conservation framework meant to set out priorities has not been updated since 2009 and the information it uses to create priorities is inadequate, Doyle writes.
“This brings into question whether the priorities that government have recommended are the right ones. Without an effective way to prioritize its conservation actions, government cannot demonstrate it is using its resources effectively or determine the success of its efforts.”
Some areas have never been surveyed for species distribution, and information from others is out of date. Doyle found that the government has not established wildlife habitat areas for 36 of the 85 species it identifies as being at risk from forest and range activities.
“Habitat preservation is critical to the conservation of biodiversity, and government’s lack of implementation and monitoring is troubling,” Doyle said Thursday.
His recommendations include:
n A long-term commitment to collecting information about biodiversity and using it to make informed decisions.
n Identify and address gaps, inconsistencies and barriers in legislation.
n Establish goals, priorities and timelines for habitat designation.
n Sufficient monitoring to assess effectiveness.
Environment Minister Terry Lake said the report was valuable, but looked only at the Conservation Framework and Forest and Range Practices Act.
“There’s always things you can learn from an auditor general’s report, but one concern is the limited scope,” he said, noting that 37 per cent of the land has some sort of protection.
However, Lake agreed more work needs to be done collecting information.
“There are 60,000 species in B.C., and it’s a herculean task to collect adequate data on all of those, but it’s something we are working on,” he said. “In 2013, we will streamline data collection and get a better idea of the inventory.”
Infinite resources could be spent, Lake said when asked if budget cuts have affected his ministry’s ability to do its job. “But we have to live within our means.”
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