Environment minister met by protesters as she announces conservation funding

Canada's minister of environment and climate change was in Oak Bay on Monday to announce federal funding for 49 conservation projects across the country, including three on Vancouver Island.

The funding is part of a $4.3-million investment by the Liberal government over the next three years to support community work to protect endangered and at risk species.

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Environment Minister Catherine McKenna announced $108,000 in funding to the District of Oak Bay to help the municipality protect 14 at-risk species — including bearded owl-clover, Kellogg’s rush and water-plantain buttercup — found in Uplands Park. The funding will support the district’s efforts to remove invasive plant species, install fencing around sensitive areas and address the impacts of recreation in the park.

“We need to be supporting important conservation work that communities are doing,” McKenna said.

The funding will also support work on Denman and Hornby islands to protect a rare species of butterfly known as the Taylor's checkerspot, and fund habitat recovery for endangered plants in the Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve.

McKenna also announced the designation of Uplands Park as a national historic site.

“When we designate national historic sites, it’s to recognize the incredible history here, the original landscape and, of course, the First Nation histories,” she said. Uplands Park exists on the traditional territory of the Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations.

McKenna’s announcement was punctuated with shouts from protesters representing Extinction Rebellion, an international environmental activist group started in the United Kingdom that has held protests around the world to call attention to the climate crisis.

Standing in front of an inflatable orca, protesters held a large banner that read: “Rebel for Life.” They interrupted the minister’s announcement periodically to express disapproval of the federal government’s decision to move ahead with an expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline.

Eric Pittman of Canadian Orca Rescue Society was among the protesters. He said while he was glad to hear some good news coming from the minister, he wanted to highlight the detrimental impact the pipeline expansion will have on local orca populations due to increased traffic through the Salish Sea.

Howard Breen of Extinction Rebellion stepped up to the microphone Monday before McKenna arrived, calling the minister and the federal government “climate criminals.”

“When the planet is on fire, you don’t talk,” he said. “The time for talking is over.

“This election has to be the turning point. Anything less than that is a death sentence to the Global South.”

Breen said he planned to make a citizen’s arrest of McKenna. Oak Bay police officers escorted Breen away from the podium as the minister arrived, and arrested him. He has since been released.

McKenna acknowledged the protesters and said she appreciated their passion.

“I care greatly about tackling climate change. So does our government,” she said. “I think it’s important that we all work together.”

She criticized the Conservative Party’s stance on climate change, saying its leaders want to set the country back in time, and calling the upcoming federal election critical.

“We need to move forward. We need to be serious,” she said. “Climate change is real. It’s manmade. We’re seeing impacts, including significant coastal erosion, and we need to be taking action.”

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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