PARTY AND CANDIDATE QUESTIONS FOR 2017 PROVINCIAL ELECTION
1. In terms of fish, wildlife and habitat, British Columbia is one of the most diverse jurisdictions in North America. At the same time, B.C. is one of the most under-funded jurisdictions in North America and has no dedicated funding model. Would you support increased funding for fish, wildlife and habitat (i.e. watershed, landscape) management? Yes/No/How?
Andrew Weaver - Green Party Leader Response;
Yes. To start, I think that it is vital that Provincial Government expenditures on renewable resource management be increased to – at the very least – match past funding trajectories as seen when funding was increasing steadily from 1975 to 1997. As Archibald et al., aptly note in their paper Trends in Renewable Resource Management in British Columbia, “decreases in funding and staffing weaken key management functions, place the province’s renewable natural resources at increasing risk, and jeopardize future social and economic opportunities.” Budgets for other government sectors like health, education, and social services have more than doubled since 1997, while funding for renewable resource management ministries (FLNRO, MOE) has decreased by over 50%. Also of great concern and importance is the decrease in number of government biologists and foresters.
Again to quote Archibald et al., “also evident is the diminishment (or loss) of key sustainability functions in government. For example, the research capacity within the ministries of Forests and Environment has been severely reduced, during a time when a better understanding is clearly needed to address issues such as the mitigation or management of both climate change and cumulative development impacts on the provincial land base.
These research programs were once key contributors to the credibility and public acceptance of the province’s management approach to forests, fish, wildlife, and parks.” In my opinion, the reduction in number of experts in government has left ministers vulnerable to lobbyist and special interests groups. In addition, there has been a reduction in the compliance and enforcement functions in the forest and environment ministries, and in resource stewardship monitoring and evaluation.
The significant de-funding of natural resource related ministries, while the provincial budget continues to increase, is a matter of priorities. At present, our natural resources and the wellbeing of our fish and wildlife – and the habitat they all depend on – are being unvalued and taken for granted. Protecting B.C.’s environment is not only vital from scientific and ethical perspectives, but economically as well.
Undercutting this sector will be substantially more costly in the long term, especially as climate change further unbalances vulnerable ecosystems. I don’t think there is any need for pay-for-use policies, and certainly no need for the corporate sponsorship deals gaining traction in the US (and threatening to come to provincial campgrounds under the B.C. Liberals), but a shifting prioritization of existing government funds (and budget surpluses) to reflect the value of our environment and the experts who can responsibly guide its management.
2. Fish, wildlife and habitat management in B.C. are currently objectiveless. Many fish and wildlife populations are in decline, and some are at record lows. Cumulative effects in parts of British Columbia from unsustainable resource extraction, invasive species, over-allocation of water resources, and road densities have left our landscape “in the red”. Do you support legislated objectives for habitat, fish and wildlife populations? Yes/No/Why? How would you achieve them?
Yes! As I write this my staff are drafting up an Endangered Species Act for B.C. to be tabled in the next legislative session. B.C. has the most biodiversity in Canada, it is also one of two provinces (the other being Alberta) that has no provincial endangered species legislation. Sadly, B.C. is the home of more than 1,500 species currently at risk of extirpation or extinction.
Given the myriad challenges facing wildlife in our province, one of the best things we can do to protect biodiversity in B.C. is to leave key habitat areas intact. As the global climate warms and precipitation patterns shift, having a complete ecosystem within which animals and plants can try to adapt will be essential, and frankly the least we can do given the dire situation many species are in.
Clearly, given the tragic number of species at risk of extinction in our province, this protection needs to be legislated and legally binding. Current guiding principles and regulations are not doing a good enough job – or perhaps, our current government is not doing a good enough job of following them, is more accurate.
We need fish, wildlife, and habitat management laws that have teeth so they can compete with industry for appropriate representation. Ontario has an Endangered Species Act which I have been looking at as a model for B.C., but it is not without its limitations.
Perhaps most notably, it is not proactive enough. It is more effective and economically sound to intervene before declining species are threatened with extirpation. By the time habitat is being parceled into “critical” for certain species, we have let the degradation go too far.
Critical for survival is a far cry from what species need to thrive and be resilient to change. We need landscape and watershed level planning, with population objectives tailored to specific ecosystems. A wider focus, beyond just species in decline, is more protective of biodiversity and would limit situations in which you have one population on the brink of extirpation being pitted against another. The cost of restricting industrial development in B.C.’s forests would be expensive in terms of lost revenue, for example, but it would save us having to micromanage every dwindling species. Which leads me to your next question…
3. Many mountain caribou populations are at a record low and moose populations are in significant decline in parts of B.C. Science has shown anthropogenic change as the leading cause, as wolf predation has become a major source of mortality. Do you support predator management as a part of sustainable science-based wildlife management?
I have always maintained that humans have a moral obligation to prevent endangered species from going extinct, but wildlife management conflicts in which species are pitted against one another are always challenging. For a variety of industrial, social, or budgeting excuses, they are often situations that have been allowed to escalate far past a point of simpler intervention, as referenced in question #2.
When you start rationalizing culling one species to protect another you also introduce an ethical element that needs to be considered alongside scientific findings. Is it justifiable to kill one animal in the name of saving another? Let one – or both – of those species become threatened or endangered and your situation becomes immensely worse.
Many ecosystems have been altered so drastically that we can no longer let nature take its course. If we don’t continue to intervene with the mountain caribou crisis we are currently facing in B.C., for example, it will not be long before the remaining herds in the South Selkirk and Peace regions are extirpated. Ideally, our wildlife management system would never let things get this bad. But it happened. And now we have no choice but to make tough decisions.
I am committed to evidence-based decision-making so when this issue arose last year I wrote to the Minister of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations to ask a number of questions regarding the rationale for the wolf cull in the South Selkirk Mountains and the South Peace region before taking a position. In response Minister Thompson sent me the supporting data that backed up their wolf cull. I read through it and agreed that with 18 caribou left we needed to take immediate and drastic action to ensure as many caribou as possible survived through another breeding season. There is supporting evidence that suggests, for certain situations, that dealing with predators is an appropriate wildlife management tool.
Wildlife management conflicts are incredible complex and important. It is critical they are not framed simplistically and that we remain open to evaluating each situation on the available data and scientific recommendations. Ethically, the wolf cull is a troubling response to an ecosystem out of balance. But from a management perspective, we need to focus on endangered mountain caribou and the logging/resource extraction practices that got them to where they are today. In this situation, habitat restoration is not enough. By the time the trees grow back the caribou will be gone.
There are very real consequences to allowing caribou herds to become extirpated. Two of the most profound of these being the societal acceptance of letting a species become locally extinct, a very troubling precedence I don’t want to see set, and the other being the subsequent logging of remaining stands of British Columbia’s old growth timber that are currently protected under SARA because of the caribou.
So, to answer your question more clearly, yes, I do accept that predator management is needed in certain situations. This is not an answer I have come to lightly, but rather one I have come to understand from many hours of discussions with scientists, including wildlife biologists who have expertise in the area, and an extensive literature review about endangered species management around the world. What this research and consultation has also taught me, unwaveringly, loud and clear, is the importance of proactively managing ecosystems so you are not forced into dire situations of one species being killed in the name of saving another. By the time a government is micromanaging a population a dozen strong and shooting predators from helicopters they have already failed.
4. First Nations negotiations in B.C. are ongoing. These negotiations are Government to Government with no public transparency or consultation. This approach is divisive and is creating significant uncertainty and externalities due to a lack of public involvement. Do you believe the public should be involved or consulted, related to negotiations? Yes/No/Why/How?
Yes. In Government to Government negotiations I would expect both parties to have consulted with the people they represent prior to their meetings. I would expect the First Nations representatives to have consulted with their nations so they can bring their concerns, recommendations, and goals to the table. And I would expect Provincial Government representatives to do the same, allowing for public input and proactive engagement with stakeholders.
5. Public access to public resources such as fish, wildlife, public roads, and campsites is a growing issue in British Columbia. For example, in 2015, government decided to award as much as 40 per cent of the wildlife allocation to guide-outfitters. Is public access to public resources, such as fishing, hunting, camping and hiking important to you? How will you deal with these issues?
Yes, this is very important to the BC Green Party. Also on the list of legislation I will table in the upcoming legislative session is a Right to Roam Act. As a starting point I have been referring to various laws in England and Wales, Scotland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and New Zealand that protect their citizen’s access to outdoor recreation. I will also be referencing Nova Scotia’s Angling Act that gives citizens the right to go upon land, river, stream, or lake by foot or boat for the purpose of lawfully fishing with a rod and line. Many jurisdictions around the world and in North America have found ways to fairly balance the property rights of landowners with the right of the public to access and enjoy nature, and I would like to see B.C. do the same.
As for access to camping, yes, that too is very important to the BC Greens. This past summer I was horrified to hear the provincial government’s endorsement of a campground booking system that excluded British Columbians from accessing public campgrounds and allowed private for-profit companies to compete with B.C. families. Government agencies have been entrusted by the public to manage our parks as a collective good so they can be preserved and maintained into the future. Instead they are managing them as if they were a nothing more than a commodity. The public is the owner, not the customer, and the current campground book and management system is excluding B.C. families from accessing their parks. It is too expensive and the reservation system should, at the very least, give British Columbians priority over travel companies.
Access to nature is incredibly important, not just because it is enjoyable, healthy, and an important way for British Columbians to connect with their loves ones – all wonderful aspects - but also because it is threatened. When citizens are connected and committed to their environment, they will stand up for it. Given the challenges in our future, I think that is vital, now more than ever.
Thank you for the thoughtful questions! If any of your members have comments or questions I’d be happy to hear from them.