Mr. Chair, thank you for this opportunity to discuss chapter 3, Conservation of Migratory Birds, of the commissioner's 2013 fall report. Joining me at the table is James McKenzie, the principal who was responsible for the audit.
Although we have not done an audit specifically on licensed hunting and trapping in Canada, our 2013 audit is relevant to this topic, given the important relationship between hunting and the conservation of waterfowl.
I should note that the work for this audit was completed in July 2013. We understand that, since the audit was released, actions have been taken by Environment Canada to further support bird conservation. However, we have not audited those actions.
I would like to start by providing a bit of background information about myself and how I plan to fulfill my mandate. As some of you may know, I have worked in the federal government, as well as in national and international nature conservation organizations, and in the mining industry. These past experiences have allowed me to understand the importance and benefits of bringing together different perspectives to the issues of environment and development. It is clear to me that a prosperous economy, a vibrant society and a healthy environment complement each other.
During my mandate, I intend to focus on the federal role in promoting sustainable, long-term development that meets the needs of current generations and does not compromise the ability of future generations to meet theirs.
With an economy, society and identity rooted in its natural resources, Canada has a long history of leadership in protecting natural landscapes—including forests, prairies and wetlands—as well as the species living there. Given Canada's vast geography and the range of species in our country—from fish and amphibians to birds, plants and large mammals such as caribou—protecting our natural heritage is an immense challenge.
When we looked at the conservation of migratory birds, we found that Environment Canada and its partners had achieved good results from their efforts to restore waterfowl populations through the North American waterfowl management plan. Implementing the plan has involved contributions from a wide variety of partners, including the hunting community.
Assessments of the North American waterfowl management plan indicate that it has played an important role in the recovery of waterfowl and in the protection of wetlands in Canada. Although challenges remain, such as the loss and degradation of wildlife habitat, many waterfowl populations have in fact increased. The plan's success shows how results can be achieved through partnerships, concerted efforts over the long term, and shared conservation objectives.
I am concerned, however, about the overall state of birds in Canada. Research indicates that some groups of birds, such as shorebirds, grassland birds, and insectivores, have declined by 40% to 60% since the 1970s. These would be birds that you might even recognize, such as the barn swallow, which we used to see in abundance and now we just don't see nearly as much.
Successful conservation requires not only partnerships but also conservation strategies that are informed by scientific research and monitoring. In our audit we found that Environment Canada had missed key deadlines for more than half of the bird conservation strategies the department was developing.
We have been informed by the department that all of these strategies have since been completed. The challenge now is to ensure their implementation. Declines in bird populations highlight the need for actions on these strategies.
Scientific research and monitoring of bird populations are important activities that can be used to track and guide the results of conservation actions.
In 2012, Environment Canada completed a scientific review of the bird monitoring programs it supported. The review found that most programs support the department's information needs. However, it also concluded that many information gaps exist. We found that the department was responding to the recommendations in the review, but that according to the department, significant new resources would be needed to address major gaps.
Before concluding, I'd like to draw the committee's attention to the results from the 2012 Canadian nature survey, which was released in 2014 and was led by Environment Canada in collaboration with provincial and territorial governments. I have a copy of it right here, and I think it will be very useful for your study. As noted in chapter 2 of the commissioner's 2013 fall report, the Canadian nature survey is an important initiative aimed at better understanding how Canadians interact with nature.
The results of this national survey, which was the first of its kind in Canada in over 15 years, indicate that approximately two million Canadians age 18 and older participate in hunting or trapping activities in Canada. The survey also indicates that $1.8 billion was spent on hunting and trapping in the 12 months before the survey was conducted.
These results are important because they point to the number of Canadians involved in hunting and trapping, who in addition to their contributions to the North American waterfowl management plan could be even further engaged in conservation activities. These conservation activities could be used to help Environment Canada address some of the challenges faced by the department and Canada as a whole in conserving Canada's wildlife.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening remarks.
We would be pleased to answer any questions the committee may have after you have heard from the department officials.
Thank you, Chair, and good morning.
I welcome this opportunity to speak today on the important study that your committee is planning on undertaking on the issue of hunting and trapping.
As a party to the Convention on Biological Diversity, Canada is committed to the conservation and sustainable use of biological resources. Within Canada, provinces and territories are generally responsible for wildlife management, including regulation and management of the hunting of big and small game species, and of trapping. The federal government is responsible for conservation and management of migratory birds.
Hunting and trapping continue to represent economic benefits to Canadian communities. Hunting, fishing, and trapping activities contribute approximately $14 billion to the Canadian economy each year. For example, about 70,000 people are directly employed by the Canadian fur trade. Approximately 60,000 active trappers in Canada, including 25,000 aboriginal people, are undertaking trapping activities. Hunting and trapping activities are particularly important to communities which may have limited employment opportunities, particularly aboriginal and remote communities.
In 1997 Canada reinforced its commitment to a sustainable and economically viable fur trade by signing the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards with Russia and the United States. The agreement outlines science-based standards for the trapping industry and applies to trapping for pest control, conservation, fur, and food. Over the past decade, approximately three million federal dollars have been invested in humane trapping standards related to research and testing of traps, and Canada has earned a reputation of being a leader in this field.
The importance of non-commercial trapping, hunting, and nature activities in general to the national economy and individual Canadians' quality of life is described in the 2012 Canadian nature survey which the commissioner just mentioned, which was undertaken on behalf of Canada's federal, provincial, and territorial government departments responsible for biodiversity. The nature survey found that approximately 8% of Canadians—that's 2.1 million adults—participate in hunting and trapping activities for non-commercial use, which on a per-capita basis is higher than the number in the United States. On average, each individual participating in these activities spends about $996 per year with a total Canadian adult direct spending on hunting and trapping of $1.8 billion per year.
The nature survey also found that Canadian adults who participated in nature conservation activities were three times more likely to participate in hunting, trapping, or fishing than those who did not participate in nature conservation. Of these 2.1 million Canadians who hunt and trap, approximately 175,000 purchase migratory game bird hunting permits to hunt waterfowl which, as mentioned, is an area of federal responsibility. Management of the hunting of migratory birds and elimination of commercial harvest were an important impetus to establishing the 1916 Migratory Birds Convention with the United States. Since that time, Canada and the United States have leveraged contributions and support of the hunting communities to manage harvest levels and to establish conservation programs such as the North American waterfowl management plan.
Since the establishment of the plan, over 8 million hectares of wetland and associated uplands have been permanently secured in Canada, while an additional 41 million hectares have been directly influenced through stewardship activities.
The success of the plan is due in large part to the contribution and support of the hunting communities in Canada, the U.S. and now in Mexico, which have been instrumental in securing habitats for waterfowl. This includes the active engagement of organizations such as Ducks Unlimited Canada and Delta Waterfowl Foundation.
Hunters and trappers play an important direct role in wildlife management. For example, special conservation measures, including spring hunts enacted for overabundant greater snow geese, halted and reversed the decline of their populations in Canada since the late 1990s. Hunters similarly played an important role in reversing the decline in the Atlantic population of Canada geese in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In response to hunter concerns about the sharp drop in Atlantic population Canada geese, wildlife managers completely closed the hunting season for this population until 1999. As a result of those restrictions, the Atlantic population of Canada geese has recovered and stabilized, and in fact, all hunting restrictions on the species were lifted in Canada in 2002. The harvest continues to be managed carefully, even though the population is now restored.
Trappers, anglers, and hunters represent some of Canada's most dedicated conservationists, contributing billions of dollars over the years to conservation projects across Canada through the purchase of tags, licences, and stamps in addition to countless hours spent in conservation efforts. For example, Canadian waterfowl hunters contribute to habitat conservation through the purchase of a Canadian wildlife habitat conservation stamp. Since 1984, hunters have provided over $50 million to fund habitat conservation projects through Wildlife Habitat Canada, which is the recipient of the stamp revenue.
The hunting and angling advisory panel was established in 2012 to provide inclusive and broad-based advice on a range of policies, programs, activities, and emerging issues related to conservation, hunting, trapping, and angling. In their recent presentation to federal, provincial, and territorial ministers, members of the panel articulated five issues where cooperation among jurisdictions would be important, some of which may be important for the study you are embarking on. The panel recommended pursuing reciprocal suspensions of hunting, angling, and trapping privileges; addressing chronic wasting disease; addressing invasive alien species; pursuing a national economic study on hunting, fishing, and trapping activities; and considering alternate sources of funding, such as excise taxes which are used in the United States to supplement current programs for fish and wildlife management in Canada.
Canada has a strong wildlife management system, one that is based on sound science. For Environment Canada this means recognizing the importance of monitoring and research relating to migratory bird populations to ensure that management decisions, including the establishment of harvest levels, regulations, and wildlife management, are responsible and consider the sustainability of the resource.
The recognition of the importance of wildlife conservation was recently confirmed through investment in the national conservation plan, a $252 million investment to conserve and restore Canada's natural environment for present and future generations. The national conservation plan, including its new national wetland conservation fund, builds on and complements long-standing partnership programs, such as the North American waterfowl management plan mentioned earlier.
In closing, pressures on wildlife continue to mount, with important decisions needing to be made about how to most appropriately manage the landscape in a way that is supportive of a strong economy while also supporting the needs of wildlife. Hunting and trapping is a way of life for many Canadians and is an important aspect of conservation in our country. Continued investment in efforts to support responsible hunting and trapping and recognizing the many values of this investment is crucial to all of us.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
As the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, I'm really interested in the concept of sustainable development.
When I look at the work that the commissioner's office has done in the past, I feel it's very much focused on the environment part of the three Venn diagram and less so on the other two parts, and how they integrate really well. When I look at the commissioner's office, I think, “Wow, we've really audited these guys almost to death”. We've been in Environment Canada many, many times, but we haven't really tried to figure out how to look at all three parts of the sustainable development equation.
This year we're launching a study on how to actually do that in the world of audit. I'm now in the world of audit and I have to figure out how to audit sustainable development. We can define it, but how do we actually audit it? We're going to be spending some time trying to figure out how to do that.
Unfortunately, because of my position, I can only talk about things that we have audited. We haven't audited the question that you asked me, so it's difficult to provide you with an answer, because I don't have any data in front of me.
Ms. Gelfand, hunting, trapping and biodiversity are interrelated. You mentioned that Canada is a party to the Convention on Biological Diversity, which we discussed during our study on the National Conservation Plan. At the time, a number of witnesses told us that we were nowhere near reaching the targets in terms of protection of biological diversity set for 2020.
I went over Canada's Fifth National Report to the Convention on Biological Diversity, which covers a number of interesting topics such as the change in the Arctic ecosystems, acidification of lakes, habitat loss, climate change, biological diversity, vulnerability, adaptation, and so on.
As commissioner, have you ever audited the work Environment Canada has done to reach the targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity? If not, do you plan on doing that eventually?
Thank you for your question.
With respect to the main estimates and species at risk, part of the funding we have for the species at risk program is what is referred to as sunsetting, so that decision is yet to be taken whether or not to renew the funds that would be sunsetted, but that depends on decisions yet to be made. That explains why the number looks lower compared to previous fiscal years.
With respect to our national wildlife areas and managing them, the key recommendation from the commissioner was to put in place management plans for our protected areas, and we're moving forward in doing that. We have a number of management plans that we've posted just in the last 12 months and a number more that are in the system and waiting to be posted. We're moving forward on putting the key document in place that will allow us to manage our national wildlife areas.
With respect to recovery strategies, yes, we are behind according to the SARA timelines. A few months ago, we posted a three-year plan to, hopefully, bring us up to speed, if you will, and ensure we have recovery strategies or management plans in place for all of the species that are listed. We are moving forward on those fronts that you mentioned.
Thank you for your question and I'll take a stab at it.
I think it is about the fundamental question around biodiversity conservation and in some ways my answer—and I hope it doesn't get too technical—relates a little to earlier questioning around climate change.
I was responsible for the boreal caribou recovery strategy. I think the nugget for all of us as Canadians in that strategy is that it speaks to scale. There are 51 boreal caribou populations. We need to work at the right scale and then within that scale manage habitat change over time. Climate change will change habitat, so we need to monitor and track and see how that habitat's changing. It also then applies to how we manage development in terms of what areas within a range can be conserved so that we do have sustainability of the resource, while at the same time having sustainable development.
As somebody who's been around conservation for almost four decades, one of the most significant changes I see in conservation is happening at the provincial and territorial level. The real levers for biodiversity conservation are held provincially and territorially, because they make land use decisions and natural resource management decisions. What I see is a beginning of a shift from working on a project-by-project basis to beginning to move to landscape scale considerations. I think the boreal caribou recovery strategy dovetails well with that kind of, I'm going to call it, evolutionary change that is happening in the provinces and territories with respect to natural resource management.
We have one jurisdiction that actually legislated a scale approach to sustainable development and conservation, and that's Alberta. The Alberta Land Stewardship Act divides that province into seven regions, and that jurisdiction is developing regional plans for the very purpose of sustainable development and conservation.
That's the answer to the question.
Thank you to all of you for being here today and giving us all of this very valuable information for our study.
I'd like to emphasize the national wetland conservation fund, because it's been such a boon to my riding of Mississauga South, and the local impact is massive. The announced last year, I think it was in May 2014, that we would invest in a national conservation plan to the tune of $252 million. Sometimes with the big announcements and big numbers, we don't realize what an impact on quality of life it will have on local communities and neighbourhoods, in particular, the wetland conservation fund that you mentioned. I guess one-fifth of that, $50 million, was for restoration of wetlands, which has affected my community positively, I think.
Thank you for mentioning Credit Valley Conservation. I work with them often, and they do a fantastic job in our area in Mississauga and throughout the Peel region on these kinds of programs. I believe they just celebrated their 60th anniversary of operating there.
I know that the wetland conservation program has invested $250,000 in the Rattray Marsh in Mississauga South, but I'm wondering if you could tell us a bit about some of the other programs in which that fund has invested during the first year.
There are a few other projects I didn't mention previously. The Squamish River Watershed Society is implementing a Squamish central estuary wetland restoration project. That's in B.C., on the Pacific coast.
We've already mentioned the North American waterfowl management plan. There's a habitat joint venture there that we call the Pacific Coast Joint Venture, and estuaries have been identified as one of the key habitats to conserve. There's an example of the national wetland conservation fund contributing to waterfowl conservation, hunting opportunities, and wildlife viewing opportunities.
Switching to the Atlantic coast and the Bluenose Coastal Action Foundation, the Petite Rivière watershed shale pit remediation and wetland expansion project is just another example of working to improve water and wetland quality. There will be in-stream work and post-restoration monitoring activities to ensure the effectiveness of the project.
Turning to an example in Quebec, la Fondation de la faune du Quebec is doing restoration of wetlands on private property, and that project is focused in the St. Lawrence and the Lac St-Jean agricultural plains areas. In many of our agricultural landscapes across Canada, wetlands have been lost. We have the most significant wetland loss, so there's an organization targeting agricultural systems to restore some wetlands.
Those are just three more examples.
I appreciate that. Thank you.
I want to read into the record a quotation from when the program was announced by the Ducks Unlimited Canada president, Mac Dunfield, who said:
An investment in wetlands is not only an investment in critical habitat for fish and wildlife, but it is also an investment in green community infrastructure, jobs for rural communities, a sustainable working landscape and in providing Canadians—especially young Canadians—with opportunities to connect with nature.
That's what Ducks Unlimited had to say about the program.
I see this on the ground, when I see the projects. In fact, it's particularly satisfying for me. There are, I think, four of us on this committee on the Conservative side today who were on the committee three and a half or four years ago when we studied the national conservation plan and what it would look like, and gave that report to the minister.
I'll point out three of the recommendations. One was the youth element of it, that the committee wanted the program to reflect that young Canadians are better off when they interact with nature; two, that it should have an economic component; and three, that it should include an urban component, as well. I represent an urban riding, as do many of my colleagues, and making sure constituents are able to connect with nature was an important element of the program for us.
Eight in the morning; that's going to be hard.
I'd like to keep going on this idea of habitat loss. I grew up in a riding very close to Ms. Moore's on the Ontario side. I'm a northern Ontario girl, and I started at the age of seven going out to the hunt camp with my stepdad. It was all about who got what moose tag when and how dumb the partridge were that you could hit them over the head with the butt of your gun. That's the world I come from. Also the world I come from is watching people dig up shoreline on the lakes so that they could have a nice place to put their boats and not even thinking about what that meant, or that behind our place there was a car graveyard where people dumped their cars. I don't even think that kind of action is the worst of it. We didn't know. We didn't have any sense of what it meant to be kind to the habitat and protect it. I can remember we'd skip this one area for hunting because it had been clear-cut and there weren't any animals there. It's that industrial development or forestry that you were talking about, Ms. Gelfand, mining and ATVs; I mean, we tore everything up. That's what the kids were allowed to do. We were allowed to go out on the ATVs without helmets. It was a different time, but we didn't know.
How do we slow these impacts? Part of it is information and education, absolutely. If we had known, maybe we wouldn't have dug up the shoreline, but I think it's more than that. I think it is about regulating what we do with habitat, monitoring, and enforcing those regulations.
Ms. Gelfand, you can comment as environment commissioner, or if you have any thoughts as well from your other work because you've been working on environment for a very long time.
That's a very generous—I'm sure too generous—comment, but thank you very much. I appreciate that.
I think it's a multipronged approach. With respect to habitat, just as with biodiversity itself, it's important to keep a diversity of tools to achieve the outcomes. I think government-protected areas at one end of the spectrum will always be important, but so is the other end of the spectrum with stewardship agreements, conservation agreements, and working cooperatively with landowners and land managers to achieve shared outcomes.
We were very actively engaged in those kinds of conversations with industry, with every industry sector in the context of the species at risk legislation and the section 11 conservation agreements. I think we would be better served if we can have agreement on shared outcomes, because then we don't have to worry so much about a big stick of regulation and so on.
It's very difficult, and I think provinces have learned this in their experience, to regulate private land management. When that is done, it needs to be done very carefully, very deliberately, with good engagement of those private land owners. We—the royal we, federally and provincially—probably can't regulate habitat protection to the extent to sufficiently conserve the biodiversity of species. We need those protected areas. There might be occasions when a regulatory approach to habitat protection is warranted on those private lands, provincial crown lands, or federal crown lands, but equally so is the softer agreement, if you will. I don't think we should confuse a softer contribution agreement under the habitat stewardship program, for example, as any less efficient in terms of achieving a conservation outcome.