Yes. Thank you very much, Chair, and good morning.
I would like to thank the honourable members of the committee for inviting the Invasive Species Centre here to speak today.
In 2011, the not-for-profit Invasive Species Centre, or ISC, was formed through a collaborative memorandum of understanding as a strategic initiative of the Canadian Forest Service, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, as a unique example of partnership and a Canadian hub for collaboration and knowledge sharing.
Our mission is to connect stakeholders, knowledge and technology to prevent and reduce the spread of invasive species in Canada. We are a bridging organization between research and research end-users, bringing knowledge to action. In the last two years alone, we have made over 170 policy impacts by risk assessments and best management practices; welcomed 10,000 people to consultations, training, and presentations; and have had a very strong digital presence.
As you know, insects are one of the most important disturbance agents in Canada's forests, and many of the worst are considered to be invasive.
A species is invasive if it is introduced outside of its native range and has potential negative impacts on ecology, economy or society in its introduced range. Invasive species introductions are regarded as the second greatest threat to global biodiversity, next to habitat loss. Forest pests are significant because of their dynamic nature and the substantial value of forest ecosystems to our environment, economy and society.
The introduction of an invasive forest pest can cause a decline in the biodiversity and health of a forest ecosystem but also a large reduction in wood fibre. This loss of trees can reduce habitat for native animals and insects, create canopy gaps altering the microclimate of the forest, and make that forest even more vulnerable to additional invasive species, overall reducing biodiversity. One of the greatest direct economic impacts of forest pest outbreaks is felt by the forestry sector through reduced wood supply or wood quality. This can significantly lower revenues for forest companies, impacting the economic strength of this sector, one of Canada's most important manufacturing sectors.
In many cases, outbreaks start in urban settings. The spread of invasive species is heavily influenced by human activity, following common shipping and trade routes. In urban settings, individual trees are valued for environmental and economic services and for their social and health benefits. TD Economics valued the trees in Toronto's urban forest alone at $7 billion, and that's about $700 per tree, and they calculated that they provide Torontonians with 80 million dollars' worth of environmental benefits and cost savings per year.
From 2016 to 2018, we at the Invasive Species Centre surveyed Ontario municipalities to assess their annual direct expenditures on invasive species management. Analysis and projection on this data indicates that Ontario municipalities alone are collectively spending $36.4 million per year, or an average of $380,000 per year per municipality. This is considered to be a conservative estimate and is focused on Ontario for the purpose of this study. Full impacts and expenditures would be much greater for Canada.
Since 2011, when the federal and provincial governments established the ISC, we have been working collaboratively with federal and provincial governments in improving invasive species outcomes in Canada, particularly with addressing gaps and reducing overlap. Along with our partners, we have shared and supported government objectives on forest pests and would like to highlight the following.
We've provided leadership and support to improve collaboration at the regional, species and pathways levels. We've conducted research on the firewood movement pathway in particular, for the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers' forest pest working group. We've conducted training for practitioners on hemlock woolly adelgid and oak wilt identification and preventative practices, two species that are of great concern to Canada, including hosting workshops, developing fact sheets, participating on advisory committees and engaging citizen scientists.
We contribute to policy solutions such as best management practices for firewood movement in partnership with the Canadian Council on Invasive Species. We have developed a “made in Ontario” risk assessment and early detection rapid response plan for mountain pine beetle that incorporates knowledge and experience from western Canada within the context of Ontario's forests.
We've brought detailed recommendations that came out of that risk assessment. My colleague David can highlight these in more detail as a case study during the question period, if you would like more information.
Ecological and socio-economic risk assessment research has been completed on forest pest species to support regulation under Ontario's Invasive Species Act. We've also improved response capacity and increased the state of the knowledge. We've developed a website, forestinvasives.ca, which is an online hub for information on invasive pests that threaten Canada's forests.
We've developed social media posts to stimulate discussion and get quick dissemination of information and pest alerts to the public. We've created a citizen science program—the Early Detection and Rapid Response Network Ontario—to engage community members to learn and respond to invasive species detection. We are very close to publishing an emerald ash borer manual for land managers in partnership with Natural Resources Canada. This will be a step-by-step guide from pre-invasion to post-invasion for municipalities, first nations and other land managers.
We've created an online database of invasive species risk assessments, which is the first multi-taxa, searchable public database of its kind in Canada. We provide insect diagnostic services for the Province of Ontario, and we verify findings to report to authorities. We've also worked with CFIA to integrate regulated area data into public interfaces, as well as targeted outreach on forest pests in high-risk areas, including the most recent Winnipeg emerald ash borer detection.
These successes can be attributed to intensive collaboration from a number of groups. Accomplishments have been considerable, but we still have significant work to do. Most species invasions follow a similar pattern, commonly referred to as the invasion curve, which compares time to area occupied, beginning from the first occurrence of a species in a new area. As time goes on, the invasive species spreads further into the environment, almost exponentially, until it becomes widely established on the landscape. If the species is detected early in the invasion curve—for example, a single infested tree—then it can be easily and quickly eradicated. However, if an invasive species becomes widespread and established at the landscape level, eradication is much less likely and very costly.
A 2009 report prepared for the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers concluded that Canada could have avoided a cost of $165 million annually by preventing the introduction and establishment of four high-profile invasive forest insects and diseases. The estimated average annual cost over the next 20 years is $34 million if just one additional invasive species were to become established in Canada. For every $1 spent on coordinated multi-jurisdictional prevention activities, $3 in mitigation, regulatory and depletion costs can be avoided if that pest is prevented from establishing.
With an expected increase in invasions and outbreaks in the future, we must focus on a state of preparedness. In terms of strategy, our recommended next steps include that the federal government, with the support of its partner network, scan the horizon and be proactive, preparing for future invasions rather than reacting to invasive species that are already present. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Future strategies and enhanced investments by the federal government should focus on the early stage of an invasion or outbreak, prevention and early detection. Early detection and a rapid sustained response to an invasive species are critical to reduce long-term economic, environmental and social impacts. A national fund that could be established by the federal government in collaboration with their provincial partners would mitigate costly delays and support response in an efficient way. The federal government could improve outcomes by increased investment and streamlining processes in existing partnerships and collaborative networks, both domestic and international.
The Invasive Species Centre was formed by government. It is well positioned as an organization rooted in science with the proven ability to facilitate collaboration and eliminate inefficiencies to implement these actions.
We look forward to working with all partners, both government and non-government, to address forest pest issues within Canada.
Emergency response effectiveness is one of the top ways we could look at doing that, perhaps the development of a national framework that would engage all these partners and actually assign leads. We have done an exercise with emergency response, implementing the incident command system in an outbreak situation, having people assigned to be in charge of the incident, people assigned to reach out to partners, that type of thing, setting that framework in advance.
With that might be the establishment of an emergency response fund so that it can be a very rapid response, so that the funding is there to access and doesn't require a lot of steps for approval. We certainly have that model as well for the mountain pine beetle in the case of Ontario. Possibly conduct and support exercises, go through a mock exercise of some of these types of responses to the different species that might be on the horizon. Then look to provide new tools for end-users, the biological control or the chemical control, or whatever research can be done with the federal government to provide some of those tools. In some cases, I know you're already doing that, with the emerald ash borer and things such as that. Another aspect is to make sure that the information is widely disseminated to the partners and that the partners are involved, and perhaps provide a mechanism to share those experiences.
Then I mentioned getting ahead of the threats by scanning the horizon, taking a role in coordinating some national studies and analysis and using a risk pathway analysis model, as we did for the firewood pathway, where you focus on how those pests are getting in. That was something we've done for firewood, and it can be done for other pathways. Perhaps you could look at allowing coordination of an information and data-sharing network so that everyone has access to the same information, and continuing to fund research and possibly partnering with organizations such as us to make sure that we can bridge that research to go out to the people who it needs to go out to.
The third thing would be to possibly engage with and fund provinces, industry and non-government associations to address the leading edge of the invasion, possibly a fund that could have other contributors as well. Industry might want to contribute, and there might be other organizations as well. Assess those high-risk stands near borders, using silvicultural practices to treat those high-risk stands and prepare in advance for that leading edge of the invasion, and adjust harvest accordingly there. In order to train those “eyes on the ground”, look at citizens science networks, keeping in mind that the provinces and the federal government don't have all the on-the-ground staff that we might need to help with early detection. Have the citizen scientists or the other groups on the ground and make sure they're well trained.
Communication is also a big piece. That's something we're very strong at, but just enable Canadians to help reduce the risk of spreading invasive species by high-risk pathways, human pathways such as carrying firewood. Ingrain positive behaviour into the societal norm.
It depends on what the species is and who has regulated it, if it's regulated. In some cases, species are regulated federally under the CFIA, so the emerald ash borer would be one.
In other cases, it may not be federally regulated and the province may be responsible through their forest health program to respond. The Province of Ontario is the only province that has a stand-alone piece of legislation, so it may be regulated under that piece of legislation in that case. I think it's a multi-level government response, and I know that even in cases of regulated species, the provinces are still engaged quite actively as far as monitoring goes through their forest health program.
In other cases, say, with the Asian carp, for example, Fisheries and Oceans would be involved. We come in on that process, not necessarily in a legislated capacity but to help with communication and outreach and, in some cases, engaging our citizen science network to help with monitoring and things like that. For example, in Thunder Bay, I think it was, when EAB, emerald ash borer, was identified there, we engaged our network to go out and do some tree surveying.
This was part of the case study that we had looked into, doing a risk assessment process and then making some recommendations to the Province of Ontario and in eastern Canada to prepare for the potential invasion of the mountain pine beetle.
We have a number of recommendations. Some of them are regulatory, so Ontario, as a province, could consider regulating the mountain pine beetle as a pest, or regulating the pathway—the introduction of firewood or logs with bark that might be bringing the beetle into Ontario.
Also, it could consider a lot of collaboration with the western provinces. All the on-the-ground action is happening in Alberta along the Alberta-Saskatchewan border, so Ontario could contribute to that financially to slow the spread coming east. It could be in-kind support, sending staff that way to get the training, to recognize the insect and how it spreads, and gain our expertise in eastern Canada.
Research is another key thing that shouldn't be forgotten. The federal government has done some amazing research on the mountain pine beetle already, but there are opportunities to do more research in figuring out how the mountain pine beetle might behave in the Ontario environment. It's never been here before so apart from taking the pine beetles and putting them in Ontario, which I don't think anyone wants to do, it's a challenge to figure out how they will actually behave. There is climate modelling that should be done. There is looking at the types of forests we have and the connectivity of the forests to figure out if the mountain pine beetles could actually establish and sustain themselves here.
Again, there's public outreach, and connecting to communities, especially in northwestern Ontario, which might be at the front line of the mountain pine beetle coming into Ontario. It might be first nation communities and it might be the forest industry in northwestern Ontario, and training them on mountain pine beetle identification and getting more eyes on the ground to detect it early if it does arrive.
I'll use invasive forest pests as an example, since that's why we're here. We have an insect diagnostician on staff at the ISC. If the citizen is out in the environment and find what they think is a potential sighting, we encourage them to report that through the EDDMapS tool. If not, it can come directly to us.
That would go in. It would come to our diagnostician with either a photo or an actual sample. If he's able to diagnose it from that, we then inform the regulatory people who would need to be involved. That might be the provincial forest health team, it might be CFIA or it might be CFS. It depends on what the species is.
From there, we would be involved in helping CFIA respond, or in this case, we helped CFIA respond with their survey. We would engage the municipality along the way as well. That's the process we take for forest pests.
Our partner, the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, actually has people on staff who do verifications of all the reports that come in through their online tool. If it's a report of an Asian carp, it goes to DFO. They have different folks who identify those.
We all have a process delineated so that it goes to the right authorities to be able to respond. It's very quick.
The final step is that once the regulatory authorities are ready to get the information out to the public, we're able to do so very quickly. We have pest alert functions on our forest invasives website where we can send that information, that bulletin, very quickly so that all the networks are on the lookout for that species.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to be here today. I will make opening remarks and we will both be available for questions.
The protected areas establishment and conservation branch oversees important national programs, including the establishment of new national parks and reserves, ecological integrity monitoring, species-at-risk recovery, ecological restoration and fire management.
Parks Canada's mandate is to protect and present nationally significant examples of Canada's natural and cultural heritage and to foster public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment in ways that ensure their ecological and commemorative integrity for future and present generations.
The area of land currently protected in Canada's 46 national parks and reserves stands at about 328,000 square kilometres, covering representative samples of the wide variety of natural landscapes that characterize Canada, including many types of forests.
Parks Canada's priority in managing national parks is clearly stated in the Canada National Parks Act, as follows:
||Maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity, through the protection of natural resources and natural processes, shall be the first priority...when considering all aspects of the management of parks.
Forest ecosystem management in national parks aims to maintain ecological services and processes while mitigating major risks from natural catastrophes, such as wildfire, to park visitors, staff, infrastructure and surrounding communities. For instance, many parks use prescribed burns to reduce fuel load and promote forest diversity.
Forest pests, both native and exotic to Canada, are occurring in national parks and reserves throughout the country. Native pests include the mountain pine beetle and the eastern spruce budworm, while exotic pests include the emerald ash borer and the white pine blister rust. Forest health and pests are monitored in national parks by partnering with the Canadian Forest Service, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and provincial agencies. The Canadian Forest Service has the national lead for providing expertise in forest pests.
Our agency's general approach to native forest pests is premised on the fact that native insect outbreaks are part of the natural cycle of forests and contribute to forest renewal and diversity, especially in boreal regions. By managing to maintain a forest cover made of various species and age classes, we think parks will be resilient to insect outbreaks and slow their speed. Parks Canada's approach to native forest pests in national parks and reserves is guided by three policies contained in our guiding principles and operating policies.
The first states:
||National park ecosystems will be managed with minimal interference to natural processes. However, active management may be allowed when the structure or function of an ecosystem has been seriously altered and manipulation is the only possible alternative to restore ecological integrity.
The second states:
||Provided that park ecosystems will not be impaired, the manipulation of naturally occurring processes such as fire, insects and disease may take place when no reasonable alternative exists and when monitoring has demonstrated, that without limited intervention:
||i) there will be serious adverse effects on neighbouring lands; or
||ii) major park facilities, public health or safety will be threatened; or
||iii) the objectives of a park management plan prescribing how certain natural features or cultural resources are to be maintained cannot be achieved.
The third policy statement says:
||Where manipulation is necessary it will be based on scientific research, use techniques that duplicate natural processes as closely as possible, and be carefully monitored.
Speaking specifically about the mountain pine beetle, it's a naturally occurring forest insect in western Canada that attacks mainly lodgepole pine. The outbreak has spread to the Banff, Kootenay and Yoho national parks, where the beetle population is now stabilized, and to Jasper National Park, where the population is still growing.
Parks Canada has worked with governmental and industry partners to slow the spread of the insect and mitigate its impacts on parklands and beyond. In Jasper National Park—1.1 million hectares—the outbreak is part of the beetle migration into northwest Alberta from British Columbia that began in 2006. The infestation migrated across the Rocky Mountains, reaching into the Grande Prairie-Peace River area in 2005, north of Jasper, and made its way east and south. About 93,000 hectares of the park's 200,000-hectare pine forests are affected.
The beetle infestation has continued to move on and is now into forests near Hinton, Edson and the Lac La Biche area of northern Alberta. It is a regional challenge, and Jasper National Park is just one of the many jurisdictions impacted by it.
The presence of a large number of dead and dying trees is thought to increase the risk of wildfire in the national park and surrounding area, and this has been partially supported by the observation that in 2017 in British Columbia about one-third of the forest fires were occurring in the dead stands. A mountain pine beetle working group was formed in 2015 by Parks Canada, NRCan, the Canadian Forest Service and the Government of Alberta, through Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, to work together on surveillance and action planning.
With help from the Canadian Forest Service and Alberta, Parks Canada completed and approved a mountain pine beetle management plan for Jasper National Park in 2016. The plan outlines goals and measures to be taken to maintain the park's ecological integrity; slow or limit the spread of the mountain pine beetle, both through the park and into adjacent lands; ensure the safety of visitors and residents of Jasper; and educate visitors on mountain pine beetle occurrence and issues related to national park conservation.
Implementing the plan involves prescribed burns, single and multi-tree removal, and patch removal using mechanical harvesting equipment, which then supports prescribed burns in the community for protection.
Parks Canada has been managing wildfires in Jasper for more than 100 years, and continually improves and refines its approach. For the last 30 years it's been working to put fire back on the landscape to improve ecological integrity and to help manage the frequency and severity of wildfire.
For the past 15 years, Jasper National Park has been a leader in the application of fire-smart practices and fuel reduction around townsites and other high-use areas. It's also mitigating the impact of mountain pine beetle on whitebark pine, an endangered species. In that case we're using pheromones to protect individual trees from the beetle, prescribed fire and thinning are done to reduce competition and wildfire risk, and many thousands of seedlings have been planted or successfully established since 2013.
In terms of other forest pests, outbreaks are also affecting national parks elsewhere in the country. For instance, eastern spruce budworm outbreaks occur regularly in the boreal, Great Lakes and Acadian forests of Canada. A natural disturbance, they're an integral part of the forest ecosystem.
Since 2006, the populations of spruce budworm in Quebec have increased steadily, reaching about seven million hectares in 2017. The outbreak in the lower St. Lawrence in Quebec spread to nearby northern New Brunswick in 2016 through massive moth migration events, and reached the Miramichi in 2017. We believe it's just a matter of time before the outbreak reaches Kouchibouguac National Park and possibly Fundy National Park.
The Government of New Brunswick is using early-control strategies consisting of a spray program combining insecticide, insect growth regulators and sex pheromones for mating disruption, and a representative of the New Brunswick Department of Energy and Resources consulted with the park on manners related to Kouchibouguac. The spruce budworm population will be monitored in the park, and management options will be examined if it becomes a source of infestation.
Many national parks are also confronted with non-native, exotic forest pests such as the emerald ash borer. This wood-boring beetle, native to Asia, feeds on and kills all emerald ash species native to Canada. Infestations now exist in much of southern Quebec and southern Ontario. The beetles have also reached Winnipeg to the west and Edmundston to the east.
The current area of the emerald ash borer infestation includes national parks in Ontario, as well as national historic sites and canals and waterways in Ontario and Quebec. In those cases, individual parks are working with partners to slow the spread and manage its impact through education, outreach and monitoring, as well as by treating individual trees with systemic insecticides and removing hazard trees.
In conclusion, Parks Canada's approach will be guided by our mandate policies and procedures, and we'll continue to work with all other relevant jurisdictions in our management of forest pests in national parks.
I'll start and allow Gilles to add.
We work in co-operation with several partners who really are leading some of the monitoring on that. As was stated, we have developed a mountain pine beetle management plan for the park that involves several specific objectives related to the mountain pine beetle.
First, we're using prescribed fire. Where we have looked at and analyzed the forest stand structure and we know there's a more diverse forest stand—not all mature and old, but a more natural distribution of forest age—we're using fire as our number one tool to increase ecological integrity and manage the stand.
Prescribed burns are planned in several areas. To give you a few examples of those, one big area is the Fiddle five complex. The aim there is that it's a multi-year program to use prescribed burn in order to bring the stand age to a more normal distribution, which would then give the forest more resilience and enable it to withstand the bug infestation. That's one tool. It's really focused in the Athabasca Valley.
We're also doing what we call “level 1” treatments, which are single-stand removals of infected trees. Again, we're looking specifically at leading edges of certain zones. The analysis that's being done is really looking at where the minimum effort can achieve the greatest result for managing the species. Using mapping and various tools, those interventions are being made in specific areas.
The third is a broader patch removal using mechanized equipment. The use of that particular method is somewhat limited by the geography of the area. Where we can do that, often adjacent to towns and things like that, we are taking those actions.
One of the challenges we face now is that with the past practice of forest suppression, using fire as a natural way to manage does challenge us, because forest fuels are quite high. We're often employing a two-stage effect, where we're doing some mechanical removal to reduce the risk of fire so that we can then move in and use fire on the landscape. Sometimes it's a single treatment, and sometimes it will be multiple.
It's great to see some Parks Canada folks here.
I represent a rural area in central Alberta. I used to represent the riding of Wetaskiwin, which reached out to almost Rocky Mountain House and so on, so I'm fairly familiar with the eastern slopes and the Rocky Mountain national parks. I was a former park warden in Jasper.
I'm very curious to find out some of the places that are being prescribed for burns.
This is not a witch hunt, in any way, shape or form, to place blame. However, if my memory serves me correctly, the original source of the outbreak of the mountain pine beetle, which goes back some 10 or 15 years, was in a provincial park in British Columbia. It might have been Tweedsmuir. Because the decision of the day was to not control but to let processes take their part, the infestation has since spread across British Columbia, in through mountain national parks, and is now wreaking havoc in monoculture stands in the Alberta forests.
Has any significant change been made to Parks Canada's policies that would allow for more proactive, active or earlier intervention in these cases? What happens if the next outbreak happens to be in Riding Mountain National Park? Once it gets done spreading across northern Saskatchewan, the first place in Manitoba might happen to be Riding Mountain National Park. If that's the only place we have to head it off at the pass, is Parks Canada policy going to be strong enough to make sure it doesn't spread to the rest of the forest across northern Manitoba?
What I will say is that we have a very strong.... On average, we're investing about $7 million a year in forest fire management. When we have a high fire year, a lot more resources come into the agency, but within that budget we have prescribed fire burns for the agency across the country. That's happening on an annual basis. Obviously, the plan is being adjusted according to different natural factors, like if it's too hot or too cold. There are obviously set conditions for doing a prescribed burn. Each year a significant amount of planning goes into what the prescribed burns will be. It is one of our best tools in managing for ecological integrity in our parks.
We've been very successful over the last two decades with bringing fire back into the landscape. We do have a history of fire suppression that goes far back, but that has really significantly changed for the agency.
In terms of our ability to manage fire on the landscape, as Gilles alluded to, we've done prescribed burns in St. Lawrence Islands National Park adjacent to community sites. We have the technical expertise, as well as the support of other agencies, as required, to deliver on that fire management. It is one of the tools we use in our tool box. Each site and each place has ongoing monitoring of set indicators so that we can report on the state of our places. As part of the active management of those places, fire is used where appropriate as a tool.
We have done a fair bit of work over the last years to understand our various parks and the natural processes that should be functioning within them. Understanding forest fire cycles over time is a big part of that. Grasslands, obviously, they'll burn at a much lower intensity but higher frequency than a boreal forest. Understanding that allows us to make those decisions. It is really an integral part of our tool box now. It is not anything that we hesitate to use under the right conditions.
Around our use of fire there is a lot of communication and education programs that we do with local communities and others, so that there is a high degree and comfort and understanding about the role of fire in a natural landscape. We wouldn't burn an area without a lot of consultation and communication with local residents, but it is without question one of the tools we use, where appropriate, for managing for ecological integrity.