MLA Column: Species at Risk, No Closer to Stand-alone Legislation

Living around the Salish Sea, we are all too familiar with the plight of the Southern Resident Killer Whales. We remember Tahlequah, the orca who carried her dead calf for nearly three weeks in August 2018. It sent a message that captured global attention.

The W̱SÁNEĆ people have a very close relationship with the orca whales. They have fished the waters of the Georgia Strait alongside one another for generations. Now these magnificent creatures are at risk of extinction and both the Canadian and U.S. governments have listed them as endangered.

The orca is just one of more than 1800 species at risk of extinction in British Columbia. While our province is the most bio-diverse in the country, we are only one of three provinces that does not have species at risk legislation.

Unfortunately, as we near the end of 2019, we are no closer to stand-alone legislation to protect the endangered species in the province. While the BC NDP government made the commitment to legislate protections for the most vulnerable species after the 2017 election, earlier this Spring they began backtracking. First, they announced they were pushing it to 2020 but now it is off the table with no clear timeline for introduction.

The B.C. Green Caucus believe that government needs to make comprehensive, evidence-based laws that protect species at risk of extinction. The evidence is overwhelming, time is running out and unfortunately the BC NDP government has lacked the urgency necessary to provide the much-needed protection.

In Question Period recently, I asked the Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development whether his government intends on expanding the wolf cull in British Columbia. Many caribou herds in our province are nearing extinction. Wolves are the predator of caribou. However, human intervention on the landscape, primarily through rapacious over-harvesting of forest lands, road-building, and oil and gas exploration, has altered the landscape and created predator highways to give wolves access to caribou they never previously had.

There is evidence that culling wolves can relieve the pressure on the caribou for the short-term. Over the medium and long-term, however, I do not think it's an effective solution because you have to keep killing wolves until they are all gone. In his response to me, the Minister put the blame solely on the predator and did not take any responsibility for the alterations to the landscape by his Ministry that created this problem in the first place. Instead of restricting our activities, the province's plan is to shoot wolves.

Same goes for the question my colleague Sonia Furstenau asked the following day. She queried the same Minister on the endangered white bark pine tree. Despite its listing as endangered by the federal government, and with more than 40% of the global population in British Columbia, our province has logged 19,000 cubic metres of the species. Again the Minister deflected. In response to Sonia's supplemental about endangered species legislation, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy pointed to a process to develop legislation that simply does not exist.

British Columbians are seeing the result in real time with habitat degradation and the collapse of ecosystems. It's true that the BC NDP inherited a mess. That is precisely why they are the government, because in 2017 things were a mess. Unfortunately, with respect to endangered species they are knowingly perpetuating the mess.

We must do everything we can to preserve biodiversity. Our children and grandchildren deserve our best effort and, unfortunately on this front, they are getting far less.

Adam Olsen, MLA Saanich North and the Islands

December 3, 2019 8:37 AM