The B.C. government accepts the recommendations contained in an audit report released today by the Office of the Auditor General titled "Audit of Biodiversity in B.C.: Assessing the Effectiveness of Key Tools".
The recommendations highlight many of the issues all jurisdictions are challenged with when managing to conserve biodiversity, and, as indicated in government's formal response to the audit, B.C. is committed to improving its management on a number of fronts.
The B.C. government recognized that effectively managing to conserve biodiversity in the 21st century required a fundamental shift to how natural resources are managed in this province. Government is in the process of implementing a shift from a ministry-by-ministry approach to a co-ordinated, natural resource sector approach that will incorporate biodiversity objectives - along with other social, economic and environmental objectives - into all natural resource decisions.
This new "One Land Base, One Land Manager" approach includes leading-edge measures:
- To assess the cumulative effects of resource development.
- To implement new ways of mitigating the effects of development on the Province's environmental values.
- To further protect and recover B.C.'s species at risk.
- To more effectively report on environmental conditions to the public.
The audit report focuses only on habitat protection measures under the Forest and Range Practices Act and the Conservation Framework. Not assessed in the audit are the many other measures already in place in B.C. to help conserve biodiversity, including:
- Extensive external partnerships with conservation organizations and local governments.
- Extensive collaborative funding efforts with natural resource users (e.g., BC Hydro Compensation Program and the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation).
- Extensive best-management practices for development, including the recently updated "Develop with Care 2012: Environmental Guidelines for Urban and Rural Land Development in British Columbia".
- Various land-use plans, including the recently completed Kaska Dena Strategic Land Use Planning Agreement.
- The ecosystem-based management approach on the Central and North Coast.
- Various third-party certifications of B.C.'s sustainable natural resource products, such as marine fisheries and forest products,
- Invasive alien species management in collaboration with the Invasive Species Council of B.C.
- Development of species management plans, including recent plans for northern caribou and coastal northern goshawk.
Government will also be co-ordinating with BC Parks, and their ongoing efforts, in response to the Office of the Auditor General's 2010 report on "Conservation of Ecological Integrity in B.C. Parks and Protected Areas". This work has seen revisions to BC Parks' land acquisition criteria, ensuring ecological values are appropriately represented in new land acquisitions, as well as a variety of ongoing operational and policy initiatives to further enhance the conservation of ecological integrity within British Columbia's parks and protected areas.
Currently, 37 per cent of B.C.'s land base has one or more biodiversity conservation designations associated with it. Examples of these designations include Ecological Reserves, Parks, Conservation Lands, Wildlife Habitat Areas, Ungulate Winter Ranges, Special Conservation Areas and other conservation areas.
Ministry of Environment
A backgrounder follows.
The following is the text of the Province's response provided to the Office of the Auditor General regarding the biodiversity audit to be included in the final report.
Section 1: Overall comments
The ministries of Environment and Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations appreciate the efforts of the Office of the Auditor General of British Columbia (OAGBC) in their "Audit of Biodiversity in B.C.: Assessing the Effectiveness of Key Tools."
As the report indicates, every jurisdiction in the world is challenged with issues of biodiversity conservation. Scientists are challenged to measure, monitor, and understand biodiversity; while governments work to manage in ways that balance economic growth, social interest, and ecological integrity. The laws, tools, policies, and programs required to manage biodiversity are, like the system itself, necessarily complex and multifaceted.
Currently, 37 per cent of British Columbia's land-base has one or more biodiversity conservation designations associated with it. Examples of these designations include ecological reserves, parks, conservation lands, wildlife habitat areas, ungulate winter eanges, and special conservation areas. The level of conservation varies with each of these designations, but government is looking at the performance of these areas to better inform future decisions and incorporate climate-change mitigation and adaptation.
The Province recognized that effectively managing to conserve biodiversity in the 21st century required a fundamental shift to how natural resources are managed in B.C. Government is now in the process of implementing a shift from a ministry-by-ministry approach to a co-ordinated, natural resource sector approach that will incorporate biodiversity objectives (along with other social, economic, and environmental objectives) into all natural resource decisions.
This new "One Land Base, One Land Manager" approach includes leading-edge measures to assess the cumulative effects of development on B.C,'s social, environmental, and economic values; to explore new ways of mitigating the effects of development on our environmental values; to further protect and recover species at risk; and to more effectively report on environmental condition to the public.
Conservation of biodiversity is a key mandate of the natural resource sector. This audit and its recommendations will help support ongoing efforts to manage and conserve British Columbia's biodiversity and will be co-ordinated with the ongoing efforts of BC Parks in response to the OAGBC audit on Conservation of Ecological Integrity in B.C. Parks and Protected Areas. That work has seen revisions to BC Parks' land acquisition criteria, which ensures that ecological values are appropriately represented in new land acquisitions, as well as a variety of ongoing operational and policy initiatives to further enhance the conservation of ecological integrity within B.C.'s Parks and Protected Areas.
Section 2: Brief response to each recommendation
Recommendation 1: Make a long-term commitment to collect sufficient and reliable information about the status of biodiversity in B.C. and apply this information to make informed decisions about the conservation of biodiversity.
Government recognizes the high value of additional information, but also recognizes that field-data collection is increasingly expensive. Because of this and because the scope of biodiversity is so large, the Province is strategic about where it invests. For example, the Province recently invested in species and ecosystems inventories in B.C.'s Northeast, a current hotspot for development. Government also relies on a number of external avenues to acquire better information by working with partners and networks, by encouraging citizen science programs, and by seeking access to existing external collections. The BC Conservation Data Centre, where much of this information is managed, is a recognized leader in Canada in the collection and dissemination of information on species and ecosystems at risk.
Starting in 2013, the ministries will initiate work to:
- Streamline policies for data collection to further improve data submissions in support of conservation status assessments and legal listing decisions (by end of 2014).
- Develop options to secure long-term funding for species and habitat inventory, monitoring, and related reporting (by 2017).
- Develop a process for using ecosystems and ecological communities as a coarse-filter approach to manage for species such as non-vascular plants and invertebrates (by end of 2014).
Recommendation 2: Review its legislative framework to ensure that any significant gaps, inconsistencies or barriers to achieving conservation of biodiversity are identified and addressed.
The natural resource sector ministries are responsible for 130 provincial statutes that provide for the sustainable management and protection of the Province's natural resources and reconciliation with Aboriginal peoples. Thus, government relies on a suite of regulations and policies to protect and conserve the biodiversity of British Columbia. Government is not aware of any jurisdiction in Canada that does not use multiple regulations and policies to conserve biodiversity.
As part of the shift to a more co-ordinated natural resource sector, the Province recognizes there are opportunities to refine B.C.'s legal and policy frameworks.
Starting in 2013, the Province will:
- Initiate a review of the natural resource sector legal framework to identify and address significant gaps, duplications, or inconsistencies (by 2017).
- Develop and implement policy, procedures, and guidelines for mitigating impacts to priority biodiversity values (by end of 2013.
- Assess and recommend new methods, including incentives, to promote voluntary protection of species at risk on private land (by 2015).
Recommendation 3: Assign responsibilities and timelines for its conservation actions and demonstrate how the prioritization of these actions is conserving biodiversity.
For an issue as all-encompassing as biodiversity, prioritizing is essential and government does it by necessity. The Province also relies on others (e.g., industry, First Nations, municipalities, and the general public) to engage in the conservation of biodiversity in B.C. This "shared-stewardship" approach requires flexibility to enable opportunistic use of partners, resources, and capacity when and where they become available.
The Conservation Framework is only one approach to priority setting, assigning actions to over 6000 species and ecosystems to better align conservation priorities across multiple agencies. In the last five years much has been learned about the challenges of maintaining such a comprehensive list of priorities.
Starting in 2013, the Province will initiate work to:
- Refine the priority-setting process of the Conservation Framework to be more efficient and further integrate the delivery and tracking of these priorities into provincial programs (by 2015).
- Update the content of the Ecosystems Program Plan and integrate the strategies and actions within the plan into natural resource sector planning (by 2014).
Recommendation 4: Establish goals, objectives, targets, and timelines to fully implement its habitat designation tools and determine whether other tools are necessary to achieve its objective of conserving biodiversity.
British Columbia's approach to habitat protection is collaborative. The Province evaluates the socio-economic impacts of habitat decisions, and engages with parties that may be affected by them. This type of collaboration results in more effective conservation outcomes and reflects the will of British Columbians.
The Province recently implemented a Government Actions Regulation (GAR) Implementation Strategy. This is a mechanism to better prioritize biodiversity and habitat designations under the Forest and Range Practices Act and the Oil & Gas Activities Act and to guide annual business planning and resourcing.
Starting in 2013, and in conjunction with the review of the natural resource sector legal framework, the Province will:
- Initiate a review of the Identified Wildlife Management Strategy (Forest and Range Practices Act; Oil & Gas Activities Act), and assess options to improve implementation efficiency and better align with both landscape-level biodiversity initiatives and the coordinated natural resource sector approach (by end of 2013).
- Develop a plan to fully implement existing habitat designation tools in conjunction with an assessment of the need for additional tools (by end of 2014).
Recommendation 5: Complete sufficient monitoring to assess the effectiveness of its actions in the conservation of biodiversity.
The complex nature of biodiversity means that there will never be a definitive picture of the status of biodiversity, nor will all of the causal factors that influence that status be definitively understood. Thus, the Province must combine strategic monitoring efforts with surrogate measures, models, and indicators to evaluate the status of biodiversity and efforts to conserve it.
When the Forest and Range Practices Act was implemented, government established a monitoring system known as the Forest & Range Evaluation Program (FREP), which is designed to evaluate forest and range practices in achieving management objectives, including those for biodiversity. Effectiveness protocols have been developed for several species, some monitoring has been conducted, and more is planned.
As part of the shift to the natural resource sector approach, the Province will:
- Investigate options for expanding the current FREP program to develop a more integrated and comprehensive approach to natural resource monitoring (by 2014.
- Continually seek new opportunities for cost-sharing and/or information-sharing with industry and other partners to support monitoring efforts (ongoing).
Recommendation 6: Report periodically to the Legislative Assembly and the public on how its actions are impacting the status of biodiversity and how it is meeting its provincial, national, and international commitments to biodiversity.
Changes to the status of biodiversity in an area the size of British Columbia occur slowly, thus reporting efforts on changes to that status will, necessarily, reflect that time frame.
Less than five years ago, the Province worked with partners to produce "Taking Nature's Pulse: The Status of Biodiversity in British Columbia." The Province also co-published the Canadian Biodiversity: Ecosystem Status and Trends 2010 report. In November 2012, the Ministry of Environment launched Environmental Reporting BC, a web-based state of environment reporting portal. Environmental Reporting BC is a modernized model, including open data, and more iterative updates. It also includes an easy window for the public and decision makers to access data, reporting products, and reporting sites across key environmental topics. http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/soe/
Starting in 2013, the Province will:
- Develop and publish an initial indicator on change in status of native vertebrates in B.C. (by early 2013).
Develop a centralized, web-based approach to reporting on species at risk in B.C. that will provide access to and link together different initiatives, agencies, and information related to species at risk in B.C. (by 2015).
Ministry of Environment