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CPAWS Remarks to the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Environment Ministers Meeting


Thank you to Minister Aglukkaq for convening this important meeting of Environment Ministers from across Canada. Collaboration among governments is essential - as Minister Aglukkaq noted when she announced the meeting - species don't recognize inter-provincial and territorial borders. So this meeting is a great step forward in that regard.

As the National Executive Director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), I bring you greetings from our chapters across Canada - many of which you work with in a provincial and territorial context.

This is a forum that is timely, both on Species at Risk and on the broader conservation agenda. The next five years are important for us as a country. In 2020, we must report on reaching our international biodiversity goals and targets, which include protecting at least 17% of our lands and freshwaters and 10% of our oceans.

I would like to start with a few obvious but important points. First, that habitat loss and degradation is the most common cause of species endangerment.

Second, 90% of Canada consists of public land - land managed by all levels of governments, including aboriginal governments - land upon which each of you make decisions every day. So all of you have a key role to play in protecting habitat and achieving our targets.

At CPAWS, we think of the Species at Risk Act as the 'emergency room' for species. When species are in critical condition, the Species at Risk Act helps us to identify the problem and put into place emergency measures to save a species from going extinct, and to bring it back to health. Just as most of you are starting to do on the caribou file.

But while Emergency room care is critically important, on its own it's not enough. Rather than waiting for species to line up for treatment in our emergency rooms we need to also make sure there are effective preventative care measures in place. Which means protecting enough of the right habitat so that species don't become endangered in the first place.

So far, it's taken us 147 years to protect 10% of our lands and 1% of our water. If we are to achieve, or better yet, exceed our targets by 2020, we need to quickly up our game.

The good news is that there are already lots of protected areas commitments and projects underway across the country. Completing these projects in a timely way will take us a long way towards our 17% terrestrial  target.

But we also need to embrace a more systematic approach to conservation planning. This is how we can really move the dial. Working together we can identify which areas of the landscape are most important to protect for biodiversity and ecosystem services, and then feed this information into regional landscape planning exercises. This kind of systematic, science and traditional-knowledge based planning will help us to get away from arguing over land use decisions for every hill and valley. It will be much more efficient. It will lead to more land use certainty for all. And at the end of the day, to achieving our goal of more effectively conserving species - those that are at risk and those that are still healthy.

The economic value of planning upfront is obvious. Greater understanding of both ecological and economic resources will allow us to do better economic development - and do it more sustainably.

Restoration of ecosystems after they've been profoundly damaged is always more expensive and less reliable than protecting them upfront.

The biodiversity, fresh water, clean air and carbon storage that intact ecosystems provide are worth billions of dollars and are only gtting more valuable with time.

So I welcome the opportunity to work with you to create a shared roadmap to 2020. Our combined efforts on such a roadmap, through collaboration, information sharing and landscape-scale conservation planning are what is needed more than ever. For sound economic reasons as well as for nature itself.

Let's work together to exceed our international targets- not because we've signed an international agreement, but to protect Canada's natural heritage - which is our life support system -for the benefit of Canadians today and those not yet born. If we get this right they will thank us.