Protecting Water for Fish
In 2014 we applauded government for passing the new Water Sustainability Act (WSA), with which it fulfilled a long-standing commitment to better manage B.C.’s precious water resources. This followed several years of policy proposals and public consultation on a wide variety of issues, with thousands of people engaging to ensure BC’s new water law would give us the tools to effectively and sustainably manage this precious resource in uncertain times. The resulting Act represents a considerable step forward in water governance in B.C.; Deb Curran of the UVIC Environmental Law Centre described the WSA as the best environmental legislation in the last 10 years.
Despite the potential of the WSA, real environmental protection will only occur if strong and effective regulations are passed to bring the Act into force and implement its intentions.
One of these regulations was supposed to be legal protection for “environmental flow needs,” or the water a river or stream needs to provide habitat for fish and other aquatic habitat values. Statements by government prior to the passage of the WSA suggested that there would be a free-standing environmental flows regulation, and it’s clear the legislation intended as much (sections 15 and 17). However, we are now concerned that government is instead considering using only a policy to address environmental flow needs, and a policy is not binding. This will not offer sufficient certainty to protect key fish and other habitat values; in particular, decisions to protect flows for fish may be challenged at the Environmental Appeals Board if they are only supported by policy and not regulation.
We call on government to honour their commitment to legally protect water flows with a regulation and enforceable objectives that ensure the health of our streams, rivers, lakes, fish populations and aquatic ecosystems is paramount.
Recovering Grizzlies in Southwest BC
Human activities have steadily eroded grizzly bear range in North America since the 1800s when the great bear roamed as far south as central Mexico. Today southern BC represents the line in the sand where we can finally end two centuries of shrinking grizzly bear range.
The latest International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) global assessment of grizzly/brown bear populations identified 11 Critically Endangered populations, three of which are in Canada, all in southwest B.C.: Stein-Nahatlatch, Fountain Valley-Hat Creek, and North Cascades.
Southwest B.C.’s grizzly bears are at risk from the combined effects of habitat loss and fragmentation (mainly by B.C.’s enormous resource roads network) including genetic and demographic isolation, poaching, and human caused mortalities related to poor management of garbage and other attractants and conflicts involving livestock.
Yet efforts to safeguard grizzlies have languished for years. The BC Auditor General’s 2017 Audit of Grizzly Bear Management in B.C. rightly identified “human activities that degrade grizzly bear habitat” as the greatest threat to grizzly bears.
Fortunately, there is broad agreement that action is necessary. Several regional First Nations have led through example (with programs dedicated to grizzly recovery in their territories) and with explicit calls for government action. Land use plans completed for the Sea to Sky region, Okanagan-Shuswap, and Lillooet (draft) have all included provisions for grizzly bear recovery. The 2017 Auditor General’s report on grizzly bear management recommended identifying, and taking action on, populations in need of recovery, and the B.C. government accepted all the Auditor General’s recommendations.
While there is a commitment to developing recovery plans for grizzlies in this region, there is a risk we could lose some of these populations while planning is underway, they’re that close to the edge of viability. But with a few straightforward, key actions, the B.C. government could help ensure the grizzly’s future in the region until the comprehensive plans are implemented. Interim actions consist primarily of strategically managing motorized access in grizzly habitat, transplanting a small number of bears to prevent further inbreeding, and identifying and restoring or enhancing food production sites.
We call on the B.C. government to work in partnership with First Nations and environmental organizations to implement necessary actions quickly enough to ensure there are still grizzlies in southwest BC that are able to benefit from recovery plans once they’re completed.
Next-Generation Environmental Assessment for BC
In the summer of 2017, the new provincial government promised to reform environmental assessment and planning in British Columbia. This commitment put BC at the doorstep of a major opportunity to transform the way we assess and plan for development activities in the province, in order to better align provincial decisions with the exercise of jurisdiction by Indigenous nations, the needs of ecosystems and the vision of BC communities.
A range of environmental, social justice, and community groups have developed “A vision for next-generation environmental assessment in British Columbia” (the Vision document) as a standard against which to measure BC’s proposed reforms.
BC’s discussion paper on how to fix the province’s environmental assessment (EA) process is now out for public review and comment, until July 30th. The discussion paper outlines some positive approaches, which reflect recommendations in the Vision document, such as new proposals to honour the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, conduct regional assessments, and improve opportunities for early public engagement.
However, a comparison with the Vision document indicates that BC’s proposals for EA reform must be strengthened in key areas, in particular by:
- Ensuring independent evidence and oversight of assessments;
- Providing more meaningful public participation and participant funding;
- Addressing cumulative effects within a region, through more project assessments and mandatory regional assessments; and
- Ensuring projects that don’t meet important legal criteria – including a climate test and Indigenous consent – are rejected.
We call on the BC government to pass new assessment legislation that reflects the Vision for next generation EA in BC, in order to ensure an informed, transparent and accountable assessment process that furthers sustainability, advances reconciliation and involves the public in decisions that affect their communities.
Public comment is open until July 30th: Have your say on the future of environmental assessment in BC!
There is growing evidence that in order to protect wild salmon, marine mammals, other species and their habitats, BC needs to get open-net fish farms out of our waters. Fortunately, there are more and more examples of new closed-containment facilities all the time.
Recent developments in late 2017 and early 2018 have converged to create an unprecedented opportunity for change in BC salmon farm operations:
- Washington State banned salmon farming following a catastrophic escape of Atlantic salmon; BC is now the only west coast jurisdiction that allows open-net farming, and the province already has a moratorium on BC’s north coast;
- a graphic video of virus-infected, blood-water discharging from a farmed salmon processing facility off Vancouver Island made international news;
- new science has emerged indicating that salmon farm viruses can cause disease in chinook salmon and impede wild salmon migrations; and
- a scathing Auditor General’s report was released on the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ mismanagement of salmon farming risk to wild salmon.
In response, the BC government announced the formation of a Wild Salmon Advisory Council to provide guidance on protecting wild salmon. As well, the province announced that, by 2022, it will only grant tenures for fish farms who can show that their operations will not harm wild salmon stocks, and who have agreements with local First Nation(s).
This is a significant step towards defending wild salmon against the threats posed by open net-pen salmon farms, as well as a positive step towards reconciliation with First Nations. But four years is a long time for stocks already in crisis, and the measures only apply to the minority of farms whose tenures expire by 2022.
The BC government also formalized a joint decision-making process with First Nations for Broughton Archipelago fish farm tenures, where First Nations have been resistant to farms in their territories. The ‘Namgis, Kwikwasutinuxw Haxwa’mis and Mamalilikulla First Nations are working with the province to develop consensus recommendations regarding salmon aquaculture in their territories, and all have committed to do so by late September 2018.
Through this work we urge the province to work with First Nations for a speedy removal of open-net farms out of salmon migration routes in the Broughton.
Climate Target Accountability
BC may have had the best of intentions to show leadership in stopping runaway climate change, but failed to come even close to achieving its 2016 and 2020 targets. In setting new targets for 2030, the legislation introduced in May 2018 also scrapped the 2020 target all together.
Learning from the more successful track records in GHG reductions achieved by countries such as Sweden and the UK, establishing carbon budgets as the centerpiece of a transparent and robust Climate Accountability regime is the tried and true path to take. Based on best practices from Canadian, UK and Swedish law, this regime would establish enforceable carbon budgets for periods of 5-years or less, including sub-budgets for the industrial, building and transport sectors.
Recommended requirements to ensure that the carbon budgets are enforceable include:
- Independent monitoring and verification of government progress towards achieving budgets and assessing the adequacy of BC’s targets in light of the Paris Agreement;
- Requirements that environmental assessments and other authorizations of greenhouse gas emissions be consistent with carbon budgets;
- Clear, unambiguous language requiring Ministers to ensure budgets are achieved, with effective sanctions for non-compliance; and
- Requirements that carbon budgets and reports are presented alongside the Budget to ensure greater political scrutiny.
We call on the BC government to develop and enact enforceable carbon budgets as part of its Climate Action Plan currently in development, including sub-budgets for the industrial, building and transport sectors.