Sonia Furstenau column: B.C. government needs to step up to save endangered species

We sat down and waited patiently, and 45 minutes later a pod of orcas appeared.

This September, our family travelled to Port Hardy for an end-of-summer trip. We enjoyed the misty mornings that gave way to crisp, clear early fall days. Waking up on Sunday morning, we made our way to Malcolm Island, where we visited the museum in Sointula, and then headed to Bere Point for a walk in the coastal rainforest.

When we arrived at Beautiful Bay, several people were sitting quietly on the beach. We learned that they were hoping for a rare viewing of orcas rubbing on the smooth, rounded stones in the bay. We sat down and waited patiently, and 45 minutes later a pod of orcas appeared. They spent about 10 minutes in the bay, swirling and swimming and rubbing on the rocks just a few metres from where all of us sat silently watching, awestruck. None of us moved or spoke until the orcas swam off into the deeper waters, heading northward. We witnessed a wonder. It was an experience I will never forget.

B.C.’s iconic orcas are a red-listed species, which means that they have been “legally designated as Endangered or Threatened under the Wildlife Act, are extirpated, or are candidates for such designation.”

Our children were with us on Malcolm Island. I couldn’t help but think about the distinct possibility that in a few decades, they could be mourning the loss of this species, and so many others.

According to a UN report released this last March, a million species on our planet are currently at risk of extinction. While B.C. is the most bio-diverse province in Canada, it is also home to 1,807 species currently at risk of extinction. We are one of only three provinces that do not have standalone legislation to protect endangered species.

The NDP government promised that it would bring in endangered species legislation, but we have seen no progress on introduction, and no clear commitment or timeline from this government to keep its promise.

The BC Green Caucus believes in comprehensive, evidence-based policy and decision-making; governments cannot pick and choose which evidence they follow. On this subject, the science is clear: we are running out of time to save B.C.’s endangered species, and the NDP government lacks urgency in their response.

This week in the Legislature, we heard evidence of this when my colleague Adam Olsen asked the Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development if the government will call off the wolf cull. Wolves are predators of the near-extinct caribou. Evidence shows that culling wolves to reduce the pressures on caribou can be effective — in the short term. It does not solve the source of the problem and so the culling strategy is short term and shortsighted.

Humans have played a significant role in caribou destruction by opening forest corridors for oil-and-gas exploration and land clearing. This enables wolves to reach caribou habitat, which is deep in boreal forest and not otherwise easily accessed. This is the source of the problem, but instead of putting restrictions on oil-and-gas activities that disrupt the natural order, the NDP government continues to support large taxpayer-funded subsidies of oil-and-gas corporations to expand LNG, thus increasing fracking and seriously impacting caribou habitat.

If we are to cull anything, it’s LNG.

The minister responded to Adam’s question by saying it’s predator, not habitat changes that are the issue, and later went on to blame the former BC Liberal government for their role in the problem.

We are watching in real time what delay and inaction can mean to biodiversity. The short-sighted resource-management practices of successive governments have brought our province to the brink of eliminating critical at-risk wildlife populations and habitats.

The real consequences and terrible choices that will be felt by the people on the ground is largely the result of decades of policy neglect. If our ecosystems collapse, so does our society. We need biodiversity for pollination, flood prevention, water and air purification, climate change resiliency, and social and cultural well-being.

Diversity of life is necessary. Each of us benefits from having these plants and animals sharing the world with us, whether we witness the wonder of them scratching their backs on the beach or not. Our children and generations to follow deserve to witness all the wonders of this province. To do so, we need to apply rigorous and evidence-based solutions that fulfill our responsibility to protect species at risk in British Columbia.

Sonia Furstenau is the MLA for the Cowichan Valley.

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