West Coast Environmental Law Association.
WCELA is a non-profit society that provides legal services for the protection of the environment. (See West Coast's Web site at http://vcn.bc.ca/wcel) Since its formation in 1974, WCELA has been extensively involved in the development and implementation of environmental law at both the provincial and federal levels in Canada.
West Coast has a long history of involvement with endangered species protection and legislation. In recent years, West Coast lawyers have worked with federal Members of Parliament and provincial Members of the Legislative Assembly to prepare draft new endangered species laws at the federal and provincial levels. The author is a member of the Steering Committees of both the B.C. Endangered Species Coalition and the Canadian Coalition for Biodiversity. She also was the environmental non-governmental organization representative on the Canadian delegation to the 3rd Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, held in November 1996. Recent publications include "Biodiversity Protection Law and Policy in British Columbia" in Biodiversity Law in Canada (Canadian Institute of Environmental Law and Policy: Toronto, 1996) and Protecting Wetlands in B.C. - A Citizens' Guide, Linda Nowlan and Bill Jeffries, (WCELRF and BC WETNET: Vancouver,1996).
Legal protection for Endangered Species in B.C.
Why are we so concerned about this issue in British Columbia? Our province's rich biological heritage is under threat.
B.C. is the most biologically diverse province in Canada, in terms of the number of species.2About three-quarters of the total number of bird species in Canada make their home or breed in BC.3B.C. also has the richest plant life of any Canadian province, with 2,850 vascular plants out of the Canadian total of 4,150.4B.C. is home to myriad species of seaweeds and other marine plants, marine invertebrates, fish species and marine mammals making the province's coastal waters one of the most biologically diverse marine environments in the world.5But the number of endangered species in BC continues to rise. There are 68 species of vertebrate animals and 224 vascular plant species that are threatened and endangered in the province. Another 451 species are classified as vulnerable.6
Although we have made advances in environmental protection in recent years with the passage of new laws federally (such as the pulp pollution regulations, CEPA, CEAA, and the Canada Oceans Act) and provincially (such as the pulp pollution regulations, BCEAA, product stewardship and contaminated sites regulations, and the Forest Practices Code),a major gap in environmental legal protection still exists for species at risk in the province.
The B.C. Wildlife Act is very weak and has been used to designate only four species as endangered since 1980: the burrowing owl, white pelican, sea otter and the Vancouver Island marmot. The law has been used only once to protect the critical habitat of an endangered species, for the Vancouver Island marmot.
West Coast Environmental Law Association welcomes the Canada Endangered Species Protection Act as a positive new legal tool which has the potential to increase the protection available for endangered species in our province. We also applaud the BC government, the federal government and the other provincial governments for pledging in the National Accord for the Protection of Species At Risk to ensure that complementary federal and provincial legislation and programs provide effective protection of species at risk. But we are concerned that the present draft of the Bill will not effectively protect even those species in B.C. for which the federal government has clear and exclusive jurisdiction. Our comments are designed to strengthen the current bill's powers to protect endangered species in B.C.