SpruceRoots Magazine - May 2000


One species which you won't find on federal Minister of Environment David Anderson's endangered species list is the red herring. This slippery denizen of the sea is in shocking abundance, revealing itself in full colour throughout the new federal Species at Risk Act. However new the endangered species shell game is in Ottawa, there is a legacy of provincial management which begs us to question the direction our governments are taking.

A walk through a day of protecting the red-listed Queen Charlotte Northern Goshawk affords a look at endangered wildlife management in British Columbia. This place is Haida Gwaii, and according to the World Wildlife Fund's North America's Living Legacy project, these temperate rainforests are one of the most important ecoregions on the continent. "A globally outstanding ecoregion with a rare habitat type," which today is found only in seven other places in the world, the WWF says. But, despite such accreditation, the Islands are geographically remote, located far from the cities where wildlife management strategies are debated, and exactly the kind of place where the nation's legislative rubber hits the road.

Anne Hetherington is the provincial Ministry of Environment's Rare and Endangered Species Specialist. She is responsible for administering British Columbia's Identified Wildlife Management Strategy (IWMS) for just over a quarter of the province. The provincial strategy is designed to protect rare and endangered species and their habitat on lands included in tree farm licenses, timber supply areas and other forms of tenure governed by the Ministry of Forests and the statutes of the Forest Practices Code. This task is inconceivable. British Columbia is the most biologically diverse province in Canada where 485 fish, 20 amphibians, 19 reptiles, 448 birds, 143 mammals, 2,850 vascular plants (more than half the 4,150 known in Canada), 20,000 known (50,000 estimated) arthropods (insects, spiders, crustaceans and their relatives) have been identified by science to date. In the oceans, there are 6,555 species of marine invertebrates and 639 species and subspecies of benthic marine algae identified. The province's natural habitats are also some of the most threatened from human activities in the country.

It is a Thursday afternoon, and Hetherington is making the final preparations for two Wildlife Habitat Area proposals for Queen Charlotte Goshawks. The bird is a uniques Island subspecies, and since it requires a large home range it is particularly vulnerable to large-scale industrial logging. And it's endangered ­ redlisted ­ as a result of critical habitat losses.

On-Island there have been five nest sites identified by a local survey crew. Hetherington is seeking Wildlife Habitat Area status for the nests located in Bonanza Creek and the Datlamen. The Bonanza habitat area will also include an unoccupied nest in Ghost Creek. For the two remaining nest sites at Survey Creek, in the Tlell Watershed, and Ian Lake, in northwest Graham Island, she is counting on Ministry of Forests' District Manager Rory Annett approving her request for 'interim measure' protection which will provide a twelve hectare radius protection zone around the nest sites classed as a 'Wildlife Feature.' Hetherington says she is hoping Annett will take into consideration the known goshawk areas and provide special management for them when approving forest development plans for the areas in question. The 'interim measures' are designed to minimize the effects of forest practices on critical habitat attributes while the designation process is underway.

However, keeping forests turning to timber is the dominant agenda and it competes with wildlife and habitat survival. The Sierra Legal Defense Fund, in their Wildlife at Risk report, says the fibre flow mandate of the BC government superimposes limits on species protection from the start. The group reports that "in response to forest industry demands, government has imposed a series of arbitrary limits on the impacts of protecting wildlife, endangered species and biodiver

sity. As a whole, the Forest Practices Code will not be allowed to have an impact greater than 6% on the current rate of cut (or fibre flow). The impact on harvest levels or fibre flow from protecting Identified Wildlife Species is not allowed to exceed 1%. If there is a conflict between fibre flow and protecting endangered species, the protection for endangered species will be 'relaxed' in order to fit within the 1% ceiling."

On the Islands, where the communities, the government and the Ministry of Forests know the rate of logging is 2.2 times the 'sustainable harvest' rates, the 'Identified Wildlife Management Strategy' is glaringly absent from local landscapes. It has been more than a year since the strategy was put into action and still there has not been one 'Wildlife Habitat Area' created in the entire province,

Hetherington says. It has taken almost a year for the QCI Northern Goshawk proposals to make it off of her desk and onto another stage of the approval process. Hetherington says the process is full of pitfalls making successful implementation a long shot.

"The process is long and cumbersome," she says, "there are three levels of committees and numerous stumbling blocks." According to Hetherington, the IWMS adopted by government is a lite version of what biologists and scientists initially developed. Once government and industry were finished debating the economic impacts of the plan, a pale piece of legislation emerged and no one ­ not the Ministry of Forests, industry or the Industrial Woodworkers Association union ­ want to see impacts to their harvesting mandate, she says.

"The scientists' mandate was not politically palatable and the strategy came out as a shadow As a biologist, I have concerns the amount [of habitat] delegated won't be enough for wildlife," Hetherington adds.

The strategy very specifically outlines what a Wildlife Habitat Area for the Queen Charlotte Goshawk should include. The area directly surrounding the nest, to the post fledgling area to the foraging area include 2,400 hectares of forestlands. The percentage of old growth forest and the proportions of varying seral* stages within the area are also specified. However, Hetherington says, it is largely up to the Ministry of Forests and the licensee to design innovative and responsible forest development in the area. If it is clearcutting as usual the WHA will look no different from the other areas included in the plan, she says. The idea is to go into the identified habitat area and design a harvesting strategy in an effort to preserve biodiversity which will remain three hundred years from now, she says.

"How you log now will determine the biological future. On the ground is all that matters. We have been tied into a process but it is what happens on the ground that matters and not just in the first passes. We need a long-term vision. We need to identify what we want for our species and natural spaces and use this sense of the future as a blueprint for what we do now," she states.

A fundamental challenge to establishing a WHA is the dependency of various government branches. In particular, the discretionary powers of the Ministry of Forests' District Manager have the power to either approve or reject areas proposed by Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks as requiring protected habitat status.

"The government ministry with the most expertise on issues involving wildlife, endangered species, and biodiversity is the Ministry of Environment. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Environment is given little responsibility under the Forest Practices Code. For the most part they have only an advisory role while decision making power rests with the Ministry of Forests," says the Sierra Legal Defense Fund. In a briefing letter, obtained by Sierra Legal via the Freedom of Information Act, Vancouver Forest District Regional Manager Ken Collingwood is caught holding tight to the fibre flow agenda.

Collingwood, who is responsible for the Queen Charlotte Forest District, stated in the briefing that he found the Biodiversity Guidebook "difficult to understand and near impossible to implement." He was also noted for arguing against assigning high biodiversity emphasis to areas which ranked highest for biodiversity on the grounds these areas might "rank equally high for timber and other extractive resources." (Sierra Legal Defense)

Hetherington says sharp financial cutbacks have made it very difficult for the Ministry of the Environment to set its own agenda. If MELP cannot independently control funding for its research, she says, the Ministry is dependent upon funders, such as the South Moresby Forest Replacement Account and Forest Renewal BC, for research dollars.

"If those committees don't agree on your priorities the inventories don't get done." Hetherington says, if the inventories don't get done, then you don't know where the endangered species and habitat are, and the opportunity to protect them is lost.
It is like getting a set of directions to knit a sweater. They could be the best instructions but no one gives you the wool, she says.

What will happen to the Bonanza, Ghost, Datlamen, Survey, and Ian Lake nests remains to be seen, but the opportunity to see the very first 'Wildlife Habitat Areas' established in the province on Haida Gwaii is still a possibility. As for the goshawks, the survival of intact habitat is uncertain. As for District Manager Annett, who is fond of saying he is 'a creature of the legislation,' his decision to either approve or reject Hetherington's recommendations on protecting local goshawk habitat will reveal either a new direction for endangered species protection in British Columbia, and in particular Haida Gwaii, or a continuation of fibre flow over wildlife and habitat values.

SpruceRoots Magazine - May 2000