Saturday, April 28, 2007

Species at Risk

I recently attended a workshop on species at risk in British Columbia, Canada, and the summary given by Kym Welstead, Species at Risk Biologist with the Ministry of Environment, made me quite thoughtful. Did you know, for instance, that British Columbia is fast becoming the focused area for species conservation (particularly for larger carnivores) in North America? This is because of the 'migration' of species to our area from the south-east due to human pressures (and dare I add, global warming) along with their extirpation and the destruction of habitat elsewhere. According to scientists with the South Coast Conservation Program ( British Columbia is becoming the 'hot spot' for species conservation and preservation. Armed with the newly amended federal Species At Risk Act (SARA), the BC Government is committed to a results-based regulatory system with a focus on species at risk (e.g., usually endemic, with global importance and threatened directly or indirectly by habitat destruction by humans). One of their major aims is to foster a sterwardship ethic through outreach, education and promotion of Best Management Practices for everybody from the developer to the property owner. I totally agree with this approach; I much prefer to be convinced to act through rationale than simply be slapped a fine after the fact. Check out Environment Canada's listing of Species At Risk ( You'll see a list that's disturbingly long.
"Okay, why is it important for me to help protect these species at risk", you ask. Well, here are some good reasons:

  • they keep the air and water clean and an ecosystem healthy;

  • they help promote mental and physical health in humans (think of the song birds you hear in your backyard);

  • they promote recreation and tourism in your region;

  • they increase the property value of an area; and,

  • you're doing your part in the shared stewardship of this planet (remember the old phrase, think globally, act locally).
"Okay," you respond, "I can see their overall use. But what about that one pesky spotted owl or whatever owl holding up the development of my shopping mall? Surely ONE species can't take precedence over the economic growth of another community: HUMANS!" My answer to that is, that it isn't just ONE species; it isn't just about the spotted owl. It might seem that way, but in reality that one species is being used as a SENTINEL that represents many others in a community that makes up a functional ecosystem. The spotted owl is being used as an indicator, a representative, of many other biological creatures that may be impacted by our actions. The spotted owl (or whatever the species chosen) was selected for its particular sensitivities and other rare qualities that allow it to conservatively represent the ecosystem in question.

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