May 27, 2002

Municipalities may play key role in protecting biodiversity

Canadian municipalities could have an increasingly important role to play in the protection of biodiversity and wildlife habitat, according to workshop participants at this month's Federal/Provincial/Territorial Wildlife Conference in Sackville, New Brunswick.

"The recent trend to amalgamation is placing large areas of natural habitat within municipal boundaries," stated Jean Cinq-Mars, president of Wildlife Habitat Canada and a co-convenor of the NGO Forum.

"In Atlantic Canada, the merging of Halifax and Dartmouth comes to mind. But it's the same thing in Montreal, Toronto, and nationwide," he noted. Traditionally, three jurisdictional "pillars" have supported wildlife management: the federal government, provincial/territorial governments, and non-government organizations (NGOs). The proposal to add municipalities as a fourth pillar grew out of a workshop on communications.

"Municipal boundaries now encompass some of the most vulnerable and heavily populated wetland, forest, and upland ecosystems in Canada," explained Cinq-Mars. "Towns and cities have jurisdiction over a complex mix of urban and rural habitats. We need to acknowledge and support their potential as leaders in conservation and protection."

A second major recommendation to emerge from the day-long series of workshops called on Environment Canada, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Parks Canada to develop an action plan that will involve governments, NGOs and aboriginal peoples in implementing the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy in coastal and marine areas.

Reporting on this issue, Dr John Lien, professor of marine biology at Newfoundland and Labrador's Memorial University, said, "We have over 90 different categories of conservation regimes for protected areas on land, but next to none for marine habitat.

"Canada passed an outstanding Oceans Act a few years ago," he continued. "We need to move ahead and start using it to protect our marine habitats. The need is especially pressing in our Arctic waters, where the impact of climatic change could even be profound enough to result in the opening of the Northwest Passage."

More information is available from WHC president Jean Cinq-Mars, 613/722-2090, ext 724.

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