February 7, 2005

Time is running out to balance development, conservation in Canada's Boreal region, says CBI

The vast and intact state of Canada's Boreal region makes it the world's greatest conservation opportunity, but there is a shrinking window of time to plan for conservation, says a new report by the Canadian Boreal Initiative (CBI). The Boreal in the Balance: Securing the Future of Canada's Boreal Region says this important region faces an uncertain future because expanding industrial development proposals are outpacing conservation efforts in some areas. The CBI report is the first national report to examine the status of boreal conservation activities in the multiple contexts of land use planning, Aboriginal rights, protected areas, sustainable development, and research.

"Canada can be a world conservation leader, but our opportunity is time-limited," said CBI director Cathy Wilkinson. "There is an urgent need to plan first, before development decisions are made. We can both protect the ecological and cultural values of this world treasure, and accommodate world-class sustainable development. All sectors need to work together to ensure we still have this opportunity in the years to come," she added.

Decisions about the future of the region are already being made through land use planning initiatives proposed or underway in over 60% of the Boreal region; these will play a large role in shaping its future, says the report. Several of these offer significant opportunities for integrated conservation solutions in the near term (i.e. the next three years). The study highlights the Mackenzie Valley, northern Saskatchewan, the East Side of Lake Winnipeg, and Labrador as areas of greatest potential for conservation-based planning in advance of new industrial developments, and points to the key role of Aboriginal people in developing innovative conservation models across the country.

Jurisdictions vary considerably in terms of establishment of conservation objectives prior to development and degree of commitment to integrated land use planning. In view of this fact, the CBI recommends that, as a priority, governments initiate comprehensive, conservation-based land use planning exercises, based on scientific and traditional ecological knowledge, before permitting new industrial developments in unallocated areas.

The study notes that less than 10% of the region is currently protected from industrial development. About 5.8% of the region is permanently protected from industrial activity, with 3.6% under interim protection. While most jurisdictions have protected areas programs in place, they have not yet established conservation goals and planning initiatives specific to-or on the scale required for-the Boreal region, given its unique attributes and the magnitude of its value in preserving ecosystem integrity.

The report calls for governments to continue working to meet their existing commitments to establishing protected areas, and to begin developing new protected area goals for the Boreal region. These goals, says the report, should reflect both emerging understanding of conservation biology and the unique conservation opportunity afforded by the region. Together with industry, conservation organizations and Aboriginal groups, governments should also pursue creativity and innovation in setting aside interim protected areas within their respective spheres of activity, it adds.

With regard to creating sustainable development practices, the report notes that of all the industrial sectors active in the Boreal region, forestry has the largest "footprint" and has made the most progress toward the development and implementation of credible performance standards. The mining, oil and gas and hydroelectric development sectors are lagging behind forestry in creating and implementing sustainable development standards and practices. Much remains to be done to ensure that independently-verified performance standards are developed and applied more broadly, says the CBI.

Consequently, the report recommends that:

-resource industries increase efforts to define, implement and participate in third-party verification of standards for world-leading sustainable development practices in the Boreal region;

-industries promote the business case among corporate partners and investors for responsible, innovative conservation-oriented activities in the Boreal region;

-conservation organizations promote financial and economic incentives to support such activities in the Boreal; and

-governments develop financial and economic incentives for leading-edge sustainable development practices, in consultation with industry, conservation organizations and Aboriginal communities.

The study documents the national and global ecological importance of the vast region, including its key role in mitigating the impacts of climate change, and its importance to Aboriginal people, northern communities, and the country as a whole.

"Canada's Boreal region is a conservation opportunity on an unprecedented scale. Our challenge is to reverse the traditional conservation paradigm by considering conservation needs before, not after, development decisions have been made," said Dr Fiona Schmiegelow of the University of Alberta, whose work is noted in the report. "Putting conservation first means thinking differently, and more ambitiously, than ever before."

The CBI report reflects the comprehensive approach of the Boreal Forest Conservation Framework, a balanced national vision for the future of Canada's Boreal region launched in December 2003 by CBI, in concert with leading resource companies, First Nations and conservation groups. The report, along with the Boreal Forest Conservation Framework, may be viewed on the CBI Web site, www.borealcanada.ca/. More information is available from Kelly Acton of the Canadian Boreal Initiative, 613/230-4739 ext. 222, E-mail kacton@borealcanada.ca.

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