October 24, 2005

Forest, resource ministers agree on strategies for wildfires, biodiversity, alien species

At their recent meeting in Saskatoon, federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for forests, wildlife, endangered species and fisheries and aquaculture made public a strategy for managing wildland fires. They also approved a plan to develop a biodiversity outcomes framework for Canada

Through the Canadian Wildland Fire Strategy Declaration (CWFS), the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers (CCFM) agreed to develop joint, cost-shared, proposal-driven initiatives for managing wildland fires.

The Declaration recognizes that forest fires, while an essential and vital ecological process, can at times threaten public safety. The common principles set out in the document emphasize a strong, effective fire suppression organization, risk management and hazard mitigation, forest protection, enhanced public safety, and prevention, preparedness and recovery activities. The Ministers agreed that investing in preparation and mitigation will save countless dollars in suppression and disaster relief.

The Declaration further proposes to work toward improved land planning and updated forest management practices, as well as increased investment in innovation, public education, and building capacity in local communities. Initiatives developed in this context could represent significant investments over the next ten years aimed at bringing about comprehensive, innovative changes.

"In recent years we have seen more frequent and intense fires, and a rising number of homes, cottages, and businesses being built in or near highly flammable forests," said Saskatchewan Environment Minister David Forbes, current CCFM chair and host of the meeting. "Sooner or later, other major disasters like the devastating fires in British Columbia in 2003 will occur somewhere else in Canada."

A highlight of the Ministers' review of progress on activities relating to recovery of species at risk and protection of Canada's biological diversity was their approval of a plan to develop a Biodiversity Outcomes Framework for Canada.

Building on ten years of collaboration and on existing plans and strategies implemented by all jurisdictions, this framework is intended to better equip federal, provincial and territorial governments to manage, measure, and report on biodiversity conservation in Canada. The newly-approved plan sets the stage for a joint federal-provincial-territorial work program and consultations with a range of stakeholders in order to complete the framework by the fall of 2006.

The Ministers also endorsed the second phase of Canada's Action Plan for Invasive Alien Terrestrial Plants and Plant Pests, together with an implementation strategy to deal with aquatic invasive species during the 2005-2007 period. These initiatives will help put into action the Invasive Alien Species Strategy for Canada, approved last year. Invasive alien species, such as zebra mussels in the aquatic environment and purple loosestrife, a weed whose rapid proliferation chokes out other native vegetation, threaten Canada's biodiversity and its economy.

Federal, provincial and territorial governments will build on existing partnerships and establish new collaborative efforts to prevent the introduction of new invasive alien species into Canadian habitats and to manage and prevent the spread of existing invasive alien species. To this end, the Ministers approved the Invasive Species Partnership Program. Designed to encourage collaborative action, this national, federally-funded program will allocate up to $1 million annually for five years to community-based projects aimed at reducing the introduction and spread of invasive alien species.

Acknowledging the potential negative impact of wildlife disease on the Canadian cattle industry, the Ministers approved the National Wildlife Disease Strategy, which aims to minimize the damaging effects of wildlife diseases on wildlife by providing a broad national framework to deal with wildlife disease issues.

In a related move, they approved a national strategy for controlling Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), an infectious, fatal disease affecting deer and elk. The goal is to eradicate CWD from Canada or control it so it does not spread to new geographic areas or species. The need for a national approach has been demonstrated by the recent discovery of CWD cases in Alberta and New York State and by the expansion of the disease in Saskatchewan.

Ministers responsible for species at risk discussed recovery of at-risk species the concurrent annual meeting of the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC). They also released the 15th annual Recovery of Nationally Endangered Wildlife Program (RENEW) report and its companion document, titled "Saving the Wild." The RENEW Report provides information on the status of recovery planning and implementation in Canada.

In addition, the CESCC released the annual report of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada's (COSEWIC) reviewing the status of species at risk in Canada.

Michael Miltenberger, Minister of Environment and Natural Resources for the Northwest Territories, will host next year's meetings.

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