Conservation of Migratory Birds

Opening Statement to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development

Conservation of Migratory Birds

(Chapter 3—2013 Fall Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development)

10 March 2015

Julie Gelfand
Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Mr. Chair, thank you for this opportunity to discuss Chapter 3, Conservation of Migratory Birds, of the Commissioner’s 2013 Fall Report. Joining me at the table is Jim McKenzie, the Principal who was responsible for the audit. Although we have not done an audit specifically on licensed hunting and trapping in Canada, our 2013 audit is relevant to this topic, given the important relationship between hunting and the conservation of waterfowl.

I should note that the work for this audit was completed in July 2013. We understand that since the audit was released, actions have been taken by Environment Canada to further support bird conservation; however, we have not audited those actions.

I would like to start by providing a bit of background information about myself and how I plan to fulfill my mandate. As some of you may know, I have worked in the federal government, as well as in national and international nature conservation organizations, and in the mining industry. These past experiences have allowed me to understand the importance and benefits of bringing together different perspectives to the issues of environment and development.

It is clear to me that a prosperous economy, a vibrant society, and a healthy environment complement each other. During my mandate, I intend to focus on the federal role in promoting sustainable, long-term development that meets the needs of current generations and does not compromise the ability of future generations to meet theirs.

With an economy, society, and identity rooted in its natural resources, Canada has a long history of leadership in protecting natural landscapes—including forests, prairies, and wetlands—as well as the species living there. Given Canada’s vast geography and the range of species in our country, from fish and amphibians to birds, plants, and large mammals such as caribou, protecting our natural heritage is an immense challenge.

When we looked at the conservation of migratory birds, we found that Environment Canada and its partners had achieved good results from their efforts to restore waterfowl populations through the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. Implementing the Plan has involved contributions from a wide variety of partners, including the hunting community.

Assessments of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan indicate that it has played an important role in the recovery of waterfowl and in the protection of wetlands in Canada. Although challenges remain, such as the loss and degradation of wetland habitat, many waterfowl populations have increased. The Plan’s success shows how results can be achieved through partnerships, concerted efforts over the long term, and shared conservation objectives.

I am concerned, however, about the overall state of birds in Canada. Research indicates that some groups of birds, such as shorebirds, grassland birds, and insectivores have declined by 40 to 60 percent since the 1970s.

Successful conservation requires not only partnerships, but also conservation strategies that are informed by scientific research and monitoring. In our audit, we found that Environment Canada had missed key deadlines for more than half of the bird conservation strategies the Department was developing.

We have been informed by the Department that all of these strategies have since been completed. The challenge now is ensuring their implementation. Declines in bird populations highlight the need for action on these strategies.

Scientific research and monitoring of bird populations are important activities that can be used to guide and track the results of conservation actions. In 2012, Environment Canada completed a scientific review of the bird monitoring programs it supported. The review found that most programs support the Department’s information needs; however, it also concluded that many information gaps exist. We found that the Department was responding to the recommendations in the review, but that according to the Department, significant new resources would be needed to address major gaps.

Before concluding, I would like to draw the Committee’s attention to results from the 2012 Canadian Nature Survey released in 2014, which was led by Environment Canada in collaboration with provincial and territorial governments. As noted in Chapter 2 of the Commissioner’s 2013 Fall Report, the Canadian Nature Survey is an important initiative aimed at better understanding how Canadians interact with nature.

The results of this national survey—the first of its kind in Canada in over 15 years—indicate that approximately 2 million Canadians aged 18 and older participate in hunting or trapping activities in Canada. The survey also indicates that 1.8 billion dollars was spent on hunting and trapping in the 12 months before the survey was conducted.

These results are important because they point to the number of Canadians involved in hunting and trapping who, in addition to their contributions to the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, could be further engaged in conservation activities. These conservation activities could be used to help Environment Canada address some of the challenges faced by the Department, and Canada as a whole, in conserving Canada’s wildlife.

Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening remarks. We would be pleased to answer any questions the Committee may have. Thank you.