Past audit work on terrestrial and marine parks and conservation areas

Opening Statement to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development

Past audit work on terrestrial and marine parks and conservation areas

3 May 2016

Julie Gelfand
Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Madam Chair, I am pleased to present an overview of our audit work tabled in the House of Commons in 2012 and 2013 with regards to terrestrial and marine parks and conservation areas. I am accompanied by George Stuetz, Francine Richard and James Reinhart, Directors who were responsible for these audits. I would like to note that we have not audited actions taken since these reports were completed.

One of Canada’s main approaches to protecting biodiversity is to establish protected areas to maintain habitats for wildlife, including migratory birds and species at risk.

Chapter 3, 2012 Fall Report—Marine Protected Areas

In 2012, we reported on the status of marine protected areas in Canada. This audit found that 20 years after Canada signed the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1992, only about 1 percent of our oceans and Great Lakes was protected. Our audit showed that at the rate of progress we observed, it would take Canada many decades to establish a fully functioning network of marine protected areas, and to achieve the target of conserving 10 percent of marine areas. In the interim, significant conservation and economic benefits would not be realized.

Chapter 4, 2013 Fall Report—Protected Areas for Wildlife

In our fall 2013 audit of protected areas for wildlife, we found that Environment Canada (now Environment and Climate Change Canada) had not met its responsibilities for preparing management plans and monitoring the condition of its protected areas.

Environment Canada’s protected areas, including national wildlife areas and migratory bird sanctuaries, were roughly the size of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia combined.

Only about one quarter of national wildlife areas, and less than one third of migratory bird sanctuaries, were assessed as having adequate or excellent ecological integrity. In addition, 90 percent of national wildlife areas did not have adequate management plans, and these plans were more than 20 years old.

Finally, monitoring was done sporadically. The Department could not track ecosystem or species changes and address emerging threats.

We recommended that Environment Canada develop relevant management plans to ensure that its protected areas would fulfill their intended purpose as refuges for wildlife.

Chapter 3, 2013 Fall Report—Conservation of Migratory Birds

In our fall 2013 audit of the conservation of migratory birds, we found that grassland bird populations had declined by 45 percent since the 1970s.

However, efforts to conserve other bird species had been successful. From 1986 to 2012, Canada and the United States invested almost $2 billion in the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. The Plan resulted in securing 8 million hectares of wetlands and uplands habitat in Canada, with increases in many waterfowl populations.

We also found that Environment Canada had a goal of developing 25 strategies for bird conservation regions by 2010. As of July 2013, 9 of the 25 strategies were completed, and 4 were in draft form. Environment Canada had no budget to contribute to the implementation of these strategies.

Chapter 7, Fall Report 2013—Ecological Integrity in National Parks

In our fall 2013 audit of ecological integrity in national parks, we found that despite Parks Canada’s significant efforts in many areas, the Agency was struggling to protect ecosystems in Canada’s parks.

Staffing in the science work stream was reduced by 33 percent in the 2013–14 fiscal year, compared with the average staffing during the previous seven years.

In addition, in 2008, the Agency allocated $42,000 per park to implement ecological monitoring programs. The actual funding was subsequently reduced to $15,000 per park.

At the time of our audit, Parks Canada had yet to assess the condition of 41 percent of park ecosystems in order to determine conservation requirements. Of those it had assessed, many were in poor condition, and 34 percent were in decline. The Agency had not clarified how and by when it intended to complete its assessments or address threats to the integrity of ecosystems in Canada’s parks.

Closing remarks

Protecting Canada’s natural heritage is a challenge and an opportunity. The federal government has a global responsibility to carry out its important leadership role in protecting species and spaces.

The economic benefits are significant. They include sustaining commercial and recreational fisheries, tourism, and the provision of ecosystem services, such as clean water, climate control, and pollination.

Madam Chair, this concludes my opening remarks. I would like to sincerely thank you and your Committee members for the invitation to appear today to speak about our past audit work. As parliamentarians, you play a crucial role in the accountability process. We would be happy to answer your questions.