Bill 24 – A threat to biodiversity and ecosystems associated with agriculture in BC

Bill 24 – a threat to biodiversity and ecosystems associated with agriculture in BC

buse 2010Agriculture has often been viewed as a threat to natural environments. This is clearly the case when forests are cut down to create pastures for grazing animals or fields for high value crops.  However, in a world already greatly manipulated by human activities, agricultural areas have increased in significance as refuges for organisms ranging from wildlife, birds, insects, plants, and soil microbes.  In addition agricultural lands can preserve wetlands, riparian habitats, streams, wind breaks and patches of forest.  These habitats and the organisms that dwell there benefit the agricultural industry and society in general by providing healthy, functioning ecosystems both on and adjacent to agriculture.

In British Columbia Canada, agricultural lands have been protected to some degree since 1973 by the Agricultural Land Reserve administered by the Agricultural Land Commission. Approximately 47,000 sq. km have been preserved for agricultural use either now or in the future. It has been a continual battle over the years to prevent lands from being removed from the land reserve and large tracts have been used in land claim settlements with First Nations and for a variety of development projects.  For the latter, the claim has been made that the land under contention is not sufficiently high quality for agriculture or the need for economic development is greater than the need for food security

A new threat to the ALR is currently before the BC Legislature, Bill 24.  The proposed act will make it easier for many non-agricultural uses to be developed on agricultural lands. It will seriously change the operation of the Agricultural Land Commission, and will allow changes in the classification of Agricultural lands to occur without a transparent, public process based on sound, scientifically derived information. This bill is deeply flawed and threatens the sustainability and security of agricultural production. It puts the survival of many species and ecosystems at risk. It is particularly ill timed as the future of agriculture will be greatly changed as the climate continues to warm and northern areas become more suitable for crops.

A number of ecologists have voiced their concerns about the impact of this proposed bill in a letter to Primer Christy Clark.  Their concerns are not only about the impacts on the sustainability of the agricultural industry, but also about the enormous threats to biodiversity, species at risk and the functioning ecosystems in British Columbia that would follow the reduction of the Agricultural Land Reserve. This letter is copied below.

From: The undersigned concerned scientist and naturalists

To: Premier Christy Clark

PO BOX 9041
STN PROV GOVT
VICTORIA, BC
V8W 9E1

Dear Premier Clark,

The British Columbia Government’s recently proposed changes to the Agriculture Land Commission (the Commission) Act greatly concerns many scientists for three reasons.

First, the revised changes to the governance and decision-making structure of the Commission reduces the ability for science to inform land use decisions. Second, the shift to divide the decision-making process regarding land classification into southern and interior zones will increase pressure to remove land from the reserve at a cost to the general good. And finally, the rationale for the division of the province into two jurisdictions, based simply on the value of the crops, overlooks the importance of other values associated with agricultural lands such as habitat for wildlife, endangered species, and contributions to ecosystem services.

Agricultural lands that occur in all regions of the province hold many values other than simply crop production. These areas contain wetlands, streams, ponds, riparian areas, woodlands, hedgerows, and uncultivated grasslands that are either adjacent to or integral to farm operations. These areas are instrumental in protecting functioning healthy ecosystems and in many cases, these diverse services help boost agricultural production. Many of the ecosystems encompassed by the Agricultural Land Reserve are rare in British Columbia and they provide habitat for a number of the Province’s most threatened or endangered species such as the burrowing owl, American badger, yellow-breasted chat, sage thrasher, Nooksack dace, and west slope cutthroat trout.  Other more common species that occur on Agricultural Land Reserve land are integral to agricultural production. These species range from soil microbes that sequester carbon below pasturelands, to birds such as the western meadowlarks, swallows, and common nighthawks whose populations are already declining. Species prized for hunting such as deer and elk also use so called marginal agricultural lands.  These species decline when agricultural lands are removed from production, marginal lands are converted to more intensive uses, or nonagricultural developments are permitted on agricultural lands. Allowing more nonagricultural uses on ALR land and the release of more lands from reserves will have the unintended consequence of threatening many important ecosystems and, by extension, many valuable species including species-at-risk.

Changing the current structure of the Commission to one that does not incorporate scientifically-derived information is deeply-flawed. Additionally, making changes to such an important piece of provincial legislation without consultation with the public, the agricultural industry, or scientists in general prevents relevant information and viewpoints to factor into informed decision-making. Allowing the agricultural industry to move forward with alternatives that incorporate science-based decision making within the current legislative framework are valid alternatives to altering the current reserve framework. These and other options should be explored because failing to incorporate alternate view points and scientifically derived information into the Commissions’ decision-making framework threatens the health of British Columbia’s ecosystems and endangers its biodiversity. The lack of a process to access and incorporate science-based information into the proposed framework threatens the biodiversity of British Columbia’s ecosystems and the sustainability and security of agricultural production in a changing climate.

We call upon the government of British Columbia to include scientifically derived information in the evaluation of the impacts of changes to Agricultural Land Reserve that may impact the health of British Columbia’s ecosystems and species at risk.

Sincerely,

The undersigned concerned scientists and naturalists

Authors

William Harrower RP Bio, PhD Candidate UBC

Judith Myers Professor Emeritus UBC

Sarah Otto, Fellow Royal Society of Canada, Director of Biodiversity Research Centre, Professor, UBC

Eric Taylor, Director Beaty Biodiversity Museum, Professor UBCElizabeth Kleynhans PhD Candidate UBC

 

 

Signatories

 

Angert Amy, Canada Research Chair in Conservation Ecology, Assistant Professor, University of British Columbia
Arcese Peter, FRBC Chair in Applied Conservation Ecology, Professor, University of British Columbia
Baker Sandra, Senior Environmental Assessment Specialist, RP Bio, n/a
Baute Gregory J. , PhD Candidate, University of British Columbia
Bears Heather, Wildlife Ecologist, PhD, Zoetica Wildlife Research Services
Bestbier Regina, Research Assistant, University of British Columbia
Beyers Rene, Associate Researcher, University of British Columbia
Bomke Art, Professor Emeritus, University of British Columbia
Bradfield Gary, Associate Professor, University of British Columbia
Brotz Lucas, PhD Student, University of British Columbia
Bunnell Fred, Professor Emeritus, University of British Columbia
Burton Philip J., NW Regional Chair, Associate Professor, UNBC
Burton Carla, Phd, Symbios Research and Restoration
Byers Sheila, Registered Professional Biologist, Beaty Biodiversity Museum
Cannings Richard, Senior Programs Biologist, Bird Studies Canada
Carefoot Tomas, Professor Emeritus, University of British Columbia
Christensen Villy, Professor, University of British Columbia
Clark Trisha, Research Technician, University of British Columbia
Cockle Kristina, NSERC Post-doctoral Fellow, Louisiana State University
Cooke James, Lecturer, University of British Columbia
Couch Brett, Instructor, University of British Columbia
Cumming Preston, Post-Doctoral Fellow, University of British Columbia
Davis Helen, Senior Wildlife Biologist, Artemis Wildlife Consultants
Doebeli Michael, Fellow of American Association for the Advancement of Science, Professor, University of British Columbia
Durand Ryan, Senior Ecologist, RP Bio. , Durand Ecological Ltd.
Dykstra Pamela, Master of Resource Management, RP Bio, PR Dykstra & Associates Resource Management Ltd.
Enns Katherine, MSc RP Bio., Delphinium Holdings Inc. (formerly Larkspur Biological Consultants Ltd.)
Fenneman James D., PhD Candidate, University of British Columbia
Fraser Lauchlan, Professor, Thompson Rivers University
Frid Leonardo, Systems Ecologist, Apex Resource Management Solutions Ltd.
Gibeau Pascale, RP Bio. PhD Student, Simon Fraser University
Gillis Elizabeth, Professor, Vancouver Island University
Gosselin Louis, Associate Professor, Thompson Rivers University
Hackinen Alisha, MSc Student, University of British Columbia
Halsey T. Gordon
Harrison Bruce, Registered Professional Biologist, Independent Practicing Biologist
Hauert Christoph , Associate Professor, University of British Columbia
Hehenberger Elisabeth, Post-Doctoral Fellow, University of British Columbia
Henry Greg, Professor, University of British Columbia
Hill Ryan, Professional Biologist, Azimuth Consulting Group Partnership
Hodges Karen, Associate Professor, University of British Columbia
Hoffos A Robin, Naturalist, Citizen
Houde Isabelle, MSc. RP Bio, Association of Professional Biology
Irwin Darren, Associate Professor, University of British Columbia
Javney Mohr Carmelle, Junior Fellow, The Chester Ronning Centre for the Study of Religion & Public Life
Jose Mereno Geraldes Armando, Research Associate, University of British Columbia
Kaytor Benita, MSc student, UNBC
Kerry Mara, Director of Science and Policy, David Suzuki Foundation
Koot Cathy, Research Coordinator, RP Bio, University of British Columbia
Krzic Maja, Professor, University of British Columbia
Ladell Jason, Registered Professional Biologist, Independent Practicing Biologist
Larsen Karl, Professor, Thompson Rivers University
Latimer Susan, Registered Professional Biologist, Independent Practicing Biologist
Lawson Julia, MSc student, University of British Columbia
Le Renard Ludovic, PhD Candidate, University of British Columbia
Leathem Jamie, MSc student, University of British Columbia
Leduc-Robert Genevieve, MSc student, University of British Columbia
Leering Gerry, Registered Professional Biologist, past President, Association of Professional Biology
Lehmann Crysta, n/a, University of British Columbia
Leskiw Leonardo, Senior Soil Scientist, Paragon Soil and Environmental Consulting
Letaw Alathea, PhD Candidate, University of British Columbia
Lewis Alan, Professor Emeritus, University of British Columbia
Lin Sherry, University of British Columbia
Lion Christine, Environmental Scientist, Stantec
Lussier Jason, University of British Columbia
Machmer Marlene M., Registered Professional Biologist, Pandion Ecological Research Ltd.
Mahon Todd, Wildlife Ecologist, RP Bio, Wildfor Consultants Ltd
Martone Patrick T., Associate Professor, University of British Columbia
Matthewson Lisa, Professor Emeritus, University of British Columbia
McCune Jenny L, Liber Ero Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Guelph
McGrath Kate , student, University of British Columbia
Millen Sandra, Sr. Instructor Emerita, University of British Columbia
Mobach Annmarie, self-employed
Moore Jonathan, Liber Ero Chair of Coastal Science and Management, Assistant Professor, Simon Fraser University
Morien Evan, Bioinformatician, MSc, University of British Columbia
Mosquin Daniel, Research Manager, University of British Columbia
Moyers Brook, PhD Candidate, University of British Columbia
Neill William E., Professor Emeritus, University of British Columbia
Neville John, President, BC Nature (Federation of BC Naturalists)
Osmond Matthew, PhD Candidate, University of British Columbia
Pollock Carol, Director of 1st Year Biology, Professor of Teaching, University of British Columbia
Power Damian, Registered Professional Biologist, Wolfhound Wildlife Services
Rahme Ann, Biologist, Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Reid Anya, PhD Student, University of British Columbia
Rieseberg Loren, Professor, University of British Columbia
Rodgers Thea, student, University of British Columbia
Rogic Sanja, Research Associate, Center for High-Throughput Sequencing
Rudman Seth, PhD Candidate, University of British Columbia
Ruskey Jennifer, MSc student, University of British Columbia
Salomon Anne, Assistant Professor, Simon Fraser University
Samuels Lacey, Botany Department Head, Professor, University of British Columbia
Scholer Micah, PhD Candidate, University of British Columbia
Seghers Ben, Lecturer (retired), Oxford
Shartau Ryan, PhD Candidate, University of British Columbia
Siegle Matthew, PhD Candidate, University of British Columbia
Smith Jackie, Senior Manager, RP Bio. P Ag., SLR Consulting Ltd
Snyder Joan, PhD, RP Bio. , Retired
Soto Marybel, MSc Student, University of British Columbia
Stafl Natalie, MSc Student, University of British Columbia
Starzomski Brain, Assistant Professor, University of Victoria
Steele Fiona, Senior Biologist, Diamond Head Consulting Ltd.
Suarez Adriana, PhD Candidate, University of British Columbia
Sullivan Tomas, Professor, University of British Columbia
Thiel Bryanna, MSc student, University of British Columbia
Thorley Joseph, PhD, RP Bio. , Poisson Consulting
Tonya Ramey, PhD Candidate, University of British Columbia
Turkington Roy, Professor, University of British Columbia
Wang Jessie, student, University of British Columbia
Wellwood Debbie, Wildlife Ecologist, RPBio, Raven Ecological Services
Werring John, Senior Science and Policy Advisor, MSc. RP Bio., David Suzuki Foundation
William Ramey, Professor of Teaching, University of British Columbia
Williams Jennifer, Assistant Professor, University of British Columbia
Worcester Robyn, Conservation Programs Manager, Stanley Park Ecology Society
Xue Xinxin, PhD Candidate, University of British Columbia
Zevit Pamela , Registered Professional Biologist, Adamah Consultants

 

 

 

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