P.E.I. looking to reinstate advisory committee on at-risk species

·3 min read
The northern myotis bat and its habitat are protected through the Wildlife Conservation Act. (Jordi Segers - image credit)
The northern myotis bat and its habitat are protected through the Wildlife Conservation Act. (Jordi Segers - image credit)

P.E.I. says a committee looking into how to better protect at-risk species that had been left vacant for years could be re-established right away.

Provincial officials said at a committee meeting on Thursday they weren't sure as to why the advisory panel, which was established in 2003, became defunct.

That's a week after the Official Opposition called for new legislation protecting at-risk species on the Island, and for the government to ensure someone is monitoring the issue.

"This is something that as a department, we've had interest for a while," said Deputy Environment Minister Brad Colwill. "It may have seemed that we were waffling, but truthfully it's one that other priorities may have taken over. And we're happy to get back on the rails."

Last week, East Coast Environment Law presented a report to lawmakers pointing out P.E.I. is the only province in Atlantic Canada that doesn't have stand-alone laws specifically safeguarding at-risk species. The report is called "Simply Not Protected."

But Colwill said that title is misleading, and that federally listed at-risk species are individually protected through the Wildlife Conservation Act and the Migratory Birds Convention Act.

Ivar Leidus/Wikimedia Commons
Ivar Leidus/Wikimedia Commons

Nevertheless, officials did point out not all species that are safeguarded through these laws have habitats protected through the province's Environmental Protection Act such as the barn swallow, the Canada warbler and the little brown and northern myotis bats.

There are also two species that aren't covered by any of this legislation: the wrinkled shingle lichen and the gypsy cuckoo bumble bee.

The province said the government should consider several factors before amending existing legislation, such as avoiding unnecessary duplication.

Unintended consequences

They also point out P.E.I. is 90 per cent privately owned, which means there could be broad unintended implications for landowners if they listed some of these species under existing legislation.

For example, if the wrinkled shingle lichen was listed under current species-at-risk laws, it would mean that cutting trees in extensive tracts of forest that lay on private land with red maples, poplars and cedars — all trees which the lichen can colonize — would be prohibited.

Green MLA Hannah Bell said any amendment or new legislation should factor in all these province-specific considerations.

"I've often compared to living in a giant park. We have this very manicured space in comparison to the reality of wilderness, but that means we should also have a unique solution," she said.

"So when we talk about the piece around the prohibitions are modelled on other things, then we should make our own. When it comes to the definition of critical habitat that's modelled on the federal government, well, that's not going to work here because of the percentage of landowners and so on. So we need to make our own definition."

Officials also said there are other laws which indirectly protect these species by protecting the overall ecosystem, as well as non-legislative and non-governmental initiatives.

Colwill said once the committee is re-established, any proposals put forward should undergo public consultation.

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