FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 3, 2023
Agreement and related funding commitments set the stage to protect 30 percent of lands in B.C. by 2030
VANCOUVER/UNCEDED xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (MUSQUEAM), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (SQUAMISH) AND səlilwətaɬ (TSLEIL-WAUTUTH) TERRITORIES – Sierra Club BC commends the First Nations Leadership Council and the governments of B.C. and Canada for ratifying a long-anticipated Nature Agreement and the funding it brings towards increasing protection in B.C.
The agreement directs new and existing government funds totaling over $1 billion to the goal of protecting 30 percent of the lands in B.C. by 2030, supporting implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and helping address the biodiversity and climate crises. The funding will support First Nations and other communities’ efforts to restore ecosystems, improve stewardship, and create Guardian programs.
“This agreement is an historic step forward for B.C. and the world in protecting intact ecosystems while respecting Indigenous rights and building on Indigenous knowledges. It offers a pathway toward protecting 30 percent of land in B.C. by 2030, aligning multiple funding sources for coordinated action at all levels. From old-growth forests to unique grasslands, there are many endangered landscapes in this province that don’t exist anywhere else, and protecting them is globally significant,” said Shelley Luce, Campaigns Director at Sierra Club BC.
The agreement outlines steps to ensure collaboration on Species at Risk Protection and Recovery and highlights the importance of following through on existing commitments, like implementation of the Old Growth Strategic Review (OGSR), the Boreal Caribou Protection and Recovery Plan, and actions toward the recovery of Spotted Owl.
Of crucial importance, it also outlines that “Canada and B.C. will consult and cooperate with First Nations to identify areas for interim protection that could contribute to Canada’s commitment to protect 25% of terrestrial areas by 2025.” Interim protection, for example in the form of overdue logging deferrals for at-risk old-growth forests that are still open to logging, is crucial to allow time to come to agreements about long-term conservation designations before more endangered ecosystems are destroyed.
While the agreement explains that increasing protection will include high-priority old-growth forests and areas important for species at risk and migratory birds, more work is needed to ensure that at-risk ecosystems and habitat will be prioritized to address critical gaps in the current protected areas system.
Important guidance to address representation of the full range of ecosystems in protected areas can be found in the Great Bear Rainforest. Protected areas in this region meet a high bar in representing all ecosystems in the region, including low elevation old-growth forest, estuaries and wetlands, consistent with regional ecosystem targets under Ecosystem-based Management.
“The Nature Agreement between First Nations Leadership Council and the provincial and federal governments includes key pillars that give us confidence that we can make rapid progress, to meet the interim goal of 25 percent protection by 2025, followed by 30 x 30. Increased use of interim protection for at-risk old growth and other endangered ecosystems will be crucial to ensure a legacy that protects all parts of the web of life in this spectacular part of the world we call home,” said Jens Wieting, Senior Forest and Climate Campaigner at Sierra Club BC.
The agreement includes details to ensure funding will enable tangible outcomes. This includes the Old Growth Nature Fund (with matching funding of $50M from the federal and provincial governments and potential funding from third-party organizations), which will be used to work in partnership with First Nations to permanently protect and conserve 0.4 to 1.3 million hectares of high priority at-risk old-growth forest ecosystems by 2025.
The upper number, 1.3 million hectares, could translate to permanently protecting one half of the 2.6 million hectares of most at-risk old-growth forest that was recommended for deferral. The currently committed conservation funding is expected to grow through partnerships between governments and foundations contributing philanthropic donations and allow the protection of all the remaining at-risk old-growth forests.
The Nature Agreement also contains important reporting requirements, including annual reports “to ensure public transparency and to support broad credibility, understanding and accountability regarding progress and outcomes of the Agreement.”
Meeting the 30 x 30 goal will require doubling the total area in protected areas in B.C. that meet international standards (defined by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature). In recent years the total area in protected areas that meet these standards stood at 15.5 percent.
The data and mapping developed by the Technical Advisory Panel (TAP) and endorsed by the B.C. government in 2021 show that old-growth forests cover 11.1 million hectares (less than 20 percent of B.C.’s total forest area). According to the TAP data, about two-thirds of the remaining old-growth (7.6 million hectares) have been identified as at-risk old-growth forests. Of those 7.6 million hectares, two-thirds (5 million hectares) are unprotected. And of those unprotected at-risk stands, a little more than half (2.6 million hectares) is recommended for deferrals. Currently, less than half of these most at-risk old-growth forests have been deferred from logging.
The funding sources related to the Nature Agreement include the provincial conservation financing mechanism announced at the end of October, click here for more information.
Jens Wieting, Senior Forest and Climate Campaigner/Science Advisor, Sierra Club BC
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