ECOLOGY | WILDLIFE | Endangered Animals: Our choices make a difference

Grizzy bear in the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary, on the northwest coast of BC. This Provincial Park is Canada’s only grizzly bear sanctuary under the joint management of the province of British Columbia and the Tsimshian Nation. Photo: Lisa Bland

Grizzy bear in the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary, on the northwest coast of BC. This Provincial Park is Canada’s only grizzly bear sanctuary under the joint management of the province of British Columbia and the Tsimshian Nation. Photo: Lisa Bland

By Jessica Kirby —

According to a report authored by Rodolfo Dirzo, Hillary S. Young, et al, called “Defaunation in the Anthropocene,” the world is right in the middle of its sixth extinction. We owe the last and most famous extinction to the asteroid that took out the dinosaurs, but we have no naturally disastrous phenomenon to blame for the current state of affairs. Over the past 200,000 years humans have roamed the Earth, more than 1,000 species have gone extinct, so there is no real way to shake off responsibility for this tragedy.

The Wilderness Committee, Canada’s largest membership-based citizen-funded wilderness protection group, says Canada does very little at the federal level to protect endangered animals. Although we became the first western industrialized nation to ratify the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity in 1992, it took more than 10 years for Canada to enact the federal Species at Risk Act which, according to the Wilderness Committee, is a “paper tiger reliant on political will, discretionary wording, and largely unenforceable habitat provisions.”

It seems impossible, but British Columbia, along with Alberta, is one of the only two provinces in Canada that does not have stand-alone legislation to protect endangered species. The biodiversity in BC surpasses that in the rest of the country and yet the 1,900 species and subspecies at risk of disappearing do not have adequate protection. This, despite support from 85 percent of the population to enact strong legislation of this kind.

Some of our most iconic animals are endangered or at risk, their populations falling well below the 1,000 threshold that define species at risk. Grizzly bears, which used to range from Alaska to Mexico and as far east as Manitoba are largely non-existent in Canada’s southern provinces outside of BC and Alberta. A handful of grizzly populations that straddle the Canada-US border are in serious trouble, the main problems being back-country development for resorts and transportation, conflict with humans, and oil and gas and logging activity. In the north, grizzly populations sit somewhere between 6,000 and 17,000, and are listed a species of concern. In the southern part of the province, the populations sit at fewer than 100 each, making them threatened or endangered.

Southern resident Orca whales found in international waters between BC and Washington state are threatened by chemical toxins, a lacking food supply, and acoustic disturbances. Over-fishing, salmon farming, climate change, and the effects of industry on habitat have extinguished more than 100 salmon stocks, leaving 700 at risk in BC. Spotted owl, found only in the southwestern corner of BC, numbers less than a dozen, thanks to old growth forest logging. And on Vancouver Island, only 70 marmots were recorded in the wild in 1998, and though a diligent campaign has increased this rare population, Vancouver Island marmots are still one of the world’s most threatened species. Sea otters, Cougars, Bowhead whales, Western toad—the list goes on, and although it is hard to feel powerful among seven billion other world inhabitants, there are solid actions we can take.

One Green Planet, a website dedicated to “unleashing your Green monster,” says there are at least three significant ways the human species is driving the sixth extinction and optimistically suggests there is still time to turn things around. But like any significant movement forward, it is going to take effort, commitment, thoughtfulness, and sacrifice. Are you ready?

This is going to seem unnecessarily obvious, but the first way you can avoid contributing to species’ extinction is to stop buying endangered species products. Seems like a no-brainer, right? Unfortunately, the US is the world’s second largest market for illegal ivory, which is the reason 30,000 elephants are killed each year. At this rate, give it a decade and elephants will be extinct in some parts of Africa—a far greater loss than doing without the piano keys, trinkets, name plates, and jewellery that fuels the demand for illegal ivory.

Tiger skins, shark cartilage, and rhino horns are in the same boat. Thanks to consumer demand for these items and their derivatives, the Western Black Rhino is already extinct, and with wild tiger population is down to about 3,000, with more living in captivity than in the wild. Sharks are no one’s friends, it seems, with 100 million of them killed each year for their fins, Chinese and American medicine, over-fishing, and out of fear. The math here is clear: if we want to make a difference we need to refuse these products, plain and simple.

Besides that, diet is the most important way to shape the Earth’s future. Consider that livestock production is the primary cause of global climate change and animal agriculture is responsible for 51 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. We tend to forget that meat, eggs, and dairy have traditionally been associated with wealth and high status, and have come to take up more of our plates in direct correlation with affluence becoming a common social objective.

Consumption of these items is on the rise in developing nations like China and India, and as that happens, the need for land to support animal production also rises. The land, of course, comes from deforestation and, according to One Green Planet, every hectare of rainforest we lose can release 200 tons of GHGs. Add this with the annual production of 8,769 million tons of GHGs from livestock respiration – just one way livestock produce carbon emissions – and it’s easy to see how eliminating or reducing meat, eggs, and dairy from one’s diet can make an important difference in the world’s future. Naturally, veganism isn’t for everyone, so consider supporting your local farmers with the most eco-friendly animal products around.

Speaking of deforestation, habitat loss and degradation is a big problem on several fronts, and one we can address to make serious impact. Choose wisely when selecting products and make an effort to know about ingredients and their far-reaching impacts on the world. Take palm oil, for instance. According to One Green Planet, that one ingredient can be found in 40-50 percent of consumer goods an is the reason three football fields of forest are levelled every hour in Indonesia. Because of this activity, orangutan populations in Indonesia and Malaysia are down 50 per cent in a decade, and orangutans in general have lost 80 per cent of their habitat over the past 20 years. Because 98 per cent of the palm oil used in the US comes from these regions, we are having a direct impact on this situation. The decision today to walk away from palm oil can affect orangutan and other critters all over the world, and that is just one ingredient of thousands that are having a negative effect on world habitats and ecosystems. What are you waiting for?

Red and Blue Listed Species of the Cariboo-Chilcotin Region

Along with 20 Red- and Blue-listed bird species, animal species at risk in the Cariboo-Chilcotin region include the Red-listed or endangered Mountain caribou, Badger, Common pika, Southern red-backed vole, and the Blue-listed or of special concern, Boreal caribou, California big horn sheep, fisher, grizzly bear, and wolverine. For a comprehensive overview of Species-at-Risk in our region visit: www.ccconserv.org/species.html

EcoWatch: Half the Worlds Animal Population Gone Since 1970

The World Wildlife Fund recently released its “10th Biennial Edition of the Living Planet” report which states that between habitat destruction, hunting, environmental degradation, and climate change, the world’s animal population has dropped by 52 per cent since 1970.

With only 10,000 species recorded, the world has suffered the worst loss in fresh water species, populations of which have declined by 72 per cent. Over-fishing is proving detrimental to tropical marine animals and sea-faring birds like petrels and albatross, and rhinoceros in Africa are being poached to dangerous levels.

“We are using nature’s gifts as if we had more than just one Earth at our disposal,” says WWF International general director, Marco Lambertini in the report.

“By taking more from our ecosystems and natural processes than can be replenished, we are jeopardizing our very future.

“Nature conservation and sustainable development go hand-in-hand. They are not only about preserving biodiversity and wild places, but just as much about safeguarding the future of humanity—our well-being, economy, food security and social stability—indeed, our very survival.”

The report addresses important limitations on the Earth’s resources, called “planetary boundaries” and how social, political, and economic factors must align to stop this destruction before it is too late for humanity and the planet.

“This damage is not inevitable but a consequence of the way we choose to live,” says professor Ken Norris, director of science at the Zoological Society of London. “Although the report shows the situation is critical, there is still hope. Protecting nature needs focused conservation action, political will, and support from businesses.”

Read the report and more commentary at www.ecowatch.com

Take Action

Campaigns for habitat protection, animal population restoration, and clear, enforceable, stand-alone legislation are underway at dozens of organizations in Canada and across the world. Just a few include:

World Wildlife Fund: www.wwf.ca

Wilderness Committee: www.wildernesscommittee.org

Canadian Wildlife Federation: www.cwf-fcf.org

EcoWatch: www.ecowatch.com

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