Canada's New Normal—Ignore Environmental Protection
By Krystyn Tully
Stop right now. Look around, check the clock, mark the date. You need to remember this week.
Some day, probably well off in the future, you’ll be thinking about water and the environment, and trying to figure out when things changed.
Here’s the answer: This week. Now.
It’s no secret that the Canadian government has been undergoing some kind of post-environmentalism, re-envisioning exercise. I'm sure you've seen the stories about massive layoffs in federal environmental departments, heard about scientists being “muzzled” and listened to members of parliament debating sweeping changes to federal laws.
The exercise is over. The “new normal” is here.
For the last thirty years, Canada was a rule-of-law kind of country. Our environmental laws spelled out what you can’t do (for example, pollute or block a river). They spelled out how decisions had to be made (for example, major projects were reviewed by independent panels, with input from qualified experts). Those who wanted to develop or dump on the water had to prove to a decision-maker that their actions would not harm other people’s abilities to safely swim, drink or fish those same waters. With a few notable exceptions, the federal rules were generally the same across Canada.
This is no longer true. When yet another omnibus budget bill passed through Parliament this week, it ushered in a new era in Canadian history. The Navigable Waters Protection Act no longer protects water. The Fisheries Act no longer protects fish. The Environmental Assessment Act no longer requires environmental assessments be done before important decisions are made. If you are looking to federal environmental law and policy to protect Canada’s environment, you’re a dinosaur. A throwback. A relic of the 20th century.
“No need to worry,” the federal government says, “the provinces will protect you now.”
Just this past Monday, Dec. 3, at the Darlington Nuclear Refurbishment hearing, an official from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans explained that the Canadian government is in the business of protecting fish habitat. But not fish. Fish, he said, are the province’s responsibility. That’s news to anyone who has ever read Canada’s Constitution. Ontario has, from time to time, prosecuted offenders under the Fisheries Act, but Canada still had ultimate authority to protect fish and fish habitat. Until this week, when they said they didn’t want to do it anymore.
It’s alarming, this brave new world we’re in. The provinces can’t pick up the federal government’s slack. In most cases, they don’t have the constitutional authority, the financial resources or the political will to do it.
You’ll have to prove on your own that any act of pollution or development absolutely will interfere with the environment. Of course the only sure way to prove harm is to wait for harm to happen. That means more fish kills, more drinking water advisories and more off-limits waterways. Environmental laws were supposed to prevent harm from ever happening. Now they encourage developers to push the envelope, to see how much they can get away with before citizens push back.
There’s no question that the old way worked better. The Melancthon Megaquarry and Lafarge Alternative Fuels projects, and the Nelson Aggregate/Mount Nemo case show how bad ideas crumble when the burden of proof falls on developers’ shoulders. Would it be “better” if we had to wait for wells to run dry, for fish to die or for the salamander to go extinct before we could be heard?
The truth about this brave new world is that it’s up to us now, to individuals and citizens who care about swimmable, drinkable, fishable water. The omnibus bill and the Darlington Refurbishment hearing made one thing perfectly clear—the Canadian government is no longer in the business of protecting the Canadian environment. Period.
Some day, years from now, when you’re remembering how Canada used to be the “environmental” country and wondering what happened to those days, check your notes. Find today’s date on your calendar, and you’ll know. This is the time when everything changed.
And if, on that day in the future, you can still safely swim, drink and fish in your community, know that it will be because of the actions of dedicated individuals, not government regulators.
Visit EcoWatch’s WATER page for more related news on this topic.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
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