Drawing on evidence-based practice can help protect wildlife

Drawing on evidence-based practice
can help protect wildlife

From the Making Biodiversity Count Series

Drawing on evidence-based practice can help protect wildlife

From the Making Biodiversity Count Series

By Anne Murray, naturalist, conservationist, birdwatcher and author

Biodiversity Action Agenda Item 3.2

INVEST IN EVIDENCE-BASED CONSERVATION STRATEGIES: Invest in evidence-based conservation strategies that include traditional ecological knowledge for migratory species; large-scale, ecosystem-based and connectivity planning initiatives in marine, aquatic and terrestrial environments.

Mt. Burgess and Emerald Lake
Mt. Burgess and Emerald Lake at Yoho National Park by Leanne Cadden. Watercolour.

At about 4 people per square kilometre, Canada has one of the lowest population densities in the world yet faces some strong challenges in achieving the 2020 Biodiversity Goals and Targets of conserving at least 17% of terrestrial land and inland waters and 10% of coastal and marine waters. A variety of programs have methodologies that will help in identifying critical areas for conservation based on evidence-based criteria.

Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas

Indigenous governments have the primary role in conserving traditional knowledge and legal protection of ecologically important areas within their jurisdictions. Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs) include, for example, Indigenous Protected Areas, Tribal Parks, and Indigenous Cultural Landscapes. The sheer longevity of ownership and knowledge within such areas provides the stability necessary for protection, provided that economic imperatives are not a barrier to success. In the past, government agencies, such as Parks Canada, would make their own regulations without input from Indigenous owners, leading to often inappropriate goals and untenable conditions for the health of the land. The Indigenous Circle of Experts has challenged Canadians to “rise together in the spirit and practice of reconciliation” for “abundant, thriving biological diversity”.

Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas

The Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) program is an international, non-government, science-based program, operating in 200 countries, covering many nationalities and languages but based on internationally-agreed scientific standards. An area, large or small, can be designated as an IBA if it meets the criteria for globally or nationally significant bird populations or holds rare, endemic birds. 13,000 sites have been designated worldwide, about 40% of which have some form of protection. There are 600 sites in Canada that meet the standardised selection criteria and while this designation is biological rather than legal, it has helped inform some land protection tools and restrictions on non-compatible uses. The program is run by BirdLife International as a non-government partnership and has been operating in Canada since 1996, with lead partners Nature Canada and Birds Canada. An IBA Caretaker Program was conceived in British Columbia whereby volunteers, including local birders, Indigenous Guardians, ornithologists, and others, were paired with many of the sites, to ensure “eyes on the ground” for conservation and stewardship activities, and this concept has spread to a number of other provinces.

Pacific Steller's jay
Pacific Steller's jay (endemic species in Canada). Photo by ChristinaPrinn from Getty Images/Canva

Key Biodiversity Areas

The success of the IBA program soon led to the idea for a broader program encompassing all Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) and about 15,000 KBAs have so far been identified around the world. These are areas that meet the scientific criteria for non-avian taxa, e.g. rare species, or significant populations of a species. Canadian implementation of the KBA program, together with ecological designations and potential associated land acquisitions (such as connectivity corridors) will help meet our 2020 Biodiversity Goals, if somewhat belatedly. Identification of qualifying sites is now underway. The Wildlife Conservation Society Canada has taken a lead role, together with Birds Canada, Nature Canada, NatureServe Canada, and WWF Canada. Scientists and volunteers, many of whom were involved in setting up the IBA program, are now working to identify sites that will meet the KBA standards for designation.

Fraser River
Fraser River. Photo by Vincentas Liskauskas on Unsplash

Existing global IBAs, such as the Fraser River estuary, will be included in the wider KBA program, and many new KBAs will be added to the program for non-avian taxa. Limits in the databases for many sites will be augmented by greater scientific attention and investment and by the involvement of biologists, students and the increasingly knowledgeable public, using nature apps such as iNaturalist and eBird. Some potential KBAs may already be protected, but identification under the program could lead to boundaries being extended to encompass specialised habitats, smaller sites could be linked, and partnerships with Indigenous people and local landowners will be encouraged. With 750 Canadian wildlife species at risk and many habitats in peril, the biological identification of KBAs will help guide land-use decisions for many years to come.

How can you make biodiversity count?

– Check out “We Rise Together” –  The Indigenous Circle of Experts Report and Recommendations, 2018 to learn how Canadians can “rise together in the spirit and practice of reconciliation” for “abundant, thriving biological diversity”.

– Help fill the gap in data by joining the citizen science movement. Share your observations of biodiversity on iNaturalist and eBird to make a difference.

About Making Biodiversity Count Series

In February 2019, the Biodiversity Action Agenda, authored by Women for Nature was published. It asks all Canadians to take immediate action on biodiversity loss as there is no recovery from extinction. As a 24-point action agenda, it offers a combination of actions, including low-hanging fruit as well as long-term systemic changes. Follow our blog for bi-weekly posts exploring each action.