Global diversity loss increasingly brings to our attention the disruption of life-sustaining ecosystems as species become more crowded together, creating conditions for new illnesses to spread. Urban development encroaching on species’ habitats, large-scale deforestation, habitat loss, agriculture intensity, food production, species and climate change can all drive biodiversity loss.
Statistics Canada reports that, despite it’s size, around 7.3% of Canada’s total land is agricultural, mainly because of soil quality, climate, and terrain. Corporations don’t have a stronghold on Canadian farmland. Over 97% of farms remain family-owned and operated; 18.6% is beef farming, 32.9% is grains. Monoculture is mainly found with major field crops (soybeans, wheat, rice and corn); indoor housing of pigs and chickens is justified given extreme weather events, easier monitoring and care, diseases and predators. Mono-cropping has little in-built adaptability, spreading pests (such as ants and wasps) and diseases (such as influenza and E.coli); thus more chemical use may occur as parasites and pathogens become resistant to pesticides and herbicides, and climate change introduces new pests. Food and farming industries have invested millions of dollars on research, prevention, and emergency preparedness towards these issues. Many farmers are trying to revive natural crop methods.
In Canada, climate change impacts the biophysical environment. Extreme temperatures and seasonal variations have created visible impacts on biodiversity at the species level, in terms of habitat and declining populations.
Canada has numerous biodiversity management policies including a national biodiversity strategy, soil conservation programs, sustainable harvesting rates for wildlife, trapping and fishing, sustainable grazing rates on agricultural lands, and the sustainable use of forest resources. Canada’s National Forest Carbon Monitoring, Accounting, and Reporting System monitors change that results from afforestation, reforestation, and deforestation activities. The industry is required to replant all the trees they harvest. Unfortunately, instances may exist where unsustainable resource use results in adverse impacts to economy and community social well-being. Natural Resources Canada’s Deforestation Monitoring Group responds to resource management issues from such practices.
Where are we headed?
The benefits of biodiversity conservation are not always understood, but there is a growing recognition that ecological systems that support human society are under severe pressure, and that economic activities must be pursued in harmony with our Earth’s capacity to support them. Although federal regulatory and legislative frameworks exist, and provinces are more likely to have jurisdictional and financial resources to purchase large amounts of land, it is municipalities that frequently experience the environmental impacts associated with biodiversity loss up close, and are the ones to spearhead conservation efforts. For example, visit https://www.biopolis.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Cities-and-Biodiversity-Exploring-how-Edmonton-and-Montreal-are-Mainstreaming-the-Urban-Biodiversity-Movement.pdf.
The federal government initiated a five-year, $1.3 billion investment in natural conservation in 2018, including acquisition of land and expansion of national wildlife areas and sanctuaries. Canada’s Biodiversity Strategy has also succeeded with ecological planning and management efforts in many regions, for example, forested regions and resulting urban protected areas.
Statistics Canada trends show agricultural land stable at 167 million acres, but, as farm numbers drop, the average farm size has increased from 676 to 728 acres. Owned land has dropped 2.1%, while areas leased or rented increased 9.9% given an aging farming population and rising farmland prices. Demand for year-round produce has meant more greenhouses and organics.
Canada’s Federal Sustainable Development Strategy is the primary vehicle for sustainable development planning and reporting every 3 years. Public consultations on the last draft strategy (2019 to 2022), were instrumental in shaping the final version with more than 500 written comments from a diverse range of stakeholders on topics including climate change, higher food costs, human health, more efficient farming practices such as regenerative agriculture, less pesticide use, and storing carbon in grasslands. Canadians also expressed concern on clear-cut logging and deforestation, emphasizing sustainable timber harvesting, and reforestation. Some welcomed attention to invasive species across different regions, especially as climate change impacts ecosystem resiliency. Others made it clear that for species at risk, protection efforts and partnerships are crucial to managing our ecosystems.
Unique areas, need of protection
Canada’s agricultural landscape is comprised of cultivated and grazing land with associated rivers and streams, wetlands, woodlands, and natural grasslands. These habitats support many birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. Many of these and other species only occur in regions suitable for farming. Conversion of natural landscapes and changes in land use (such as wetland drainage, cultivation of natural lands, overgrazing, and the loss and fragmentation of forest cover) negatively affect wildlife. Conversely, conservation tillage, planting shelterbelts, responsible grazing, and buffering watercourses help sustain biodiversity.
In Canada, the establishment of new forests (or afforestation) does not occur on a large scale—around 9,000 hectares annually result in a reduction of approximately 1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide yearly, which slowly increases over time as new trees grow. Deforestation has a bigger impact caused mainly by the conversion of forest land for agriculture, industrial development, resource extraction and urban expansion. Canada’s 348 million hectares of forest lands represent about 9% of the world’s forest cover, but only 0.3% of global deforestation. Canada’s forests are continually affected by fire, insects, and disease. These natural disturbances and others such as drought, floods and windstorms over time impact forest construction and habitat diversity.
Agricultural emissions, land cover
10% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions (GGE) are from crop and livestock production, excluding emissions from fossil fuel or fertilizer use. In Canada, 250,000 farmers manage about 68 million hectares. Overall, they have considerably improved their soil management practices. Measuring emissions is not easy; emissions come from many places on the farm: soils, animals, and machinery. Conversely, agriculture slows climate change with soil carbon storage as organic matter, vegetation, and in trees.
Activity Ranking: *** Moving in the Right Direction
The cumulative impacts of industry, farming, forestry, commercial fishing, expanded urban areas, increased transportation corridors, and our high per capita consumption of resources can expect to lead to degradation of ecosystems, habitats, and the reduction of species and genetic diversity. Ecosystems and habitats have also been degraded by pollution, introduction of alien species, and fragmentation resulting from many aspects of human activity. More work is needed.
To request action, please contact Minister O’Regan, with the following message:
A recent United Nations (UN) Convention on Biological Diversity 2020 proposal notes to reverse rapid loss of species around the globe, governments should protect nearly one-third of all lands and oceans, and slash major sources of pollution by the end of the decade. This framework will replace existing goals from 2010 once a UN climate summit occurs, pushed back to 2021.
Canada must actively create new policies as well support the UN’s proposed 2050 Vision for Biodiversity as an all-encompassing biodiversity framework, considering ecosystem health, nature’s contributions to people, human health, socio-economic concerns, trade concerns, human rights considerations, new technologies, indigenous peoples, local communities, gender issues, intergenerational concerns, and education; by definition a daunting task, but one to ensure targets and reduced GGEs in reaching the goal of living in harmony with nature by 2050.
The Honourable Seamus O’Regan, Minister of Natural Resources
Mail: House of Commons, Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6
Tel: 1 613 992-0927
For more information, please email Climate Scorecard Canadian Country Manager: Diane Szoller at Canada@climatescorecard.org.