Brauns holly fern [Macphail Woods]

Still no protection

The Nature of PEI | by Gary Schneider

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In March of 2019, I wrote a column on the province’s lack of protection for our flora and fauna not listed under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). If it wasn’t a species such as the piping plover or the St. Lawrence Aster, and on federal land, there was little to no protection.

A report published by EcoJustice at that time noted that “PEI’s law automatically prohibits destroying, disturbing or interfering with the habitat of an endangered or threatened species. But no species are listed, so no habitat is protected.” PEI received the lowest ranking of the Atlantic provinces.

So two years later, how are we doing with provincially legislated protection of our rarest forms of wildlife? Not so good, according to another report just published by the East Coast Environmental Law Association (ECELAW).

Simply Not Protected: An Evaluation of Prince Edward Island’s Legal Framework to Protect Species at Risk, assessed whether Prince Edward Island’s Wildlife Conservation Act is succeeding in its purpose of protecting endangered, threatened, and vulnerable wildlife and their habitats on the Island. The conclusion? It’s not.

Sad to hear. Two years after being called out in a nation-wide assessment, it seems that little to nothing has been done on the legislative front.

To be fair, the province has been buying and protecting more land, which is valuable over the long term. And Macphail Woods and other organizations—like watershed groups—have been promoting the value of propagating and planting rare native plants.

But protection? That’s another matter.  

If I own a forest that contains one of the last two areas of the beautiful Braun’s holly fern and decide to clearcut the area, nothing can stop me. Clearcutting would open the stand up to more sunlight and drying conditions, and these rare ferns (and many other species) would most likely not survive the change in habitat.

Migratory birds are protected under the international Migratory Birds Convention Act. That’s right, there is an actual international treaty protecting migratory birds. The Eastern wood pewee—a migratory flycatcher that nests in forests—doesn’t actually need protection. Federal legislation already provides it. What it does need, though, is enforcement. I can eliminate an entire woodland and destroy birds and bird habitat, and no one will say a thing.

Under the Provincial Wildlife Conservation Act, “Where the Minister considers that a species of wildlife is threatened with imminent extinction, the Lieutenant Governor in Council may, by regulations, designate the species as an endangered species.” The Minister may also designate species as threatened, or of special concern. Unfortunately, PEI has never designated any species with these labels. 

The global and national loss of biodiversity goes hand-in-hand with climate change. Both must be addressed. Yet in this time of crisis, we continue to turn a blind eye to providing legislative protection for rare species and habitat. ECELAW found that the Minister (referring to a long line of provincial Environment Ministers) failed to: maintain an Advisory Committee; take steps to designate species at risk; legally protect species at risk; and take steps to protect habitat for species at risk.

In addition, a 2020 study published in Biodiversity and Conservation magazine listed PEI as one of nine crisis ecoregions in the country. We continue to attract attention for all the wrong reasons.

We must do a better job of protecting the environment, including rare species. Our future really does depend on it.

A summary of the ECELAW report, and a link to the full report, can be found at ecelaw.ca/news/new-report-calls-for-new-species-at-risk-legislation-in-prince-edward-island.html

Gary SchneiderThe Nature of PEI
Gary Schneider

Gary began writing for The Buzz in the May 2018 issue. He co-chairs ECO-PEI and started the Macphail Woods Ecological Forestry Project in 1991. The project demonstrates ecologically-sound forest management, with a focus on environmental education, conservation of rare plants, and the restoration of PEI’s native forest. He is an avid birder and lives in Tea Hill.