Biodiversity BC - Conserving the Variety of Life


flag-turnstone.jpg Photo Credit: Don Enright

"Black Turnstones"
Arenaria melanocephala

Foraging on a Vancouver Island beach.

About Biodiversity BC

Q. What/who is Biodiversity BC?

A. Biodiversity BC is a partnership of conservation and government organizations with a wealth of experience in conservation planning. Our sole purpose is developing and facilitating the implementation of a science-based biodiversity strategy for B.C. to preserve B.C.'s quality of life in the face of increasing pressures, such as climate change. Biodiversity BC is, in effect, a "virtual" organization with no physical office of its own and a two-person secretariat contracted to oversee and coordinate the project.

Q. How is Biodiversity BC funded?

A. Biodiversity BC is funded principally by a grant of $1.8 million from the B.C. government through the BC Trust for Public Lands. In addition, the organizations participating in Biodiversity BC have all donated significant amounts of staff time and the use of facilities when required.

Q. What organizations are involved with Biodiversity BC?

A. The Biodiversity BC Steering Committee includes:

  • The Nature Trust of British Columbia
  • Nature Conservancy of Canada
  • The Land Conservancy of British Columbia
  • Ducks Unlimited Canada
  • Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation
  • Pacific Salmon Foundation
  • Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (representing other environmental non-government organizations)
  • BC Ministry of Agriculture and Lands
  • BC Ministry of Environment
  • Environment Canada
  • Union of British Columbia Municipalities (represented by Metro Vancouver)

Why do we need to take action on biodiversity conservation?

Q. Why is biodiversity important?

A. Our wealth of natural diversity makes B.C. a special place. Biodiversity is the variety of all living things, the ecosystems in which they live and the ways they interact with each other - continually adapting in order to survive under constantly changing conditions. Few of us have appreciated the many benefits we enjoy from our healthy and diverse ecosystems, such as:

  • Providing air for us to breathe, food to eat, clean water to drink and medicines to keep us well, productive soils and nutrient cycling which support renewable resources such as timber, and much more;
  • Regulating local climate, flooding, disease, water quality and pollution; and
  • Enriching our lives through recreation, aesthetic enjoyment, and spiritual enrichment opportunities.

B.C.'s biodiversity helps keep these benefits flowing to us, but only as long as the ecosystems and ecological processes continue to be healthy and functioning properly. Unintended interference with the functioning of ecosystems and the species within them can put those benefits at risk.

Q. But why is action on biodiversity so important, when we have serious issues such as climate change to deal with?

A. The issues of biodiversity and climate change are inextricably linked. On the one hand, climate change is emerging as the most serious long-term threat to B.C.'s biodiversity. On the other hand, healthy biodiversity helps to mitigate extreme climate events and actions taken to deal with either one of these issues will have a beneficial impact on the other issue. However successful we are in turning around our release of greenhouse gases, B.C. is likely to face some big climate changes in the next 50 to 100 years. If we are successful in conserving healthy, functional biodiversity, we can retain many of the "ecosystem services" that biodiversity provides during what will be difficult times around the world.

Q . How can one development in/near my town be a problem when the vast majority of B.C. is natural wilderness?

A. Healthy ecosystems in and around urban areas produce many benefits. They help to regulate air and water quality and local climate, they help control flooding, and they offer cultural heritage as well as recreation and education opportunities. It is around urban areas that biodiversity is often most threatened, which puts these community benefits at risk.

It's true that ecosystems are adaptable, and any one minor disturbance may not destroy their functionality. However, the cumulative effects of continuing disturbances will very likely degrade an ecosystem to the point where it is no longer able to provide the community benefits we rely on. There's also the impact on neighbouring ecosystems to consider. Ecosystems tend to operate within inter-dependent networks, so damage to one can have a harmful ripple effect on ecosystems throughout the region.

As to there being lots of natural wilderness outside urban areas, that's quite true. But these higher elevation areas have substantially different ecosystems, which produce different benefits. The valley bottoms and coastal areas where the vast majority of British Columbians live, work and play are the same areas that have the richest biodiversity, but competition with human uses has put the ecosystems and species that live there under far greater pressure than in other less populated areas. That's why every ecosystem in these areas is so valuable and important.

Status of Biodiversity

Q . What does your definition of biodiversity cover? What is the scope of the assessment in the status report?

A. Biodiversity is the variety of life in all its forms. While the term biodiversity can be described in a number of ways, the B.C. Biodiversity Action Plan incorporates the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy's definition: the variety of species and ecosystems on Earth and the ecological processes of which they are a part - including ecosystem, species and genetic diversity components.

Our assessment is of biodiversity covers species, ecosystem and natural process diversity throughout the land and freshwater environment of BC, as well as attention to species that move back and forth between BC land/waters and the marine realm (saltwater). The focus of the assessment is strictly on biodiversity values and does not include things like visual quality, spiritual values and wilderness values.

Q. Why exclude the marine (coastal saltwater) component? Especially when you're looking at species that move back and forth?

A. The Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans is already undertaking the development of a new strategy to conserve biodiversity in the coastal marine environment, which is primarily a federal jurisdiction.

Q. Based on the work you have done so far, what do you expect the biggest challenges will be to conserve B.C'.s biodiversity?

A. In many ways, the biggest challenge is likely to be that species, ecosystems and natural processes are not static. They are always changing, evolving and adapting to changing conditions even without the intrusion of human activities. One result of human activities however is already having a significant impact, which will only grow larger and that is climate change. Within the next 50 to 100 years there is likely to be huge climate changes in many parts of B.C. and it is only by ensuring healthy, resilient ecosystems that we can be sure naturally occurring species and ecosystem processes will be able to adapt.

And at the same time all this is happening, B.C. is undergoing tremendous growth in population and economic activity. Surging populations around major urban areas are competing for the same "real estate" as already pressured ecosystems and species.

We expect these two factors to present major challenges to biodiversity conservation.

Q. Isn't it an impossible goal to preserve B.C.'s natural environment the way it is now?

A. Biodiversity conservation is NOT about preserving a static state of biodiversity. It's about responding intelligently to a dynamic situation. Even without the added pressures of accelerating climate change and a rapidly growing human population, species and ecosystems are always evolving and adapting. Our goal is to come up with a prioritized plan for collective action to conserve the aspects of biodiversity that are the most important and most valuable to us.