“Humanity is a biological species, living in a biological environment, because like all species, we are exquisitely adapted in everything: from our behavior, to our genetics, to our physiology, to that particular environment in which we live. The earth is our home. Unless we preserve the rest of life, as a sacred duty, we will be endangering ourselves by destroying the home in which we evolved, and on which we completely depend.”
Edward Osborne Wilson , Scientist, Naturalist, Author, and Teacher 

This primer on biodiversity is designed as an informative backgrounder for those attending the April 28-30, 2023 Sources of Knowledge Forum on biodiversity, or really anyone viewing the Sources of Knowledge website. In it you will get to know the conservation landscape from varying perspectives, and read about Protected Areas, the critical importance of Indigenous Stewardship, and a cautious maybe.

The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity states that biological diversity means the variability among living organisms from all sources including terrestrial, marine, and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.

In reviewing the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, in December 2022, the world came to Montreal to participate in COP15 (Convention of the Parties). The end result was signing of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, committing countries to protect 30 percent of land and oceans by 2030, recognizing Indigenous leadership as a central pillar of achieving these goals and reaffirming Indigenous Peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consent to development projects taking place on their territories. In February 2023, the 5th International Marine Protected Areas Congress (IMPAC5) in Vancouver resulted in more conservation commitments.

Please note the information here is not meant to be comprehensive. Links are provided for the reader interested to learn more. The Sources of Knowledge’s desire is to inform and spur action.

Thanks for your interest and passion!

Four Key Messages

  1. Biodiversity is in peril globally, nationally and locally but recent conservation commitments led by Canada at COP15 and IMPAC5 are encouraging.
  2. The Saugeen Bruce Peninsula is a biodiversity hotspot on a Great Lakes and national-level scale, and important conservation efforts are underway.
  3. Indigenous conservation leadership is central. As Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault says, “By coupling Indigenous and Western science, we can fight the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss, strengthen our relationships with Indigenous communities, and build a better future for everyone.”
  4. Despite demonstrating ambition, Canada has consistently failed to meet international targets on greenhouse gas emissions and protected areas targets. Canada continues to subsidize fossil fuel companies, facilitate logging of old-growth forest, and approve new mines on significant Indigenous Nations lands. Locally, municipalities continue to approve developments along the sensitive Saugeen Bruce Peninsula shoreline. It is up to citizens to advocate for real, long-lasting change.

Biodiversity: Getting to Know the Conservation Landscape from International to National to the Saugeen Bruce Peninsula

Global Perspective

The World Wildlife Fund notes that we are that we are now in the midst of a sixth mass extinction: “A mass extinction is a short period of geological time in which a high percentage of biodiversity, or distinct speciesbacteria, fungi, plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, invertebratesdies out. In this definition, it’s important to note that, in geological time, a ‘short’ period can span thousands or even millions of years. The planet has experienced five previous mass extinction events, the last one occurring 65.5 million years ago which wiped out the dinosaurs from existence. Currently, the species extinction rate is estimated between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than natural extinction rates”.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) established what is known as the “Red List” in 1964 to serve as a critical indicator of the health of the world’s biodiversity.  The 2022 Red List notes that 42,100 species are threatened with extinction, or 28% of over 150,00 assessed species.

The 2018 Regional Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services for the Americas provides a critical analysis of the state of knowledge regarding the importance, status, and trends of biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people. The assessment concludes that the Americas are endowed with much greater capacity for nature to contribute to peoples’ quality of life than the global average. Unfortunately, the assessment found that biodiversity and ecosystem conditions in the Americas are declining, with nearly one quarter of species comprehensively assessed classified by IUCN as being at high risk of extinction.

The 2022 World Wildlife Fund Global Living Planet Report notes an average 69% decline in the relative abundance of monitored wildlife populations around the world between 1970 and 2018. Latin America shows the greatest regional decline in average population abundance (94%), while freshwater species populations have seen the greatest overall global decline (83%).

National Perspective

As the second largest country in the world, what Canada chooses to do in protecting natural areas is important. Canada stewards 20% of the Earth’s wild forests, 24% of its wetlands, almost one third of its land-stored carbon, and over 243,000 km of coastline along three oceans and another 9,500 km along the Great Lakes – the longest coastline in the world.

The World Wildlife Fund Canada’s 2020 report, Living Planet Report Card Canada shows populations of species assessed as at risk nationally by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) have declined by 59 percent, on average, from 1970–2016. Species of global conservation concern — assessed as threatened on the IUCN Red List — also have declined in Canada by 42 percent, on average, from 1970–2016. At-risk species in Canada face an average of five threats, including the accelerating threat of climate change.

The David Suzuki Foundation reports that in 2020, 521 plant and animal species are considered at risk under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada and Nature Serve Canada in their 2020 Ours to Save document report that Canada is home to over 300 different plant and animal species that live nowhere else on Earth. Unfortunately, the first comprehensive survey of these uniquely Canadian species shows that many could be vulnerable to extinction. These are known as endemic species that can only be found in a specific geographical area, such as an ecological region or country. This raises the stakes considerably as if one of these species disappears from Canada, they disappear from the globe. They report that Ontario has a total of 28 endemic species, including a liverwort only found on the Saugeen Bruce Peninsula and at Eugenia Falls, and a lichen species only found on the Peninsula and Manitoulin Island.

Saugeen Bruce Peninsula

The Nature Conservancy of Canada notes that the Saugeen Bruce Peninsula is one of the most intact natural landscapes in Ontario south of the Canadian Shield. It presents a rare opportunity to conserve a large, functional ecosystem in biodiversity-rich southern Ontario. This in turn benefits wide-ranging mammals such as the fisher, red-shouldered hawk, ovenbird, northern flying squirrels, and black bear. The Peninsula supports an abundance of species diversity, including 11 globally rare species such as massasauga rattlesnake, rams-head orchid, and lakeside daisy. Cabot Head, on the northeastern Saugeen Bruce Peninsula, is an important stopover site for migratory birds. Many species gather here in globally significant concentrations during their spring and fall migrations, including being the most significant gathering point on the Great Lakes for red-necked grebes.

Protected Areas

At the COP15 meetings in Montreal, Canada adopted the goal of conserving 30% of lands and waters by 2030. The current progress is 13.5% of terrestrial area, and 13.9% of marine territory. To learn of updates, visit the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society site that reports regularly on protected areas provincially and nationally.

Given the significance of the Saugeen Bruce Peninsula, a number of government and non-government organizations steward important natural areas. The Bruce Peninsula Biosphere Association’s Community Conservation and Stewardship Plan  (2014) reports that parks and protected areas comprise over 27% of the land base, stewarded by a variety of government and non-government agencies. The Wildlands League’s Northern Bruce Peninsula Ecosystem Community Atlas provides additional information on the significance of the peninsula.

Having over 27% of lands on the Peninsula protected is a good start to ensuring ecological integrity. More work is needed to work on a landscape scale for large species such as black bears. Working with private landowners on stewardship efforts is the next logical step. A good example of this is the Bruce Peninsula Biosphere Association Six Streams agricultural stewardship project in the fertile Ferndale Flats area.

Protected Areas and Species on the Saugeen Bruce Peninsula

Bruce Peninsula National Park was established in 1987 to represent the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence Lowlands region. Fathom Five National Marine Park was established in 1987 to represent the Georgian Bay and Lake Huron marine regions.

The 154 square kilometre Bruce Peninsula National Park contains the largest contiguous forest in southwestern Ontario. It also protects globally-rare ecosystems such as limestone barrens (alvars), cliff-edge forests, 43 species of orchids, and other species at risk.

Located in the heart of the Great Lakes, the 114 square kilometre Fathom Five National Marine Park protects 20 islands and a significant portion of the main channel connecting Georgian Bay to Lake Huron, and Fathom Five is recognized as a hotspot for biodiversity in the Great Lakes due to the wide diversity of globally at-risk habitat it protects, including cliff and talus slopes, cobble shorelines, and alvar communities, and the largest collection of lacustrine wave-cut caves in Canada.

The parks are situated along a 400 million-year old landform known as the Niagara Escarpment in Ontario and the Michigan Basin more widely that stretches from western New York, passes north through southern Ontario to Manitoulin and on to Wisconsin.

The 2016 Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park Multi-Species Action Plan identifies 35 species at risk (6 endangered; 18 threatened; and 11 species of concern). The 2022 Implementation Report reports on the recovery of 13 species for which actions in Bruce-Fathom Five have a substantive impact on species survival:

  • Eastern Prairie-fringed Orchid
  • Hill’s Thistle
  • Dwarf Lake Iris
  • Hill’s Pondweed
  • Lakeside Daisy
  • Tuberous Indian Plantain
  • Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake
  • Snapping Turtle
  • Eastern Ribbonsnake
  • Eastern Milksnake
  • Queensnake
  • Monarch Butterfly
  • American Black Bear

Fourteen recovery actions are underway including the On the Road to Recovery turtle conservation project, the Together with Giigoonyag lake whitefish research initiative, black bear conservation plan, recovery efforts for plant species at risk, and surveys on at-risk bat populations and peregrine falcon nesting sites.

In addition to the national parks, there are many other biodiversity protected areas and restoration projects including provincial parks and nature reserves, lands protected by non-government organizations such as the Nature Conservancy of Canada, Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy, and Ontario Nature.

The Bruce Peninsula Biosphere Association runs a multi-year phragmites removal project and is embarking on a red-headed woodpecker community survey. The Nature Conservancy of Canada has a Queen Snake survey and is working on invasive species removal. The Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory has monitored migratory birds annually for over 20 years.

Critical Importance of Indigenous Stewardship

While Indigenous Peoples make up 5% of the world’s population, they protect 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity

In 2018, the Indigenous Circle of Experts situated Indigenous Nations as conservation leaders in Canada with their report, We Rise Together. The report provides direction on an Indigenous approach to reaching Canada’s conservation targets, positing that the time has come for Indigenous knowledge systems, legal traditions, and customary and cultural practices to be appropriately recognized as equally valid and binding. To achieve this, they outline an important aspect of such appropriate recognition: Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs). They state that through their articulation of IPCAs, Indigenous People can contribute to a more hopeful vision of the future—a future where Indigenous Peoples decide what conservation and protection means to them and to the lands and waters and are given the space to lead its implementation in their territories. The Conservation Through Reconciliation Partnership has been established to support Indigenous peoples in undertaking IPCAs.

Saugeen Ojibway Nation

The Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) are the original human inhabitants of these lands and waters. It is important to note that SON has a different worldview when it comes to nature and does not use words and concepts like protection and conservation. The Anishinaabek way of life does not separate humans from nature and follows a set of guiding principles referred to as the ‘Seven Grandfather Teachings’: honesty, respect, truth, love, humility, bravery, and wisdom.  These teachings guide the Anishinaabek on how to be good human beings and how to care for Mother Earth and all of creation so the next seven generations may benefit from these lands and waters as we have. Parks Canada and SON are working together, referred to in Anishinabek as Wedokododwin, to develop a shared vision to care for Mother Earth, and are learning to walk together with a shared responsibility to honour this vision.

As noted on their website: “The Saugeen Anishnaabek have been living in our home on and near the Saugeen (Bruce) Peninsula for as long as our history remembers. Through our treaties with the Crown, we agreed to share part of our land with people who have come from all around the world. As Anishnaabek people, we are subject to Anishnaabe law and are ever mindful of our duty to be stewards of our land.

Can Canada Achieve New International Conservation Targets While Still Embracing the Resource Extraction Industry? The Answer is a Cautious Maybe

Canada’s environmental groups applauded the “historic” deal at COP15, specifically credited Environment and Climate Change Canada Minister Steven Guilbeault for his role landing it.

As has been the case with climate change in supporting both natural gas and oil pipelines, off-shore oil extraction and continuing to provide significant fossil fuel subsidies, Canada has an equally checkered track record when it comes to protecting biodiversity: supporting unsustainable fisheries, promising to streamline mining project assessments in Ontario’s Ring of Fire boreal forest region, and a poor provincial record. British Columbia still lacks a Species at Risk Act, are building the Site C hydro-electric dam flooding hundreds of hectares of habitat in the Peace River valley, and continues to support numerous natural gas pipelines and coastal shipping facility expansions.

Good News

Following the COP15 meetings, Canada and many provinces (with the notable exceptions of Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta) have stepped up with funding commitments. Nova Scotia promised $20M towards conservation action and designated 9,300 hectares of Crown Land towards protecting 20% of lands and waters by 2030. Quebec committed $650M over seven years to support IPCAs, protect endangered species and purchase land for conservation. The federal government has signed nature agreements with Yukon and Manitoba to protect nature, with an agreement with B.C. expected in 2023.

In the wake of the COP15 meetings, Canada is supporting Indigenous Guardians programs and the establishment of new IPCAs. In two separate announcements at the conference, Ottawa unveiled a seven-year plan with up to $800 million in funding to support four Indigenous-led projects in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, British Columbia and Ontario.

Environmental groups are welcoming Parks Canada’s buyout of two businesses in Jasper National Park‘s Tonquin Valley, a scenic and heavily visited destination also used by vanishing caribou herds. The Tonquin Valley is crucial habitat for one of these dwindling caribou herds. Parks Canada says the Tonquin herd is down to nine breeding females — too few to produce enough calves to increase the herd (the two lodges were on habitat used by caribou for calving, rearing and rutting, and added to the pressures the animals were facing from predators).

Protection of biodiversity is also being undertaken directly by Indigenous Nations and private conservation groups:

  • 52 acre Link Island in B.C.’s Salish Sea donated by a family to the Islands Trust Conservancy.
  • Large carnivores, cougars and grizzly bears seem to be gradually clawing their way back after settlers eliminated them from the province more than a hundred years ago.
  • Nature Conservancy of Canada has added to the ‘Waterton Park Front’ lands adjacent to Waterton Lakes National Park to further protect grasslands habitat.
  • Government of B.C. announced protection of the 8,000-hectare Incomappleux Valley conservancy in the partnership with NCC.

Announcements at IMPAC5 include:

  • 15 First Nations assuming stewardship of the Great Bear Sea Marine Protected Area Network, a vast network of marine protected areas in their traditional territories that span two-thirds of Canada’s West Coast.
  • Canada officially recognizing Mamalilikulla First Nation efforts to unilaterally declare protections for a 10,416-hectare tract of land and sea north of Vancouver Island off the coast of British Columbia under Indigenous law.
  • Canada promised 10 new Marine Protected Areas.
  • Gwan-hacxwiqak-Tsigis Marine Protected Area, a 133,000-square-kilometre swath of open ocean on Canada’s West Coast with a unique concentration of hydrothermal vents, underwater sea mountains and rich deep-sea biodiversity hot spots.

We are hoping that you learned more and join SoK in loving parks! Enjoy the links to the many hard-working nature protection organizations across Canada. Watch the SoK News section for updates on protecting and stewarding parks and protected areas on the Saugeen Bruce Peninsula.

“You are capable of more than you know. Choose a goal that seems right for you and strive to be the best, however hard the path. Aim high. Behave honorably. Prepare to be alone at times, and to endure failure. Persist! The world needs all you can give.”
― E.O. Wilson

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