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BC "last place on earth" to protect habitat, wildlife

The B.C. government needs to enact endangered species legislation if it wants a secure economic future for the province, said Whistler's Mayor Ken Melamed yesterday.

He spoke at the launch of a tongue-in-cheek campaign calling B.C. the "last place on earth" to enact endangered species legislation.

The David Suzuki Foundation, ForestEthics, Wilderness Committee and Ecojustice partnered on the campaign, which pokes fun at the province's official slogan, "British Columbia, the best place on earth."

Melamed said there is an "economic imperative" to have such legislation in place by the time the world comes to visit in 2010, adding it would be "inconsistent" for the province not to, given Premier Gordon Campbell's commitment to curb carbon emissions.

Faisal Moola, science director for the David Suzuki Foundation, said habitat protection is often seen as a conflict between jobs and the environment. Current government policies don't account for the services that robust ecosystems provide -- like water filtration, air purification and carbon sequestration.

"Nature provides a whole suite of benefits that make your life much much better," said Moola. "The cost of replacing those is high."

These services are provided most readily in ecosystems that support many types of plants and animals, said Kai Chan, who hold the Canada Research Chair in biodiversity at UBC. Many of these ecological "hotspots" are in regions heavily populated by humans as well, like the Lower Mainland and Okanagan Valley.

At its convention in September, the Union of B.C. Municipalities passed a resolution calling on the government to enact stand-alone endangered species legislation. Right now, the province's Wildlife Act is the main piece of legislation dealing with wildlife. An endangered designation under the act means there is a higher penalty for harming that species, and its habitat may be protected in a critical habitat management area.

Sean Nixon, staff lawyer for Ecojustice, said that scientists have identified 1600 endangered species in the province, but the Wildlife Act recognizes just four: the burrowing owl, sea ottawa, American white pelican and Vancouver Island marmot.

"We share with Alberta the dubious distinction…of having the worst species protection laws in North America," said Nixon.

Kate Thompson, media relations manager for the Ministry of Environment, said the Wildlife Act was amended in 2004 to include invertebrates and plants, but there are not yet regulations in place to carry out those amendments.

Environment Minister Barry Penner did not respond to The Tyee's request for comment.

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