Including Wetlands Conservation in NWT Legislation

 

MAY 8, 2018 | DUCKS UNLIMITED CANADA

 

The Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) is currently updating and modernizing five pieces of environmental-related legislation. This activity lends itself to a unique opportunity for the GNWT to include wetlands conservation into legislation. As such, Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) has provided submissions to the NWT’s Water’s Act and Forest Management and Protection Act.

On April 17, 2018 DUC met with the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories Standing Committee on Economic Development for a public briefing to discuss achieving GNWT mandate commitments through wetland conservation and the opportunity to integrate wetland conservation into the Water’s Act. Below is DUC's presentation. 

DUC’s Recommendations to Achieving GNWT Mandate Commitments through Wetland Conservation

As Canada’s leader in habitat conservation, Duck’s Unlimited Canada (DUC) conserves, restores and manages wetlands and associated habitats to benefit waterfowl, wildlife and people. Our goal is to ensure abundant wetlands and waterfowl for generations to come while improving Canadian lives. Waterfowl are migratory. That’s why our conservation efforts impact diverse areas across the entire country—including the NWT.

DUC is a private, not-for-profit registered charitable organization and has been working with partners to conserve wetlands for over 80 years, with a focus on the boreal forest for over 20 years. The reason for our interest in the boreal forest is simple – this region is rich in wetlands and provides breeding habitat for 40 per cent of the continent’s waterfowl.

DUC understands that conservation and economic development must progress together. We know the benefit of strategic alliances and the value of a working landscape. Our work would be impossible without co-operation from hundreds of Canadian and International partners from a variety of industry sectors.

Whether informing governments on policy or helping harvesters to operate sustainability through the forested landscape, all our partners rely on our sound advice. Our integrity and credibility is central to everything we do. All our work is based on a foundation of science. DUC experts are constantly in the air, on the water or in the lab researching the most effective methods to conserve wetlands now and in the future.

Ducks Unlimited is an organization that can help balance conservation and resource development in the NWT. We have expertise in many areas including: research; community/regional land use planning/mapping; conservation programming; development and implementation of policies and sustainable development practices.

Importance of Wetlands and Wetland Policy

The Northwest Territories (NWT) boasts some of the most beautiful, intact wetland landscapes in the world. Composed of 42 unique ecoregions, the NWT is a very diverse land containing pristine lakes, rivers and mountains all surrounded by various wetlands in the vast boreal forest. Treasured by all northerners, Canadians and people worldwide, the picturesque landscape of the NWT is home to hundreds of water bird species.

For thousands of years, Aboriginal People have fished from the lakes and rivers, trapped for fur bearing animals on traditional trap lines, harvested game for feasting and used plants from the boreal forests for medicines. The strength of the Indigenous cultures in the north depends on the continued existence and health of the land and waters of the NWT.

Wetlands are areas that are saturated with water long enough to support aquatic plants and wildlife for part of their life cycle. Canada’s wetlands are diverse. They take the form of marshes, bogs, fens, swamps and open water. Every type helps to keep our communities healthy and safe. Wetlands are productive ecosystems that provide a host of ecological services and benefits and form an integral component of NWT’s diverse landscapes:

  • 20% of NWT is covered by wetlands
  • Wetlands are an integral part of land, life and livelihood in NWT
  • Culturally, physically, and socially significant
  • Highly important to the Indigenous People.
  • Supports ecotourism within the region
  • Helps provide clean water for everyone
  • Provides carbon storage to provide climate change mitigation benefits
  • Buffers the impacts of floods and drought to provide resilience to climate change
  • Provides biodiversity conservation – contribution to Target 1

Wetlands support our way of life and contribute to our economic and cultural well-being and need to be conserved to ensure future generations may benefit from them.

Wetlands as Part of an Integrated Climate Change Strategy

Protecting our wetlands is critical to any carbon mitigation and climate change resiliency strategy. North America’s 607 million hectare boreal forest contains the largest remaining intact inventory of wetlands in the world. Canada’s boreal stores more carbon than any other on Earth – an estimated 208 billion tonnes of carbon – the equivalent to approximately 26 years of global fossil fuel emissions. While much of the boreal forest remains intact it does face increased pressure due to human activity and development thus underscoring both the opportunity and urgency to protect it.

In the current round of discussions regarding carbon taxes, caps and credits, carbon storage, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and GHG storage or sinks, there has been little mention of the role that wetlands play in the fight against climate change. When wetlands are drained or negatively impacted, significant amounts of carbon dioxide are released back into the atmosphere over a relatively short period of time which offsets the effectiveness of other taxpayer-funded climate change abatement investments. Carbon offset systems and protocol regulators will be looking for complete carbon accounting which would include those emissions associated with wetland conversion. We believe that just like grassland conservation, wetland conservation should be recognized as an “avoided conversion protocol” in the fight against climate change. Jurisdictions will need to add the GHG emissions impact of continuing wetland conversion to the balance sheet. Emissions caused by ongoing wetland destruction and degradation will have to be offset or they will nullify the potential emission reductions achieved through various other climate change investments and strategies.

Opportunity to Integrate Wetland Conservation into the Water’s Act

  • Many jurisdictions across Canada are pursuing dedicated wetland policies
  • Legislative reviews provide NWT with a unique opportunity to integrate key wetland policy principles
  • DUC’s offers 3 recommendations for the NWT Water’s Act:
  1. Embed the goal of wetlands conservation into the new Act (under aquatic ecosystems)
  2. Embrace the principle of No Net Loss of wetlands functions – which means sustaining the full range of existing ecological functions provided by wetlands.
  3.  Enable the wetland mitigation process as the means to achieve No Net Loss of wetland functions. The mitigation process is a commonly accepted policy framework that includes:
    1. Avoidance of sensitive or significant wetland areas
    2. Minimization of impact through best management practices
    3. Restoration, replacement or offsets to compensate for any lost functions.

Integrating these key wetland policy principles into the Water’s Act and providing concurrent linkages under the Forest Management and Protection Act would: demonstrate national leadership; complement other conservation initiatives across Canada; and contributes to a number of GNWT priorities and commitments. Most importantly, the inclusion of these components would guide how wetlands would be conserved for future generations in the NWT.

Achieving GNWT Priorities and Mandate Commitments

The integration of wetlands and wetland conservation principles into new the legislation(s) would benefit the people of NWT in numerous ways:

  • Supports devolution process through establishment of a made-in NWT policy
  • Establishes sustainability objectives and informs decision making related to wetlands
  • Assists with balanced resource management in the north
  • Demonstrates tangible progress under GNWT’s climate change strategy
  • Supports objectives under the Water Stewardship Strategy Action Plan
  • Supports the Cumulative Impact Monitoring Program to enhance environmental performance
  • Contributes social licence that may assist with Transboundary water negotiations
  • Provides balanced approach, hence certainty to industry and resource development
  • Provides a key deliverable under the Land Use and Sustainability Framework
  • Helps ensure innovation, integration and consistency
  • Informs and supports: LUP decisions; policy guidelines; mitigation requirements; best management practices; operational standards; and approaches to protection
  • Provides foundation and support for other ecosystem-based approaches
  • Demonstrates commitment and leadership to federal objectives helping to position NWT for support

The inclusion of stronger wetland conservation provisions under legislation would provide an important legacy for NWT’s future generations. As a key commitment and tangible deliverable to achieving environmental stewardship, the policy would provide certainty for resource development and support the traditional and cultural heritages of the north while enhancing the biodiversity which resides in the north.

Conserving wetlands and habitats across our great land mass is a challenge. DUC can help bring together a number of approaches to get it done both EFFECTIVELY AND EFFICIENTLY that will have a MADE IN THE NORTH approach!