Maintaining biodiversity in Okanagan is vital

Ecologists and evolutionists from across the country are meeting in the Okanagan, a biodiversity hotspot.

SFU biodiversity professor Arne Mooers.

The Okanagan is a hotspot of biodiversity and of species at risk in Canada and with that comes a responsibility to conserve the natural environment here to protect its species.

“Wherever humans like to be—because there’s water, sun and good soil—tends to be where other living things do best too,” explains Arne Mooers, biodiversity professor at Simon Fraser University and a delegate to this week’s conference of the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution being held at UBCO in Kelowna.

The threat is conversion of land to such uses as agriculture and backyards, in addition to the pollution created by people.

Habitat loss is the largest reason for the loss of land-based species, he says, and in the Okanagan there’s been a lot of conversion of wild land to other uses in the past decade or two.

Once a species is lost, it’s far more expensive and difficult to restore it, than it would have been to conserve its habitat in order to prevent it from being extirpated.

He describes biodiversity as “ all the bits of living things around you and what they do; their interaction. A biodiverse area is one with lots of life,”

If we value biodiversity, then there’s strong evidence that we need to make sure we keep all the bits of the natural environment intact, even if we’re not sure which ones are important.

For instance, it’s been discovered that even rare species often play a vital role in an ecosystem, even if it’s just in keeping an invasive species out of it, he said.

Generally, the best advice is “if an ecosystem is working, don’t mess with it, because we don’t know it all,” he added.

Aside from advantages to us—like a particular plant or bird is pretty or we enjoy it—there are also ethical reasons for conservation. “They were here first,” he explains, adding, “but there may be far more important reasons that we know nothing about.”

Both conserving and restoring come with a cost, and since we all benefit from both, we should all bear our share of the cost. And, we all have a role to play.

That can include such inexpensive actions as staying on the trails in a wilderness park or pulling an invasive plant.

Because Canada is a northern country, there simply aren’t a lot of species in it, yet Canada does have as high a percentage of endangered species as anywhere else. That’s because there’s abundant wildlife, but the biggest range of species live in the same areas of the country that people want to live in.

Canada used to be a leader in its efforts to conserve biodiversity, but that’s changed, says Mooers.

It was the first industrialized country to sign the international Convention on Biological Diversity in 1992. That was the reason the Species at Risk Act was passed in 2002.

Yet, to date, the act has not been adequately implemented and scientists are concerned amendments are being considered that would weaken the existing legislation.

Amendments to the federal Fisheries Act last year resulted in a flood of objections from scientists across Canada.

 

jsteeves@kelownacapnews.com