Friday, April 30, 2010

World Leaders Fail to Meet Biodiversity Targets

According to a new study co-authored by BirdLife International, world leaders have failed to deliver commitments made to reduce the global rate of biodiversity loss by 2010, and have instead overseen alarming biodiversity declines.

The findings are explained in a new paper published in the leading journal Science and represent the first assessment of how the targets made through the 2002 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) have not been met.

The study, led by Dr. Stuart Butchart, BirdLife's Global Research and Indicators Coordinator, focuses on 31 indicators developed by the 2010 Biodiversity Indicators Partnership, a collaboration of over 40 international organizations and agencies developing global biodiversity indicators and the leading source of information on trends in global biodiversity.

The results, of course, were not pretty. The study found no evidence for a significant reduction in the rate of decline of biodiversity, and that the pressures facing biodiversity continue to increase.

According to the study, governments and decision makers have made some progress on establishing more Protected Areas (PAs), Important Bird Areas have become better integrated within PAs and more forests are being sustainably managed. Progress, however, has been slow!

There have been declines in population trends of utilized vertebrates (by 15%) and extinction risk has increased for mammals, birds and amphibians used for food and medicine (23-36% of these species are threatened with extinction) and birds that are internationally traded (8% threatened).

The United Nations Environment Programme’s Chief Scientist has said that since 1970, animal populations have been reduced by 30%, areas of mangroves and sea grasses by 20% and the coverage of living corals by 40%.

As Canada’s list of Species At Risk continues to grow year by year, its grasslands are converted and lost and the Arctic Sea ice continues to disappear, one can only turn back to the Government and say ‘you’ve failed us!’. However, the Canadian government approved a ‘Biodiversity Outcomes Framework’ – a tool to manage, measure, and report on biodiversity conservation in Canada and to assist governments in more directly engaging Canadians in conservation planning, implementation and reporting, according to Environment Canada. It provides implementation and reporting frameworks for the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy. A product of the Biodiversity Outcomes Framework is the Ecosystem Status and Trends Report is due this fall.

Finally, parties to the CBD are saddling up for their 10th Conference of the Parties meeting this October in Nagoya, Japan. They’re up for another challenge; to adopt 20 Targets with an aim of reducing and/or halting biodiversity loss by 2020. Let’s hope that this time they will take the issue more seriously.

UPDATE: Listen to Dr Stuart Butchart interviewed about the failure to meet the 2010 Biodiversity targets

Photo Credits: Food market = Claudia Peters Elephants in Ngorongoro Crater = Geof Wilson Coral reef = SF Brit

Monday, April 26, 2010

Did you forget about Earth Day?

Don't despair if you missed last week's celebration of the planet. You can choose to make a difference any day of the year. An easy way to green your lifestyle is to go back to basics: follow the three Rs - with an extra C.

It may seem elementary, but remembering to reduce, reuse and recycle is one of the best ways we can help the planet. It’s also important to follow them in order:

Reduce – Before you purchase something new, ask yourself if you really need it. Is there another option that would have a lesser impact on the environment? Buy things in bulk when you can to cut down on waste from packaging.

Reuse – Once you’re done with an item, think about whether or not it has any other uses. Empty yogurt containers can be used to start seeds and plastic bags have many potential uses. If you can’t use it, find out if there’s someone who can; for example, books can be donated to the local library or a community sale.

Recycle – When a product is finally coming to the end of its lifecycle, look into whether or not it can be recycled. Most municipalities collect paper, cardboard, cans and glass; check to see which plastics are collected locally (the plastic number is usually on the bottom of the container). Don’t forget about items like printer cartridges and paint – there are often special drop-offs for these materials where they can be collected and refurbished or repurposed.

Compost – Although it isn’t traditional to include composting with the three Rs, it’s an important step in diverting more waste from the landfill. If your community collects kitchen and yard waste, make sure to fill the bin and put it out for pickup. You can also start your own compost at home, either using a vermicomposter (composting with worms!) or a traditional yard bin. Composting allows you to reclaim some nutrients to make a rich soil for your garden and keeps waste that can easily decompose out of the landfill.

What do you do to make Earth Day every day? Let us know in the comments below.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Calling Young Nature Artists, Writers and Photographers!

Celebrations across the country are being held this Earth Day, April 22, in honour of the 10th annual Robert Bateman Get To Know Contest and to celebrate the International Year of Biodiversity. The Premier launch event is taking place at the Canadian Museum of Nature where Alan Bateman, son of renowned wildlife artist Robert Bateman will dedicate a Tree to his father who will also be turning 80 this May.

Thirty students from the Robert Bateman Public School will attend the tree dedication ceremony. The students will then take a tour of the museum's Mammal Gallery, where they will see many of Canada's iconic wildlife species up close in beautiful diorama displays and partake in various activities such as wildlife sketching with Alan Bateman.

Nature Canada has been supporting the Robert Bateman Get To Know Contest for the past seven years and is proud to be a premier partner for the second year in a row. This year we have teamed up, the Canadian Museum of Nature, Wildlife Habitat Canada, the Canadian Wildlife Federation and the Robert Bateman Public School for the 2010 launch event.

Over the last decade, the contest has received tens of thousands of nature-themed art and writing entries. The 2010 contest theme is "Celebrate Biodiversity."

Our planet is home to a dizzying array of wonderful, mysterious life forms and the Get to Know Program hopes youth who participate in this contest will discover a sense of connection with the natural world. Exploring the wild plants and animals in your own neighbourhood can provide a greater appreciation of the beauties of nature while you connect, create and celebrate nature. Parks, zoos, museums, and aquariums are also great places to connect with nature.

Winners of this year's Get to Know Contest will have the chance to receive fantastic prizes such as gifts from Scholastic, Panasonic, Opus Framing and Art Supplies and cash prizes (NEW for 2010!). Your artwork will be featured on Canada's Youth Wildlife Habitat Conservation Stamp and the 2011 Get to Know Contest Calendar.

We support this contest because it helps achieve a very important goal: connecting young people to the natural world. As young people explore the natural world, they gain a greater understanding of its beauty, its gifts, and its fragility. It also helps you to explore your own creativity, and what better source is there for artistic inspiration than nature?

The contest runs until May 28, 2010. Visit for more information and to submit your entry.

Photo: Alan Bateman and family plant the tree dedicated to his father, Robert Bateman, at the Canadian Museum of Nature.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Climate Change Bill Getting Closer!

There's a bit of good news for action on climate change in Canada.

Yesterday, the House passed Bill C-311, the Climate Change Accountability Act. Last week we asked you to help us raise awareness about yesterday's vote and your support worked!

In addition to the Bill passing to third reading, the Liberals tabled a motion for climate change action. Listen to Bruce Hyer as he introduced the bill last year or read the reaction of Climate Action Network Canada's Graham Saul for more details on what this means for climate change action in Canada.

The Bill still needs to make it through one more debate and one more vote, so we can't let our guard down, but we are a bit closer to changing course.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Forests of Hope – Sustaining Livelihoods and Canadian Birds

In February, I travelled to Central America to join a team of coffee specialists from Tim Hortons to learn about their efforts to improve the livelihoods of communities growing shade coffee in Guatemala's mountainous El Trifinio region (also a protected national park and globally Important Bird Area).

I was keen to see how this iconic Canadian company was contributing to the conservation of the area's forests – vital for Canadian wintering birds - after learning from Canadian Wildlife Service scientists that as many as 50% of Canadian migratory birds, many of which migrate to Central America, were suffering significant declines in their populations. The reasons for this decline are reported to be varied, but one major factor is the loss of suitable habitat in both their wintering and breeding grounds.

Noting this decline in Canadian birds, and that studies show that many of these same birds have a preference for shade grown coffee plantations, I embarked on a three-day sojourn to the region that took us from Esqipulus in Guatemala, through to Ocotepeque in Honduras and then across the cordillera to San Salvador in El Salvador.

My hopes were to see migratory birds in the coffee growing regions and discuss ways in which Nature Canada could partner with Tim Hortons and local groups to support ongoing efforts to conserve the region's forests and their wildlife (namely birds).

Whilst in Guatemala, we joined a multi-disciplinary team of technicians from the El Trifinio project that is promoting the sustainable development and conservation of the forested highlands that is the source for at least two major rivers – the Rios Lempa and Higuito. The forests of this region are the primary source of water for both rivers, and therefore the main impetus that brought together these three countries for conservation on this tri-national border area.

Using 4X4s, we travelled to remote backcountry communities where we experienced the entire coffee growing process, including the establishment of nurseries; the planting of young trees; the collection, milling and roasting of Arabica coffee beans; and finally the testing (or "cupping" as it is called).

Tim Hortons' support is targeted to promote more sustainable coffee production processes. This includes coffee plantation production techniques that aim to improve the quality of the coffee bean, and environmental practices such as tree planting, fertilization management and water treatment. In parallel, their support is also reaching the youth and families of farmers through social programs including new housing and better access to education.

It is estimated that as much as 90-95% of the coffee grown in this region is considered shade grown.

In one of these small coffee plantations, hundreds of Wilson's Warblers, a species that commonly breeds across Canada's boreal forest, were found foraging in the shade of flowering coffee trees. They were joined by Black-throated Green Warblers, a species more common in the deciduous woods of eastern and central Canada, and the dusky Hammond's Flycatcher, a species normally found in the forests of western Canada. As is typical in the tropics, these birds move in mixed flocks with resident species like the exotic café colored Oropendulas.

The challenges of working in this region are many – the average wage is estimated at less than three dollars a day. Nutrition, education and health are priority issues of many of the farmers as they work to sustain their livelihood and their families.

Tim Hortons has clearly taken a balanced approach to coffee production by providing the much-needed technical support (through the Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung) to improve coffee production whilst also tending to the social and environmental needs of the local communities who are the basis for coffee production throughout the region.

Indirectly, the promotion of shade grown coffee is ensuring that forests in the area are valued and conserved, thus providing habitat for Canadian birds that Nature Canada is striving to conserve throughout their ranges. We look forward to building strategic relationships with communities and companies to promote the conservation of forests in Latin America through coffee production that is "forest and people friendly."

Photos: The Tim Hortons coffee specialists; coffee beans; Wilson's Warbler by prairiedog (back home) on flickr; a local community

Friday, April 9, 2010

Mackenzie Gas Project: Final NEB Hearings Start Next Week

After approximately four years, the Mackenzie Gas Project's review is finally coming to an end this month. The National Energy Board will hear final argument from April 12th to 24th in Yellowknife and Inuvik, NWT. The NEB is then expected to make a decision this fall on whether or not to grant approval to the project.

Nature Canada will not appear at the hearings, but we will be following them closely. In addition to the many specific concerns we have about the proposed project, we are concerned by the National Energy Board's reaction to the recommendations made by the Joint Review Panel in its December 2009 report. The Panel made 176 recommendations and concluded that the project could be carried out without a negative impact to the region if all the recommendations were fully impelmented. The NEB comments on the Panel's report addressed only about half of the recommendations, arguing that the rest were not within the Board's jurisdiction, instead of committing to ensure that all of the panel's recommendations are implemented as a package.
In response to the NEB, the Joint Review Panel last week reaffirmed its conclusion the project can only be carried without a negative impact if all the recommendations are fully implemented. The stakes are very high for sustainability, as a new Pembina Institute fact sheet makes clear.

Perhaps the NEB will be convinced at the final hearing to adopt the Panel's approach to sustainability for the Mackenzie Gas Project, if it approves the project. The NEB hearing will be broadcast live on the NEB’s website in Inuvialuktun, Gwich’in, North Slavey, South Slavey, Dene Tha’, English and French. Listen in or stay tuned for an update.

Springtime Flowers

Jim Dubois, one of our online supporters, recently sent us a beautiful array of spingtime flowers that can be found along the Quinsam river in British Columbia. Thanks for sharing Jim. If you like Jim's work make sure to visit his website at

Pink Fawn Lily Pink Fawn Lily

Swamp LanternSwamp Lantern (also known as skunk cabbage)

Salmonberry Salmonberry

Lady's SmockLady's Smock

Yellow Wood VioletYellow Wood Violet

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Climate Change Bill Faces Imminent Vote: Tell Your MP to Support It!

Remember Bill C-311, the bill that many of us were hoping would set a scientific target for Canada's commitments in Copenhagen? Well, we know how sadly Copenhagen turned out. But the Bill might still make a difference. That is, if we all contact our MPs before April 14th and ask them to support it! The situation the Bill is under is urgent and complex; best explained by the MP who introduced the Bill:

"An urgent message from Bruce Hyer, MP Thunder Bay - Superior North who introduced Bill C-311 - The Climate Change Accountability Act:

Because of a surprise procedural motion foisted upon the House of Commons by the Conservatives just as the debate on Bill C-311 was about to begin, things are drastically different from what was originally expected. The debate on the bill was cancelled, and there will now be a crucial vote in the House on April 14 that will determine its fate. It will be a simple vote: support the Climate Change Accountability Act going forward to Third Reading, or not. If the vote fails, the bill dies. Our fear is that with a procedural vote coming with so little notice, many MPs won't realize the significance of the vote...

We know the NDP and Bloc caucuses will be there on April 14 to vote in support of C-311. But many years of work on the only climate change bill in Parliament will come to an end, in obscurity, if Liberal MPs are not there in force to support it too."

For the Bill to survive, Liberal MPs must be made aware of the significance of this vote for climate change action in Canada. If this bill is defeated on April 14, the legislative process would have to start from scratch for any new legislation to ensure Canada takes significant action to reduce green house gas emissions and does its fair share to mitigate climate change. You can help Canada become part of the solution to climate change.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Top Tips for Nature-friendly Spring Cleaning

It's the time of year when we want to start fresh, shake off the chill of the past winter, and brighten up our surroundings. It's time for spring cleaning!

It's important to think about the effects on the environment as we clean our homes. Commercial cleaners that end up running down the drain with our wash water can end up in rivers and lakes. Harsh chemicals and artificial scents can become airborne, harming our own health and that of wildlife in our neighbourhoods. One-time use solutions clutter landfill sites.

It's easy to clean your home using items you already have in your kitchen cupboard. These solutions should start to tackle cleaning jobs around the house, leaving both you and nature happier this season.

All-purpose cleaner
A 1:1 mix of white vinegar and water in a spray bottle will tackle most household cleaning chores. If you don't like the smell of vinegar, add a few drops of your favourite essential oil (choose tea tree oil if you're looking for a natural disinfectant). Also use vinegar to clean stainless steel appliances, chrome fixtures, and to remove rust.

Wood that shines
Traditional wood polishing sprays leave a cloud of chemicals in the air rather than treating your furniture. Mix up your own polish with 1 cup of olive oil and a squirt of lemon. Rub on to your treasured pieces with a soft cloth to restore their glow.

One of our eNews readers, Patricia, prefers to use pure coconut oil instead of olive oil for polishing wood surfaces. Let us know if you have any other natural alternatives to these tips!

Skip the disposables
Dedicate some reusable cloths to cleaning, and run them through the washing machine (cold water, line dry!) when they get a bit grubby. If you're looking for added cleaning power, microfiber cloths have a natural charge that attracts dust and can be used dry or damp. Even better, make your own cloths from old towels and keep even more waste out of the landfill.

You can check out more nature-friendly cleaning tips here, and don't forget to leave your favourite suggestions in the comments below!

1,001 Ways to Save the Earth by Joanna Yarrow
Ecoholic by Adria Vasil