“The last time anybody did a survey in the Puget Sound/Georgia Strait region, there were over 60 species that were considered at risk”, Christianne Wilhelmson, Georgia Strait Alliance’s Executive Director, told me yesterday. “At risk is a legal term based on science.” It may simply mean that a species’ numbers are dropping and they are having fewer offspring, or more seriously that scientists are worried an animal may go extinct.
Once an animal is legally classified, people start to pay attention. But often the emphasis is on listing and expressing concern, and actions to protect a species fall short. And that’s often why environmental groups such as the Georgia Strait Alliance take the government to court.
The federal government has laws, such as the Species at Risk Act and the Oceans Act, but they’re not enforcing them or taking action to protect the species, commented Christianne. What complicates the situation is that the Georgia Strait’s water is federal jurisdiction, but the seabed is provincial.
Such laws are supposed to protect threatened species such as the orca whale. People get excited about members of the southern orca population. “You hear squeals on the ferry when you see them,” Christianne remembered. But there’s only 85 of the orcas left. “Protecting the orca is going to be challenging. But just because something’s challenging does not mean that nothing should be done.”
What the Georgia Strait needs, aside from enforcement of existing laws, is marine planning. Marine planning looks at the whole region and considers all the species that live there, including humans. The Georgia Strait is a working body of water, like the Mississippi River, with billions of dollars economically. So it’s important to keep that happening, even while realizing that good health and tourism are worth billions and so is preserving parts of the Strait and their species.
“We all have to be part of that solution.” The Alliance, like most organizations, need support for both their work and also politically – if you care about the endangered species, write your politicians and let them know.