The process of an EIA is meant to be as quick as possible, not to waste time assessing things that will be of little predictive value (Noble 2010). Due to limited resources, time and funding, it is necessary to limit the scope of monitoring studies to species and ecosystem components that have high predictive value. This process is a part of scoping in an environmental impact assessment (EIA) and is used to identify valued ecosystem components (VECs) and to rationalize the impact assessment (Treweek 1999).
There are a variety of criteria used for selecting species as VECs such as public appeal, economic importance, protected status, rarity or endangerment, important ecological role, indicator species, etc. A species that is “protected” is automatically a VEC (Treweek 1999). Selection of VECs may be dependent on goals at a number of levels including implementing governing bodies and departments and on international agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (Treweek 1999). For example species of concern are used as VECs by Northern Development Canada pulling from those listed by Species At Risk Act (SARA) which are assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) as endangered, threatened, or special concern, or categorized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as endangered, vulnerable, or near threatened (AANDC 2011).
For EIA in Canada, information on the presence of protected species must be collected as stated in section 11 of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act for species listed under SARA (CEAA, 1992). However Treweek (1999) states that it is rare that this type of information will be determined to be significant in the proposal of a project offering no guarantee that a species or it’s habitat will be protected. Treweek (1999) also mentions that when protected species are used as VECs in the scoping of a project it can also detract from the selection of other species that may be better indicators of environmental impact. EIA studies have to limit the scope of what will be monitored and used as VEC’s to represent the risk to a system. Furthermore the methods used are not always objective (Treweek 1999).
For common species that are not taken into account in an EIA, cumulative effects and development over longer periods can lead to significant declines of some species before measures are introduced to mitigate the adverse impacts (Treweek 1999). For example many forest bird species that use Canada’s boreal forest have experienced significant declines in their population (BSI, 2007). Their habitats have been affected by human-induced land use changes and the percentage of habitat disturbed will increase with future development such as the Plan Nord. In the example mentioned above by the Northern Development Canada there is no mention of monitoring for cumulative effects, for long-term data collection or for risk to common species (AANDC 2011).
How will the government act toward conservation in preparation for future development in Canada’s north? I believe that it is pertinent that we plan ahead and assess the risk for not only species already threatened or endangered but also develop more extensive long-term national data sets of ecological monitoring that are updated regularly. Also cumulative impact assessments will become increasingly important especially in the areas selected for development in the North which may give the proper attention of risk due to a combination of projects as an extensive area will undergo change and development.
Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC). 2011. Eastern Arctic PEMT layers. Available from: http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1315597605310/1315597986268. Retrieved Jan 28, 2012.
Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA). 1992. Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (S.C. 1992, c. 37). Available from: http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/C-15.2/. Retrieved Jan 28, 2012.
Noble B. 2010. Introduction to Environmental Impact Assessment: A guide to principles and practice 2nd edition. Oxford University Press. New York.
Treweek J. 1999. Ecological Impact Assessment. Blackwell Science Ltd. Oxford.