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B.C. species-at-risk plan encourages wide-ranging risk management

VICTORIA - With about 50,000 plants and animals calling British Columbia home, the province boasts the highest wildlife diversity in Canada.

But a report released Wednesday states some, including the prehistoric-like white sturgeon and Vancouver Island's water-plantain buttercup, are under threat and need protection.

The report by the ministries of environment and forests, lands and natural resource operations sets out the government's expectations for the management of species facing risks over the next five years, concentrates on actions that can be taken, and suggests methods to involve the public in stewardship and protection efforts.

"All British Columbians have a responsibility to ensure species do not become more at risk of extinction or extirpation (local extinction)," states the report, Protecting Vulnerable Species: A Five-Year Plan for Species at Risk in British Columbia.

"Stewardship groups, conservation partners, First Nations, federal, provincial and local governments and others play an important role in the conservation of species at risk."

The report highlights what it calls a stewardship success story involving Vancouver Island's purple martin population.

"In 1985, only five breeding pairs of purple martins remained on Vancouver Island," states the report. "The population had declined largely due to loss of nesting places as a result of logging practices and activities such as replacing old waterfront pilings with ones coated in creosote."

But naturalist-group volunteers started putting up nesting boxes in areas that would normally attract purple martins, and now there are more than 750 pairs and the extinction threat has been lifted.

The government's five-year plan focuses on the July 2011 Species at Risk task force report that made 16 recommendations, including changing regulatory frameworks and launching broader public consultations on species protection programs.

A statement released by the Ministry of Environment said, "Our management of species at risk is based on independent scientific advice, considers social and economic factors, and requires full consultation with all affected parties."

Opposition New Democrat environment critic Spencer Chandra Herbert said the report appears to be a toothless plan that provides no new funding and does little to aid threatened species.

"To release a glossy brochure with no timelines and no budget and really just a statement saying we care about endangered species is really insulting to those species and those who care about protecting our endangered wildlife," he said.

Chandra Herbert said the NDP would introduce legislation that provides legal protections for species determined to be at risk.

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