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The article below was contributed by

Sierra Legal Defence Fund



VANCOUVER--British Columbia is losing fish habitat at the rate of between 162,000 and 324,000 square metres per year as a result of forest road construction, according to a report released by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

The study, published in the peer-reviewed Canadian Technical Report of fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, is highly critical of the forest industry's repeated violations of the Forest Practices Code in constructing stream crossings on logging roads. It also criticizes Fisheries and Oceans for failing to monitor these violations, failing to enforce the Fisheries Act and failing to follow the department's guiding principle of allowing no net loss of fish habitat. 

"We have raised the issue of fish habitat loss and the federal government's lack of political will to enforce the Fisheries Act at the international level through complaints filed with NAFTA's Commission for Environmental Cooperation," says Karen Wristen, executive director of the Sierra Legal Defence Fund.

"Canada's response has been to avoid the issue entirely and instead attempt to manipulate the CEC's citizen complaint process to quash the rights of public interest groups to raise these issues publicly. This official report amounts to a damning indictment of DFO and confirms what we have been saying all along about the federal government's failure to protect our fisheries."

Numerous studies of the Pacific Northwest show that forestry roads are the single greatest threat to fish habitat, largely through the introduction of silt and sediments.

But, according to Sierra Legal biologist John Werring, the DFO report reveals that the problem is more serious than earlier believed.

"One of the most alarming aspects of this report is that these inadequate stream crossings were all made after the introduction of the Forest Practices Code in 1995," Werring said. "The code was supposed to prevent this kind of wanton destruction."

For more information, please see attached Backgrounder or contact:
Karen Wristen, Executive Director, or John Werring, Staff Scientist, at
Sierra Legal, (604) 685-5618.


The report about loss of fish habitat released by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans confirms what Canada refused to disclose during the investigation of Sierra Legal Defence Fund's complaint to the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation.

The commission found that Canada is failing to enforce its own Fisheries Act and allowing B.C. Hydro to destroy fish and fish habitat with impunity.

The factual record concludes that DFO's principle of "no net loss of fish habitat" is not being implemented and that insufficient information has been provided to be able to conclude that the policy would protect fish habitat if it were implemented.

"Based on the information provided by [Sierra Legal Defence Fund], Canada and B.C. Hydro, in many situations the operation of B.C. Hydro facilities has caused and/or continues to cause harm to fish habitat," the report concludes.

As well, the report's authors were ". . . struck by how limited and anecdotal the information on fish and fish habitat . . . seemed to be." For example, they state: "[The] Peace River system has received virtually no attention despite being one of the largest river systems in Canada, an
interprovincial waterway . . . and an important breeding ground for several fish species. . ."

The report notes that Canada, British Columbia, and/or B.C. Hydro repeatedly failed to provide information requested by the Commission. Recently, Canada has been criticized for spearheading high-level efforts to weaken the powers of the trinational commission.

The complete factual record is available on the web http://www.cec.org,submission # SEM 97-001.

Sierra Legal brought the complaint on behalf of a coalition of conservation and aboriginal groups. The North American Commission on Environmental Cooperation was created as a side accord to the North American Free Trade Agreement. It has no powers of enforcement but it may investigate formal complaints that signatory states are not enforcing their own environmental laws and publicly state its findings.

Sierra Legal Defence Fund is a non-profit organization that provides free legal services to environmentalists across Canada. Since opening its doors in Vancouver in December 1990, it has grown steadily to become Canada's leading firm of environmental litigators.

Jim Boothroyd
Communications Coordinator
Sierra Legal Defence Fund
214 - 131 Water Street
Vancouver, BC V6B 4M3

tel. (604) 685-5618
fax. (604) 685-7813


Reprinted with permission

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