Last week’s announcement by federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Jonathan Wilkinson that the Rocky Mountain ridged mussel would not be reclassified under the most recent Species at Risk Act review was welcome news to many in our community.
It was a testament to how the combined efforts of local organizations and elected officials can ensure that well-intentioned actions do not have unintended consequences on communities.
The Government of Canada actively engages in the protection of at-risk aquatic species making classification decisions based on scientific advice and in keeping with the concerns of communities, while carefully considering the health and stability of the economy.
This year, the Government of Canada was considering the addition or re-classification of 31 aquatic animals under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). These species include 23 freshwater fish and eight molluscs, including the Rocky Mountain ridged mussel (RMRM).
To inform its decision, the government undertook a 30-day public comment period and considered further evidence provided by the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.
In April, Dr. Anna Warwick Sears of the Okanagan Basin Water Board travelled to Ottawa to testify to the Fisheries and Oceans committee and make the case that reclassifying the RMRM would risk the OBWB’s efforts to manage invasive Eurasian watermilfoil in the Okanagan’s lakes.
As Sears noted, as our source of clean drinking water, and as a water-based economy, we depend on keeping these water sources clean and pristine and there were simply far too many unanswered questions and lack of recent data to reclassify the Rocky Mountain ridged mussel, which had the potential to make it difficult to control harmful Eurasian watermilfoil.
Probably the most important job I have as a member of Parliament, apart from ensuring that our community’s funding priorities are met, is to avert potential risks to the community when legislative changes are being considered.
Previously, I had worked with Minister Dominic LeBanc to ensure we received federal funding to support OBWB efforts in the fight to prevent zebra and quagga mussels entering our Okanagan lakes and I am pleased to say that Minister Wilkinson was sensitive to the potential impact the listing of the RMRM would have on the OBWB’s ability to control the watermilfoil.
By announcing that the Government of Canada will not, at this time, be reclassifying the Rocky Mountain ridged mussel as endangered under the Species at Risk Act, we have successfully averted a risk to our local economy and our environment.
I would like to thank Dr. Anna Warwick Sears and the OBWB for their excellent work and attention to this important issue, as well as the local communities who provided input and support.
British Columbians value our clean, healthy waters and understand the irreversible impact invasive species can have both on the economy and our quality of life.
As your member of Parliament I am committed to working with the OBWB and local municipalities to ensure that the federal government continues to recognize the challenges we are facing, and where possible, provide support so that we may preserve this valuable and essential resource for generations to come.