ANIMALS HAVE LONG ADORNED our currency. The nickel features a beaver, the quarter has a caribou and a five-dollar bill depicts a kingfisher. We continue to call our one-dollar coin a “loonie,” even though it doesn’t always show a loon.

I used to be proud that nature was so central to our Canadian psyche that it dominated our money. Now the tides have turned. It’s the all-mighty dollar that dominates, putting biodiversity at risk.

Given Canada’s reputation as a nation where visitors can expect to see bears, moose, pristine lakes and magnificent old-growth forest in our parks, one might presume that protecting biodiversity would be a Canadian priority. Yet Ottawa’s efforts would make great fodder for a Rick Mercer comedy hour.

Sadly, Canada’s position on the international stage has made us the laughing stock among biodiversity negotiators – more so even than at climate change talks. Our government’s antics have garnered us the reputation of being the country most likely to block progress on negotiations surrounding the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. Chinese negotiators were so appalled at Canada’s failure to commit to anything that they suggested our delegates “call home” to obtain permission to make a decision.

This year, 2010, is the United Nations’ International Year of Biodiversity. Not coincidentally, it is also when targets set by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity come due. As modest as they are – signatories were asked “to achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss” – no nation will achieve this goal. But don’t let this sad story tempt you to forgive Canada its biodiversity sins. Instead, let it encourage you to get behind provincial and regional efforts to create new parks and protect habitat. Help prevent the loss of the 500 species in Canada that are at risk of extinction. Support organizations such as the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, World Wildlife Fund Canada, the Canadian Environmental Network, ETC group, the Convention on Biological Diversity Alliance and more. These hardworking groups are making modest gains despite the grim situation in Ottawa. Imagine what they could do if the federal government were an ally rather than an adversary.

This issue of Alternatives is your primer on Canada’s position on biodiversity. It is a wakeup call.

If you are concerned about woodland caribou and polar bears, about swift foxes and that haunting call of the loon; if you care about the plight of the greater sage grouse and even the nooksack dace, a small minnow found in Southern BC, about which you will read, then delve into this issue. You’ll discover that protecting these magnificent species is important, but it can only be accomplished if we give them healthy spaces to live and reproduce.

If you take nothing else away from this issue, we want you to recognize that all animals, humans included, and their habitat make up our ecosystem. Biodiversity protection must recognize the importance of diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems. Tell the federal government that protecting biodiversity is important, demand action, but don’t wait for Ottawa to take the lead. Support the initiatives of the governments and organizations that are doing something.

If our iconic loon is to thrive, it needs healthy habitat and a functioning ecosystem.

Nicola Ross is the former Editor of Alternatives Journal, and is a member of the editorial board.

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