Operational Framework for Use of Conservation Allowances: chapter 8


Annex A: Environment Canada Experience with Conservation Allowances

In Canada, conservation allowances are currently being used at the federal and provincial levels to achieve statutory and policy objectives. This annex provides a description of Environment Canada’s experience to date with conservation allowances. This experience reflects a range of approaches, based on the different contexts within which the allowance activities have been applied.

Conservation allowances under the Federal Policy on Wetland Conservation

In accordance with the FPWC, Environment Canada has provided recommendations for measures such as conservation allowances in environmental assessment processes. For example, allowances were recommended to help compensate for 4 ha of wetlands that were displaced during construction of the Canadian Museum of Nature’s Aylmer Consolidation Facility. Prior to construction, an initial environmental screening report completed under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act in November 1995 found that 15 ha of the 17 ha building site were wetlands. The report recommended that the construction project still go ahead because it was expected that the project would stimulate the local and regional economy and that the functions of the wetland did not have a significant role either in the ecosystem or in the economy. It was determined that "targeted mitigation measures" including stewardship conservation of wetland not impacted by construction and the transfer of additional land to the Canadian Museum of Nature for ongoing stewardship would be sufficient to compensate for the expected impacts to the wetland.

Subsequent to the start of construction at the site, in February 1996 the Minister of Canadian Heritage called for an independent panel to review the environmental screening report. The independent panel determined that the suggested mitigation measures were not sufficient compensation for the loss of 4 ha of wetland, since all areas slated for conservation stewardship as part of the mitigation measures were already wetlands and already federal lands subject to the FPWC and thus already protected by the policy for the long term. In order to strengthen the mitigation measures and fully comply with the "no net loss" provision of the FPWC, it was recommended that the federal government either restore former wetlands or construct new wetlands on federal lands near the construction site, with a replacement ratio of at least 2:1. Environment Canada advised that site selection should emphasize the ability of the allowance site to replace specific wetland functions lost on the 4 ha of impacted wetland rather than simply aiming to replace the lost area acre-for-acre.1

Wetland conservation allowances can also be undertaken in accordance with the FPWC by allowing a third party to arrange for an offsite allowance for an approved impact on a wetland. An example of the application of this approach to mitigation is provided by the compensation undertaken for impacts on wetlands during the construction of a new bus terminal at Lewis Estates in the City of Edmonton. The proposed wetland impact required approval from Environment Canada. Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) was the third party that received funds from the City of Edmonton to undertake this activity. In order to meet Environment Canada’s expectations, DUC committed to restoring an existing wetland rather than creating a new one, since restored wetlands tend to be more successful than those that are created. DUC agreed to secure a restoration site within an agreed-upon area in order to ensure the allowance site would be relatively close to the site of impact. The terminal construction impacted a total of 1.31 ha of wetland, thus requiring 3.93 ha of restored wetland to replace it, based on the agreed 3:1 allowance ratio. The funds provided by the City of Edmonton for this conservation allowance enabled partial restoration of an 11.32-ha wetland basin. Other compensation approvals funded the outstanding restoration needs, and the construction required to complete the restoration of this wetland basin is now complete.

Environment Canada has also sought conservation allowances for impacts on wetlands in cooperation with other federal departments. A good example of this is provided by the Vancouver Airport expansion in the early 1990s, which resulted in impacts to 350 ha of wetland and upland habitat. Avoidance and minimization options were considered during the 1989 Environmental Assessment Review Process for the proposed project; however, compensation was deemed necessary for residual effects to 350 ha of habitat. Environment Canada took the lead in developing a Compensation Strategy that would compensate for these residual effects. Compensation included transfer from Transport Canada to Environment Canada of 171 ha of ecologically important land for protection as well as monetary compensation of $9 million to pay for the outstanding 178 ha of impacted land. The dollar value of monetary compensation provided was calculated based on a 1:1 ratio and "fair market value" for non-commercial upland delta lands. Environment Canada manages the transferred parcels of land as the Sea Island Conservation Area and as part of the Alaksen National Wildlife Area. The $9 million has been used to secure new protected lands, enhance habitat quality on existing protected lands and provide an endowment to implement a private land-stewardship program.

Other examples of the application of conservation allowances for wetlands include the CP Edmonton Intermodal Facility and the Anthony Henday South East Extension ring road, also in Edmonton. Both projects replaced impacted wetlands at a 3:1 compensation ratio.

Conservation allowances as part of Species At Risk Act section 73 permits

Environment Canada has experience issuing permits that require the use of habitat compensation measures such as conservation allowances under SARA. For example, Environment Canada recently issued a permit for the cutting of 9 Butternut trees for the construction of a highway in Quebec. Prior to issuing the permit, all feasible measures were considered to avoid and minimize the impact of the project on the Butternut trees, but none were found. Since the project will not jeopardize the survival or recovery of the Butternut tree, whose populations have been mostly impacted by disease, the use of measures such as a conservation allowance was accepted as an appropriate approach to compensate for the impact. A 2:1 ratio was required for the allowance (18 trees will be planted in place of the 9 cut). The exact location of the replacement plantation will be determined according to expert recommendations, and a five-year monitoring program will be implemented to monitor the health status of the planted trees. Adaptive management requires replacement of any trees that die.

Conservation allowances as amendments to boundaries of existing National Wildlife Areas and Migratory Bird Sanctuaries

Past management of the Cape Jourimain National Wildlife Area (NWA) provides an example of the application of conservation allowances in an NWA. The road approaching the bridge linking New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island runs through the Cape Jourimain NWA. The opening of the bridge in 1997 resulted in increased traffic congestion along an upgraded road right-of-way (originally built in the 1960s) located in the NWA. Significant safety concerns arose as a result of the increase in traffic and the New Brunswick Department of Transportation requested release and use of 3.7 ha of the NWA in order to construct off-ramps that would address these safety concerns. An adjacent 1.2 ha parcel of land was also proposed for de-listing in order to accommodate future plans to build a parking lot for the proposed Cape Jourimain Nature Centre. The total 4.9 ha proposed for de-listing had no uncommon biological communities, being comprised of second-growth mixed woods and old pasture land. In exchange, 75.8 ha of biologically significant lands were added to the NWA as follows:

  • The Department of Public Works and Government Services Canada transferred 11.8 ha of biologically important land adjacent to the NWA from its land holdings to Environment Canada. This strip of land was identified as providing an important songbird migration corridor and valuable riparian habitat.
  • Strait Crossing Development Incorporated purchased and transferred into Environment Canada’s inventory 64 ha of privately held wetland and associated upland adjacent to the NWA.

These changes to the boundaries of the Cape Jourimain NWA required an amendment of the CWA’s Wildlife Area Regulations, which provide detailed boundaries for each listed NWA, by the Governor in Council. The regulatory amendment was final on May 26, 1999.2 Decisions regarding the quality and quantity of the required allowance were based on the professional judgment of Environment Canada staff, who negotiated the required quantity of conservation allowances with the project proponent.3

Similar to the Cape Jourimain NWA example, Environment Canada has also recommended the use of terrestrial conservation allowances for proposed impacts to Migratory Bird Sanctuaries during the environmental assessment process. For example, during the environmental assessment for the Mackenzie Gas Project (MGP) in the Northwest Territories, allowances were recommended for the predicted flooding to the Kendall Island Bird Sanctuary that would result from MGP activities. While a final decision on whether the MGP will go ahead has not yet been made, it does provide a good example of how allowances may be applied through the environmental assessment process. In this case, since flooding associated with a gas extraction project was determined to be unavoidable, conservation allowances were deemed to be a suitable mitigation approach. The proposed allowance project was to establish replacement bird habitat outside of the existing sanctuary area. The area of replacement habitat was to be provided at a 5:1 ratio, meaning that the allowance area would have been five times the size of the flooded area. Environment Canada would have worked to determine the exact location of the allowance activity by engaging the Inuvialuit, Gwich’in, other governments, other government departments and stakeholders (including environmental non-governmental organizations and industry).

Conservation allowances as agreements as part of environmental assessment process

Environment Canada has experience in the development of voluntary allowances undertaken to promote responsible resource development. For example, Environment Canada entered into an agreement for a conservation allowance with Total E&P Canada Ltd. (TOTAL) for their Joslyn North Mine Project in Alberta.

The joint federal-provincial review panel established to oversee the environmental assessment of the project recommended mitigation, such as off-site offsets, be identified in addition to the on-site mitigation and avoidance measures to mitigate impacts on valued wildlife, species at risk and migratory birds, and reduce the overall cumulative effects on wildlife in general.

TOTAL responded by offering lands on a neighbouring oil-sands lease as replacement wildlife habitat while reclamation on the Joslyn North Mine Project proceeds. This was formalized with an agreement with Environment Canada that included monitoring to gauge the effectiveness of the reclamation in re-establishing wildlife habitat.

1 Example adapted from: Lynch-Stewart, Pauline. "Canadian Museum of Nature Aylmer Consolidation Facility: Important Lessons About Applying the Federal Policy on Wetland Conservation". In Cox, K.W., Grose, A. (eds.) (2000) Wetland Mitigation in Canada: a framework for application. Sustaining Wetlands Issues Paper 2000-1. North American Wetlands Conservation Council (Canada), Ottawa.

2 Description of this allowance is based on the Regulations Amending the Wildlife Area Regulations published in the Canada Gazette, Part II, Vol. 133, No. 11, 26/5/99.

3 Terriplan Consultants (2011). Habitat Offsets as Compensation and Mitigation for Habitat Loss Due to Industrial Activities. Prepared for Environment Canada - Canadian Wildlife Service, Yellowknife (18-19).

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