For those who recall the scene when Neville Chamberlain stepped down on the tarmac of London’s Heston aerodrome on September 30th of 1938 waving his piece of paper, the announcement by the B. C. government on October 16, 2007 must have seemed like déjà vu. On both occasions, an announcement promising ‘peace in our time’ (for people or wildlife) was met with jubilant relief from people who wanted to believe that the insatiable appetite of a monster can be appeased with an hors d’oeuvre.
In 1938 the monster was Adolf Hitler and he was not to be believed or trusted. In 2007 the monster is economic growth, and its need for lebensraum will not stop at greenbelts, farmland, wetlands and nature reserves. It will devour what it needs to fuel its momentum and bend governments and laws to serve its ends. The strictest land use plans will fall before its armies. Even the home of ‘smart growth’, Portland, Oregon, stood helpless as growth forced population to spill over tight urban boundaries into adjacent farmland. British greenbelts are beginning to suffer the same fate. As planning consultant Eben Fodor was moved to comment, “smart growth is merely the planned, orderly destruction of our remaining environment.”
Economic growth is a function of population growth, driven in North America largely by immigration, coupled with obscenely excessive consumption---and it is crowding out wildlife habitat. The question is, can the dedication of conservation areas permanently shield wildlife and flora from developmental pressures? Experience suggests that it cannot.
In their 2005 Report, the National Refuge Association of the U.S. revealed that “many endangered or threatened species are not even found on the refuges, including 40% of all listed mammals, birds and reptiles, 75% of listed fish and amphibians, and about 85% of listed plants and invertebrates.” The area outside refuges will be more and more a killing zone. Much of the 40% of all housing units that will exist in America in 2030 will be built on previously open lands, and “lands within five miles of fully 78% of the western refuges have been mined, drilled , offered to or otherwise controlled by mining, oil and gas interests.” And nearly 40% of refuges have greater than 50% human-impacted landscape within 5 to 40 miles. Particularly vulnerable are the 20% of wildlife refuges smaller than 1000 acres, or refuges fragmented into small parcels that can’t adequately defend the ranges of the species that need protection.
Of course, the announcement on October 16 by the B.C. government offers habitat protection on a vastly larger scale. An area twice the size of Jamaica of old growth cedar, pine and spruce, and a buffer of forest that is to be harvested with sensitive care. The coalition of ten environmental groups who fought for the habitat are sanguine. But even with 2.2 million hectares set aside, they would be advised to keep their powder dry. Especially when you look at the province’s barren mountainsides and remember the government slogan, “Forests Forever”.
The hard truth is, as long as economic growth runs loose like a mad dog, no land of any size is safe from predation. Growing populations and growing development envelop pristine sanctuaries, reach a tipping point, and then the resources that these sanctuaries are harbouring will be ravaged. Just as the B.C. government set aside this Mountain Cariboo habitat, the U.S. Congress once established Yosemite National Park. When mining and logging interests came knocking at the door, with the stroke of a pen, Congress released 1400 hectares of the precious park for their exploitation.
Shocking betrayals of this kind by government have and will be made when the economic chips are down, as the Plains Indians will attest. The solemn Treaty of Laramie guaranteed the sacred Black Hills to the Lakota people in perpetuity, but when white prospectors found gold, all bets were off and the monster was let loose. Miners flooded the area and in just eight years the Dakota territory was a white colony and the sacred hills a hub of activity.
One day soon, in a country near you, with the oil the price of gold and power down, there will be a desperate and ruthless scramble to use up resources wherever they can be found, even behind the sacrosanct walls of conservation lands. And government will pave the way.
First it was the tiny Sudetenland, then it was Poland and then it was the vast steppes of Russia. Feed a crocodile a morsel and he becomes stronger and bolder, coming back for more and more. The only safety for nature is to slay the beast, not to hide from it within the confines of a National Park. Economic growth must be stopped and a steady state economy instituted. Now.