Conservative MP's pen letter to feds over concern for aquatic invasive species in Okanagan Lake
Five British Columbia Interior Conservative Members of Parliament (MPs) have called upon the Trudeau Government to take action and address the inconsistent and inequitable funding and lack of border inspections that leaves freshwaters across BC like lakes in the Okanagan, Kootenay and Thompson regions vulnerable to the scourge of aquatic invasive species (AIS). These invasive species have devastated water bodies on both sides of the border, posing a significant threat to ecosystems, water infrastructure, and the tourism industry.
MP Tracy Gray, a former Chair of the Okanagan Basin Water Board, emphasized the need for proactive measures to protect Okanagan Lake and all that depends on it. MP Gray stated, "We must be proactive, not reactive if we want to protect our Okanagan Lake, our water infrastructure, and tourism industry. One infection puts them all at risk."
MP Mel Arnold, a former BC Wildlife Federation President and Associate Shadow Minister for Fisheries and Oceans, expressed concerns regarding the inadequate funding for AIS prevention. MP Arnold pointed to the potential consequences in BC watersheds where pacific salmon spawn and rear and stated, “with no known method of eradication, the impact on salmon and other species could be devastating and not worth the risk of the current inequitable distribution of resources by the Trudeau government."
MP Dan Albas raised the lack of AIS inspections for recreational boaters crossing the Canada-US border. MP Albas shared a firsthand report of a local recreational boater who crossed the border six times without being inspected for AIS. MP Albas stated, "this situation is unacceptable, and we are demanding the Federal Government inspect every recreational boater crossing the Canada-US border for AIS across Western Canada."
MP Frank Caputo stated, "many municipalities and Indigenous communities in my riding know how important and fundamental it is to protect their water and traditional way of life. Unfortunately, the Trudeau Liberals always seem to have resources for everything but what's important.”
MP Rob Morrison emphasized it is solely the Federal Government's responsibility in enforcing laws at the border and stated, "British Columbians deserve better treatment when it comes to protecting the environment.”
In their joint letter, the five Conservative MPs urged the Trudeau Government to act now to address the funding inconsistencies and take immediate action:
"Dear Minister Lebouthillier and Minister LeBlanc,
We write you today to express our grave concerns regarding the persisting threats posed by aquatic invasive species (AIS), particularly zebra and quagga mussels (ZQM), to the waters and aquatic habitats of British Columbia. AIS pose acute threats to BC’s diverse biological landscape while also posing threats of permanent harm and costs to local economies and communities. Harms inflicted by AIS on aquatic resources and communities where ZQM have taken hold are well documented and actions must be taken now to prevent these harms in British Columbia.
The threats of AIS that MP Arnold conveyed to Minister Lebouthillier at the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans (FOPO) on October 26, 2023, and threats we have previously conveyed to your predecessors and officials not only persist but have moved closer to BC. In 2016, ZQM larvae were detected in Montana’s Tiber and Canyon Ferry reservoirs, and this was the closest to BC that ZQM were detected until September 18, 2023, when the presence of ZQM were confirmed in the Snake River near Twin Falls, Idaho south of British Columbia.
In 2019, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development (CESD) released her audit report that concluded that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) had not taken the steps required to prevent AIS from becoming established in Canada’s waters despite commitments to do so over the years. The Commissioner also found that the Aquatic Invasive Species Regulations were not adequately enforced, partly because of the DFO’s and the CBSA’s failures in equipping and training fishery officers and border services officers with the means to prevent aquatic invasive species from entering Canada. We encourage you to read the Commissioner’s report.
We have repeatedly pressed your government for federal resources dedicated to AIS prevention to be allocated equitably across Canada because doing so would increase protection for BC’s water as the threats of AIS increase. At the time when the CESD report was released in 2019, DFO was allocating 2% of federal funding for AIS activities to Pacific Region and by 2021-22 this figure dropped to 1.75%. This inequitable distribution leaves the large geographic area and ecologies and economies in BC and the Pacific Region at risk.
The Government of British Columbia’s Invasive Mussel Defense Program (IMDP) is an essential and effective means of protecting BC’s waters from ZQM and the DFO is a funding partner of the program. However, since 2019, as your government has cut funding for AIS prevention in BC, the capacities and work of the IMDP have been severely reduced as the number of inspection stations declined by 50% and inspectors working at the stations declined by 33%.
From 2019 through the summer of 2023, these funding reductions to BC correlated with reductions in the operating hours of remaining inspection stations and a 68% reduction in the total number of watercrafts inspected, a 90% reduction in identifications of high-risk watercraft, and a 54.5% reduction in the number of mussel-fouled watercraft prevented from entering BC. These reductions occurred during a period when the number of visitors to BC, including those with watercraft, increased.
Ministers, the threats that AIS, especially ZQM, pose to British Columbia cannot be overstated. We have witnessed the ecological and economic costs and destruction that ZQM have caused as they have proliferated from Lake St. Clair across North America since 1988. Earlier this year, the Government of British Columbia’s report titled “Potential Economic Impact of Zebra and Quagga Mussels in B.C.” concluded that introduction of ZQM to BC would precipitate new annuals costs of up to $129 million for the province.
We know that mandatory watercraft inspections such as those carried out at BC’s borders by CBSA and BC’s IMDP program are essential means of protecting BC’s waters from ZQM and these prevention activities that your departments are already involved in must be strengthened.
Ministers, if your government is serious about protecting aquatic habitats for fish, especially Pacific salmon, and serious about conserving biodiversity and natural ecosystems, then you must act now to establish equitable allocation of federal resources for AIS prevention in British Columbia and establish a requirement for all recreational boaters entering Canada from the United States at ports of entry from Saskatchewan to B.C. with a watercraft to be inspected for high risk Aquatic Invasive Species prior to entering Canada.
Should you wish to discuss this pressing matter, we are happy to meet with you and provide an opportunity for you to connect with AIS prevention experts in British Columbia working tirelessly on the front lines of protecting waters and ecosystems from aquatic invasive species.
We look forward to your response."
Mel Arnold, M.P.
North Okanagan- Shuswap
Dan Albas, M.P.
Central Okanagan-Similkameen- Nicola
Frank Caputo, M.P.
Tracy Gray, M.P.
Kelowna- Lake Country
Rob Morrison, M.P.