UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Maintenance of genetic diversity among British Columbia wildlife Williams, Robert Glyn


The purpose of this thesis is to define the issues and problems associated with maintaining genetic diversity among wildlife in British Columbia, and to identify the requirements that need to be met to ensure the preservation of species in the Province. A number of reasons have been proposed for the maintenance of genetic diversity and these include: a) biological - that genetic diversity provides evolutionary flexibility and resilience to individual species and ecosystems and as a buffer against harmful environmental change; b) anthropocentric - that the species may now, or in future provide food, medicine, or other commerical values, function as progenitors of domestic animals, or provide recreational values; and c) moral - that man is guardian of wildlife and should prevent their loss, and their existence alone is sufficient reason for their continued survival. Extinction is a natural phenomenon which occurs over geological time as a consequence of natural disaster or inability to adapt to environmental conditions, and in association with an emerging species. However, in historic times, man has emerged as the principal cause of species declines, effecting an absolute loss to wildlife habitat and the complement of wildlife species. On a worldwide basis, 306 birds and mammals have disappeared and 982 are endangered since 1600 AD. In North America, 500 plants and animals have disappeared since the arrival of the Mayflower. Projections suggest that between 150,000 and 2,500,000 species will disappear before 2000 AD. In British Columbia, 14 vertebrates have disappeared and the survival of up to 73 others is in some jeopardy. Historical accounts confirm declines in species diversity, distribution and population. Given the diversity of wildlife in B.C., this could become an acute problem. Wildlife is a common property resource, the benefits of which accrue to every member of current and future generations, and the responsibility for which is necessarily assumed by government. As it was discerned that government policy is based on the actions of politicians, bureaucrats and interest groups, political and administrative theory was reviewed and used to explain past performance of these actors, and the future requirements to preserve genetic diversity. Information for this thesis was collected through a combination of library research, analysis of source documents (eg. legislation), review of agency files, and interviews with agency personnel and individuals involved in the case studies (ie. Vancouver Island marmot and sea otter). The findings of the thesis are of two types: a) attitudes and perceptions of the public, politicians and bureaucrats; and b) the current institutional structure (ie. legislation and bureaucracy). a) Public awareness and understanding of the issue is relatively low, although there appears to be a large latent concern in British Columbia. With the exception of some cosmetic actions, politicians have paid negligible attentipn to the issue. Bureaucrats have recognized the public concern but have lacked the resources or motivation to effect substantive actions. b) The role of the B.C. government is of paramount importance since wildlife is a provincial matter and the bulk of the provincial land base is Crown owned. A review of the legislation and agencies responsible for wildlife and Crown land indicates that the preservation of genetic diversity is not incorporated in legislation, mandated to any provincial agency or supported in any programs. The Wildlife Act and Fish and Wildlife Branch are oriented to the production of game species. Although Ecological Reserves could be employed as a mechanism to preserve genetic diversity, it is hobbled by administrative arrangements and limited resources. The preservation of genetic diversity is of secondary importance to the Parks Branch and negligible importance to the Land Management Branch, Ministry of Municipal Affairs, and Ministry of Forests. The existing system is relatively ineffective since it neither addresses the maintenance of genetic diversity nor does it provide an opportunity for the small contingent of ideologically-motivated individuals to achieve this goal. An effective system would include: * mandating responsibilities to the Fish and Wildlife Branch to develop policies and programs to maintain genetic diversity; * mandating responsibilities to other agencies to include the maintenance of genetic diversity in their land use planning; * mandating provincial authority to intervene in land uses and/or expropriate lands in order to maintain genetic diversity; * enabling Ecological Reserves to set aside representative ecosystems inviolate of human activities; * initiating research on ecosystems and non game species; * raising public awareness and concern about maintaining genetic diversity and mounting a political lobby to initiate government action; and * providing avenues of ongoing public input to perpetuate the political will of politicians and bureaucrats to maintain genetic diversity. The government of British Columbia is capable of ensuring the maintenance of genetic diversity, pending the emergence of sufficient public concern to initiate, justify and reward government action.

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