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American Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC)| Montreal, 7 January 2002

North America is facing a "widespread crisis" due to its shrinking biodiversity, according to a new report released today by the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC).

"In the process of finding solutions to our transportation, settlement, energy and other material needs, remaining natural environments have been placed under enormous stress, and continue to be fragmented, polluted or damaged in other ways," says the study The North American Mosaic: A State of the Environment Report. The report was formally released to the three NAFTA partner governments on 7 January.

"This decline in habitat, plus specific hunting and harvesting practices, has led to a widespread crisis not confined to any one country or region," the report says. Half of North America's most biodiverse eco-regions are now severely degraded and the region now has at least 235 threatened species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians.

"Our report shows that over the past few decades, the loss and alteration of habitat has become the main threat to biodiversity," said Janine Ferretti, Executive Director of the CEC. "A significant proportion of the plant and animal species of North America is threatened."

"North America's diminishing biological diversity has profound consequences. Because the loss is irreversible-species that are lost are lost forever-the potential impact on the human condition, on the fabric of the continent's living systems, and on the process of evolution is immense," the report states.

"Some of the region's species depend on healthy, contiguous forest ecosystems. Habitat fragmentation and loss within these forests now threaten many migratory species. Birds are losing nesting, feeding, and resting areas," according to the report. It says the monarch butterfly faces threats, including "coastal development in California, deforestation of oyamel fir forests in Mexico and the use of pesticides on and around milkweed plants," the species' primary food and where they lay their eggs.

The three NAFTA partners have responded to the threat posed by rapid decline of biodiversity.

Mexico has adopted a three-pronged national strategy that includes management and sustainable use of wildlife, strengthening the National System of Protected Areas, and increasing knowledge through the National Commission for the Understanding and Use of Biodiversity. In the past 10 years, Mexico created 19 new biosphere reserves.

Canada developed a biodiversity strategy in 1994. Federal legislation to protect threatened species is pending. A 2000 report on the nation's national parks called for urgent action to mitigate the impact of ongoing stresses. Since 1970, the amount of protected area has tripled.

In the United States, "both federal and states agencies invest huge amounts of their time and budgets in habitat and species protection," the report says. Much of the money flows through partnership arrangements with private and public sector organizations. In 1980 alone, the extent of protected areas doubled with the enactment of the Alaska National Interest Lands Act. Overall, the total protected area in North America has increased from less than 100 million hectares in 1980, to 300 million hectares now, or about 15 percent of the continent's land surface.

"Looming threats overshadow these positive achievements, however. Natural areas in all three countries are in danger of being overwhelmed by multiple factors," the report says. These factors include:

The overwhelming success of natural areas in attracting visitors Insufficient funds allocated for management of natural areas Adjacent development that turns protected areas into threatened islands

Uses of surrounding lands that are often incompatible with natural areas and counter to their sustainability "There is enormous variety in the levels of protection afforded to these areas. Some that are deemed `protected' actually encourage development activities that put biodiversity at great risk," the report says.

'Bio-invasion' poses serious threat to biodiversity The growing number of invasive species introduced to North America through increased travel and trade also poses serious threats to native biodiversity, including species competition, predation, disease, parasitism and hybridization, the report says. "Bio-invasion," or the spread of non-native species, has become one of the greatest threats to natural biological diversity. Without additional safeguards, it is almost inevitable that increased international trade will also increase the rates at which alien species are introduced into domestic waters and terrestrial ecosystems, according to the report.

The following are other report highlights:

Natural disasters becoming more frequent, and more expensive Poor are hit hardest by environmental problems Transportation follows unsustainable trend Soil erosion on decline but threat of drought increasing North Americans fishing down the food chain Freshwater species more vulnerable to extinction Global warming induced rise in sea level would threaten Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, among other areas worldwide.

The North American Mosaic presents the first analysis of the overall state of the North American environment by the Montreal-based CEC. The CEC was established to build cooperation among the NAFTA partners-Canada, Mexico and the United States-in protecting shared environments, with a particular focus on the opportunities and challenges presented by continent-wide free trade.:

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