Environmental impact assessment (EIA) is the process by which the biophysical environment is maintained and improved. The aspect of EIA was first introduced in the early 1970s and has been greatly employed in Canada as a regulatory tool to protect its environment. However, over the years, the aspect of EIA has greatly evolved where at first it was like a regulatory control for environmental pollution, but it is currently viewed as a form of a comprehensive, integrative, and proactive tool for environmental planning and management. This illustrates the significance of EIA in Canada and particularly in Saskatchewan as it facilitates better environmental management.
Saskatchewan, a prairie province with half of the region containing vegetation (forest), relies on the boreal forest for economic purposes. The Government of Saskatchewan has introduced varying strategies to cope up with difficult economic conditions in the region, which led to the closure of paper and pulp mill. Nonetheless, irrespective of these challenges, the government in the region provides great potential for economic growth by managing the environment. One of the strategies employed by the Government of Saskatchewan is 20-year terms under a forest management agreement (FMA). Other strategic changes for the region include pertinent to the environmental policy and legislation by amending The Environmental Management and Protection Act, The Environmental Assessment Act, and The Forest Resources Management Act by following a result-based regulation.
The Saskatchewan Forest Management (SFW) borrowed six aspects from Canadian Council of Forest Ministers (CCFM) including Economic and social benefit; Role in global ecological cycles; Soil and water; Ecosystem condition and productivity; Biological diversity; and Society’s responsibility. Therefore, as a process, EIA is an effective tool as it helps the authority to make better environmental management decisions. However, there are gaps in comprehensive assessment of the efficacy of EIA as a measure to improve environmental management. The current assignment will explore on the affected environments, impact to native species, as well as, impact to historic, cultural sites, social, and economic impact on the community.
The management strategies for the forestry industry in Saskatchewan was criticized in the 1990s with arguments that they were resource-specific, but others argued it was the first phase of commitment to integrating EIA to the plan. The Saskatchewan Environmental Assessment Act defines the term environment like water, land or air, the life of humans, plants and animals as well as the cultural, economic and social conditions that influence how a community lives. Therefore, the inclusion of EIA in Saskatchewan requires planners to incorporate economic and socio-cultural factors, as well as, other indicators that are out of the biophysical model
Sustainable Forest Management in Saskatchewan
There lacks environmentally sustainable management without the inclusion of biophysical integrity. From the mid-20th century, the primary goal for forest management Saskatchewan is (SFM) sustainability. The aspect of sustainability in the forestry sector in Saskatchewan was borrowed from the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) or the 1992 Earth Summit. After the UNCED was enacted, the government of Canada apprehended an international seminar that was on Montreal to discuss issues concerning the sustainability of Temperate Forests and Development of Boreal in 1993.
Before apprehending this seminar, the Canadian government operated towards maximizing timber production, rather than integrating sustainability to their initiatives. This has been beneficial to Saskatchewan by balancing all the forest users by ensuring that the forests continue to generate their ecological benefits. The Montreal Process started its operations in Geneva Switzerland in 1994, where it formulated a comprehensive set of indicators and criteria. However, the process led to challenges particularly in regard to international agreements. The Saskatchewan follows the CCFM, which is in line and is at par with the National Forest Strategy. According to Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (1992) Ch. 11.22(b), forest management should follow “scientifically sound criteria and guidelines for the management, conservation, and sustainable development of all types of forests”. Hence, the EIA efforts are termed as effective if both at short-term and long-term are beneficial for all living things and/or they enhance or maintain a healthy forest ecosystem while providing cultural, social, economic, and environmental opportunities.
Impacts to Native Species, both Flora and Fauna
The forestry region in Saskatchewan has exotic vegetation, as well as, native flora and fauna. Conducting an environmental impact assessment will introduce the aspect of sustainability and the comprehensive nature of the strategy to ensure that the government regulates the ecological benefits of the forest. An EIA has both direct and indirect impact to flora and fauna in a forest. For example, during an EIA, the management may identify exotic floral cover, which may be eliminated in the ecosystem. Removing exotic flora will benefit other plants, as well as, the fauna population.
The EIA system in Saskatchewan contributes to making informed decisions on the potential impact and management solutions of the forest ecosystem. According to Hickey et al, the EIA identifies and applies the ecological threshold and indicators. It also assists to monitor the practices for all stakeholders in sustainable forest management. The flora and fauna are impacted through early identification of environmental impacts at an early stage. Through this, the management may identify issues before implementing the plan. The process will also be effective in maintaining and enhancing the condition and productivity of the forest ecosystem. This can be maintained through set targets and indicators, best management practices, results-based measures, and prescribed mitigation practices.
The Saskatchewan forest is inhabited by native flora species, which are managed by Endangered Ecological Community (EEC). However, natural regeneration has greatly been inhibited by ongoing threat of weed invasion. The forests have a specific toxic species – the Scotch Thistle, which is a noxious weed. This weed is growing uncontrollably but strategies have been formulated through the EIA to control the growth and the spread of the weed in the locality. The total amount of flora in the region is approximately 30% native and 70% exotic species. In terms of fauna, Saskatchewan is mostly typical for the habitat, meaning no threatened or migratory species. In the region, Modified Tussock Grassland is one fauna that gives a likely habitat for a threatened fauna (reptile). Some of the threatened and migratory biotas that are in the region include Striped Legless Lizard, Grassland Earless Dragon, and Diamond Firetail.
Social and Economic Impacts on Local Communities
EIA facilitates improvement maintenance of human well-being. Some of the benefits of EIA in Saskatchewan include economic benefits, social, and cultural benefits. Performing an EIA will enhance and maintain economic benefits like the quality and yields from forest goods and services. The second impact of the EIA in Saskatchewan is that it enhances and maintains the social and cultural benefits of forests. For example, some communities view the forest with social or cultural importance. Like, some caves in these regions act like shrines for the communities. Cutting trees indiscriminately may negatively affect the communities. In addition, some regions contain trees and plants with medicinal value and maintaining such flora may be of significance to the community. Therefore, sustainability through EIA is beneficial in the social and economic effect on local communities.
EIA assists the community and stakeholders to be actively involved through legal provisions, which influences the management practices and outcomes. These stakeholders are significant as it provides a means by which the stakeholders can access information through participants funding programs. Input from stakeholders is significant in the EIA process. Through this, the local communities can express their concerns and be part of the environmental impact statement. Including the local community in the management process empowers them to own the strategy, maintain the flora and fauna, and preserve the indigenous species. In addition, the EIA in Saskatchewan ensures that the Aboriginal and treaty rights are supported and acknowledged in forest management operations and practices.
Air, Water, and Soil Quality Impact
Conducting an EIA, impacts the physical environment and this includes the quality of water and air in a natural resource. This is because these evaluations increase biodiversity and aim at improving the water quality. For example, the quality of soil may be greatly affected by deforestation as more soil that was covered by vegetation would be left open. Soil erosion is thus tackled in sustainability through EIA. In addition, the water and air aspect are controlled through sustainable strategies. In Saskatchewan, there are two major watersheds namely the Churchill River Drainage Basin and Saskatchewan River Drainage Basin. These river sources have been in use to transport logs for commercial use to other regions.
Through such processes, the watercourse may be greatly affected. In addition, the forests in Saskatchewan are the source of many water sources. If poorly managed, it can greatly affect water supply, not only in the region but in most parts of Canada too. Therefore, conducting an EIA would ensure quality air, water, and soil supply in the country. It is argued that the Saskatchewan government is more concerned about the hydrology and water system more than any other aspect in EIA. For example, there have been strategies to curb the flooding issue experienced in the region such as the projects under FMP have protected wetlands to preserve the hydrology system in the province.
Impacts to Historic and Cultural Sites, Particularly Sites of Significant Importance to Indigenous Peoples
Saskatchewan is a city known for its historic and cultural sites. These sites are not only significant to the indigenous people but also to the international community where people travel to Canada to enjoy the sites. For example, the Fort Walsh National Historic site was known in the early forces’ day as a hideout for the heavily armed RCMP garrison. The rich history of Saskatchewan places the region with a high profile including the political decisions to form Canada and wild-west adventure. Another site in the region is the Batoche National Historic Site, which has a rich and fascinating history where the last battle of Batoche was fought in 1885. This site is symbolic, particularly for the Metis culture where approximately 300 of their soldiers fought with 800 Canadian soldiers. In the Baroche site, the “Bell of Batoche” is present in this present time.
Another cultural aspect that requires management for the sake of the locals is the Big Muddy Outlaw Caves, which surrounds the Coronach Sasks that were used as hideouts for outlaws crossing to the U.S. border in the 19th century. The region is, thus, attracting tourists due to the notorious caves and Castle Butte structure, an ancient First Nations buffalo effigy. Other historic sites include Motherwell Homestead National Historic Site, Last Mountain House Provincial Park, Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site, and The Doukhobor Dugout House. These sites require conservation for indigenous community, future generations, and for tourist attraction. Due to this, EIA is significant in preserving cultural sites in the region.
EIA is an effective tool in environmental management in the forestry sector. In Saskatchewan, the tool has been applied to illustrate what the forestry sector has achieved in Saskatchewan. The impact of EIA in the region can be illustrated due to the management of flora and fauna, indigenous species, exotic species, human beings, the local community and their cultural sites, and economic and social impacts. The effectiveness of EIA in Saskatchewan can be attributed to its collaboration with SFM standards where the EIA can be applied as a tool to measure its effectiveness. Therefore, the environmental impact assessment tool is an integrative too, which widens the assessment scope of the forestry sector.
Bowden, M.A. and B. Weichel. 2005. Environmental Impact Assessment in Saskatchewan. In Kevin S. Hanna (Ed.) Environmental impact assessment: practice and participation, Second Edition Oxford University Press, Oxford and Toronto (in press).
Boyden, A. 2007. Environmental assessment under threat. International Association for Impact Assessment Newsletter
Gibson, R. 2002. From Wreck Cove to Voisey’s Bay: the evolution of federal environmental assessment in Canada. Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal, 20: 151-159.
Government of Saskatchewan. 2012. Saskatchewan Environmental Code. Available online: http://www.environment.gov.sk.ca/Default.aspx?DN=02fe0486-85da-472d-9bc5- ed8f8bb7d24c. Accessed 4 Feb 2019.
Hickey, G.M, Brunet, and Allan. “A Constant Comparison of the Environmental.” Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning 12, no. 3 (2010): 315-329.
Morrison-Saunders, A. and T. Fischer. 2006. What is wrong with EIA and SEA anyway? A sceptic’s perspective on sustainability assessment. Journal of Environmental Assessment Policy and Management, 8(1): 19-39.
Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. 1992. Agenda 21. “Conservation and management of resources for development”. Section II, Chapter 11. Available online: http://www.un.org/esa/dsd/agenda21/res_agenda21_11.shtml. Accessed 4 Feb 2019.
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