By Ralph Martin
Can you imagine a Parliament of all species? Even if there was just one representative per species, that would require a huge hall, with at least 8.7 million seats. Or, it would become the Mother of all Zoom calls.
I am being only partly factitious. One species, Homo sapiens, has dominated access to resources and bulldozed or polluted the natural habitat on which all species depend. This Ultra Alpha species has demonstrated exceptional selfishness with greed, neglect and tunnel vision. Surely there must be a way for other species, who also have an inherent right to live on Earth, to get the attention of humans. Waiting until so many species have disappeared that human existence also becomes untenable, is a terrible option.
When my daughter was small her allowance was equally divided into three yogurt containers: one for spending, one for savings, one for charity. Her first donation was to a local food bank. A few months later, with childhood clarity, she declared that animals should also have safe homes with enough to eat. Since I wouldn’t allow her to send her quarters and loonies in the mail, she counted her charity cash and scrutinized as I wrote a cheque to the World Wildlife Fund.
Without a parliament of all species, I’m guessing other species would want Indigenous peoples to speak for them. “While the world’s 370 million indigenous peoples make up less than five per cent of the total human population, they manage or hold tenure over 25 per cent of the world’s land surface and support about 80 per cent of global biodiversity,” (https://on.natgeo. com/38nCojG). In Canada, there is an opportunity to shift some crown land to Indigenous management for the sake of all species and as a step toward reconciliation.
There is also a role for farmers to support biodiversity. About 4.9 billion hectares of global land is used for agriculture. Up to 90 per cent of wildlife species, associated with agricultural land, depend upon natural or semi-natural land-cover types according to Agriculture and Agri-food Canada. These woodlands, wetlands, grasslands and treed fence lines provide the breeding and feeding habitat which is so crucial for wild species.
Natural habitat is of benefit to many animal and plant species and also to species of insects, fungi and bacteria. In ecosystems, pollinators and decomposers are essential, whereas top predators, including humans, are optional.
In defense of preserving even small habitat patches, Dr. Lenore Fahrig of Carleton University provides evidence that a more fragmented pattern of a given habitat type implies more intermingling with other habitat types (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/geb.12839). She notes that all species responded favourably to more forest habitat, even if in small patches, and argues for policies to acknowledge the conservation value of all bits of habitat, no matter the size.
There is a precedent in the European Union to provide incentives for farmers to manage their properties so that 3 – 7 per cent of farmland is an ecological focus area. This improvement of natural habitat resulted in about 37–75 per cent of maximum species richness (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jnc.2015.12.006). What if the Canadian government agreed to pay an incentive for a minimum three per cent of natural habitat, on each farm, in Canada? On our 62 million hectares of agricultural land we could make a difference.
Canadian farmers should not have to bear the economic cost for the public good of improving diversity with more natural habitat on farmland. There is a clear role for government incentives. Given that other species cannot advocate nor vote, it is up to those of us who can.
Indigenous peoples and farmers will form communities with each other, with soil and with other species if society contributes to their tenure and efforts to regenerate soil health and biodiversity, for our long-term economic potential. Ecological health is simply long-term economics or “oikos”, our economics of Home.
Even without a parliament of all species, our home could be a holistic habitat, where all creatures great and small can thrive. ◊