A panoramic view of the Okanagan Valley with West Kelowna in the foreground and mountains in the background
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A young badger approaches over snow. Photo by Meg Sommers.

This month biodiversity will make the news as world leaders convene in Montreal for COP15, the Convention on Biological Diversity. But what does biodiversity mean and why is it so important to us?

What is biodiversity?

The word biodiversity was first coined in the 1980s as a shortened form of the term biological diversity. Simply put biological diversity refers to the diversity of life on earth.

All living things are interconnected. Recent estimates indicate that there are currently more than 8 million different species of plants and animals living on earth, which live together in areas called ecosystems. The Earth is covered by interconnected ecosystems, from oceans to wetlands to grasslands to deserts.

Why does biodiversity matter?

Living organisms within ecosystems depend on a delicate balance, including with the non-living features such as rocks, soil and climate. One shift in an ecosystem’s balance, such as an increase in temperature can affect the plants and animals can grow and live there. The more diverse an ecosystem is, the better it can withstand change.

As human populations have grown, we have encroached on, and in some cases overtake natural spaces causing the balance of biodiversity to suffer. This, in turn, has a domino effect on humanity because we rely on healthy ecosystems to provide us with the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink.

What is the biodiversity crisis?

Species are declining in numbers and becoming more at risk of becoming extinct. Species are going extinct, and populations are disappearing forever worldwide.

The actions of humans are the greatest threat to biodiversity today. The more our populations grow, the more resources we use, and the more stress we place on nature.

The way we currently use natural areas and water is significantly impacting biodiversity in our region. Land development from our sprawling cities, forestry and mining activities and the agricultural practices are altering and fragmenting the landscape, impacting the ability of species to survive. Our land practices are also destroying natural areas and the biodiversity that once lived there.

The 2020 Living Planet Report Canada (PDF) reveals that since 1970, populations of Canadian species assessed as at risk have plunged by an average of 59 per cent and species assessed as globally at risk have seen their Canadian populations fall by an average of 42 per cent.

The report states on page 2, “When it comes to nature, Canada is considered a land of plenty — plenty of ocean coastline and boreal forest; plenty of sea ice and grasslands; and plenty of winding rivers, sparkling lakes and expansive wetlands. While it’s true that we have a lot of intact ecosystems throughout our vast and beautiful country — the second largest amount remaining in the world, in fact — plenty is a relative term. Plenty has not proven to be enough for all wildlife to thrive.”

The trend in biodiversity loss will continue unless we make transformative changes in how we use our land and water.

What is being done?

From December 7-19, 2022, world leaders are meeting at COP15 to strike a landmark agreement to guide global actions on biodiversity. An ambitious plan is needed to address the key drivers of biodiversity loss and put us on the path to halt and reverse nature loss by 2030.

The Okanagan Collaborative Conservation Program is working on a variety of initiatives to help protect ecosystems and prevent biodiversity in the Okanagan. Thanks to our partners for their efforts and collaboration on this important work.

What can you do?

The biodiversity crisis can be overwhelming to consider. If you’re not sure how to help, try starting with simple steps such as making sustainable choices in the food you eat and goods you buy and conserving the water you use. When you’re outdoors, protect local biodiversity by sticking to the walking path or hiking trail. Plant nectar-producing flowers and plants in your garden and be mindful of the pesticides you use.

Support the OCCP’s initiatives and spread the word!

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