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Recovery Strategy for the Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia humifusa) in Canada

Strategic Environmental Assessment Statement

In accordance with the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals (2004), a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) is conducted on all SARA recovery strategies. The purpose of a SEA is to incorporate environmental considerations into the development of public policies, plans and program proposals to support environmentally sound decision-making (see also Appendix 1).

Recovery planning is intended to benefit species at risk and biodiversity in general. However, it is recognized that strategies may also inadvertently lead to environmental effects beyond the intended benefits. The planning process based on national guidelines directly incorporates consideration of all environmental effects, with a particular focus on possible impacts on non-target species or habitats. The results of the SEA are incorporated directly into the strategy itself, primarily within the Effect on the Environment and other Species section, but are also summarized below.

Most broad strategies and approaches to recover the Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus are expected to either have no significant adverse impacts or to have a positive environmental effect on the Lake Erie Sand Spit Savannas ecosystem, as well as other species occupying those habitats. Proposed approaches oriented towards research, monitoring, protection and public education are expected to result in the return of a mosaic of vegetation communities, particularly Lake Erie Sand Spit Savannas, as well as Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus. Monitoring work may include assessments of cactus habitat, thereby increasing knowledge relating to both the ecosystem and closely associated species. Public awareness initiatives may assist in raising awareness of other species at risk and shared threats.

Negative environmental effects arising from this strategy will likely be confined to the use of vegetation management techniques as a tool to restore open habitats and to minimize or prevent succession to closed canopy habitats. Particularly, there may be potential adverse effects associated with fire management techniques. Effects could include potential loss of individuals, including Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus and other species at risk; potential damage to archaeological resources; potential loss of mature forest habitat cover and thicket and woodland habitats; loss of downed woody debris that provides important microhabitat for many Lake Erie Sand Spit Savannas species; potential displacement of existing vegetation if Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus is repatriated to historic locations; the potential disturbance of soil contaminants and potential impacts to visitor experience due to the control of off-trail activities. The potential loss of individuals from trampling and disturbance due to monitoring activities could also occur.

Mitigation measures to reduce or eliminate these impacts will require research on vegetation management techniques and their impact on Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus. The maintenance of a mosaic of vegetation communities of different age classes will require minimizing vegetation management activities so as not to include the entire habitat at once. Managing the timing of those activities could reduce disturbance to other species and to allow for "refuge" areas. Similarly, consultation with Parks Canada Archaeologists, education and coordination of staff participating in management and monitoring activities and increasing visitor awareness of those activities and its reasoning would further mitigate the above impacts.

Potential negative impacts and corresponding mitigations may be addressed in greater detail in project level environmental assessments for any habitat modification projects, prescribed burns, invasive species removals or shoreline alterations at Point Pelee National Park under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (1992, c. 37) (CEAA) and at Fish Point Provincial Nature Reserve under A Class Environmental Assessment for Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves (2005). These environmental assessments would require follow-up to determine the success of the techniques implemented, and the accuracy of effects predicted for other species, ecosystem processes and the environment. This will allow for adaptive management at these sites, the mitigation of any environmental effects and continual adjustment and improvement of recovery efforts.