THE question of the conservation of natural resources is one which has loomed large in the public eye for some time past, and it will be interesting to show what steps Canada has been taking with a view to promote the scientific development and conservation of the natural resources of the great Dominion.
In October, 1907, the Inland Waterways Commission, which had been appointed by the President of the United States, suggested in a memorandum addressed to the President, that the time had arrived for the adoption of a national policy of conservation. As the result, a conference of State Governors was held in May of the following year and subsequently a National Commission was appointed to prepare an inventory of the natural resources. Later on, representatives of Canada and Mexico were invited to attend a joint North American Conference at Washington, it being clearly recognised that the principles of the conservation of resources had no international limitations. A declaration of principles was adopted, and the Canadian delegation having reported to the Dominion Government, the outcome was the constitution by Act of Parliament of a Commission to take into consideration ” all questions which may be brought to its notice relating to the conservation and better utilization of the natural resources of Canada, to make such inventories, collect and disseminate such information, conduct such investigations inside and outside of Canada, and frame such recommendations as seem conducive to the accomplishment of that end.”
The Commission which has been appointed under the Act by Order in Council includes the Ministers of the Interior, Agriculture, and Mines in the Dominion Government and the member of each Provincial Government who is charged with the administration of the natural resources of his particular province. The other twenty members are all gentlemen who, by virtue of the positions they hold and their special attainments, are peculiarly fitted for membership. The Chairman appointed to preside over this important body is The Honourable Clifford Sifton, K.C., M.P., one of the leading public men in Canada, and some time Minister of the Interior, who in his striking inaugural address pointed out the exceptional nature of the Commission, and the duties with which it has been entrusted. Mr. Sifton has grouped the natural resources under the headings of the Minerals, the Fisheries, Public Health, Inland Waters, the Land and the Forests, and has outlined the directions the Commission might best strike out with the object of attaining what was desired.
Evidence is not lacking that there is much to be done in saving the waste which now prevails to a large extent in connection with the production of minerals in Canada. To give a few instances only, much valuable mineral is lost in certain districts for the reason that there is no effective method existing in Canada for the treatment of the ore. Coal which is difficult to mine is not taken out of the pit, and the shafts are blocked up. In other districts gold-bearing gravels have been covered up by tailings.
Fisheries are recognised as one of the greatest natural resources of the Dominion, and a committee of the Commission on fisheries, game and fur-bearing animals will in due time report on the measure which can best be adopted to strengthen the hands of the various government departments concerned.
The attention of the Commission will be devoted particularly to the necessity of preserving forest growth which furnishes the best possible water reservoir ; ascertaining what can be done by methods of agricultural treatment which will diminish the run-off and retain the proper quantity for absorption by the soil, and by providing ” catchment areas ” which prevent the spring freshets thus obviating the destructive force which results in erosion, and making use of the water stored to supplement the flow in seasons of low water.
The Chairman of the Commission, in detailing what has already been done in Ontario and Western Canada in regard to water powers and irrigation, stated that it was open to serious question if the time had not arrived when all water-power development should be under the control of the Governments concerned, requiring a licence for development, and subject to general laws making regulations in the public interest, and taking a share of the profits for the public treasury.
The conservation of forests is a subject which perhaps to many minds would be the most important of all the matters in which the Commission could be concerned. There are many means which can be adopted to this end, and it is worthy of note that during a recent Session of the Canadian Parliament a Select Committee of forests and waterways investigated the question of the flow of water from the east slope of the Rocky Mountains through the plains of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Evidence given before that Committee showed that in order to preserve the water supply of these provinces it was necessary to prevent the destruction of timber upon the east slope. The Committee accordingly represented that the forest lands still under the control of the Dominion Government should be formed into a permanent forest reserve, a recommendation which has been since carried out. The prevention of forest fires arising from railways and from other causes is also a subject which will receive serious consideration.
There are many other directions in which the Canadian Commission of Conservation will, it is expected, exercise a powerful influence in ensuring to the people of the country their full share of the wealth which is produced from the natural resources, and its operations will certainly be watched with the keenest interest at home and abroad.