Our shared treasure: National Parks

This Saturday (July 20th) is Canada Parks Day and this year we have a new National Park to make it that much better.  The creation of Sable Island National Park was one of the last items passed by parliament before the summer recess.  It becomes Canada’s 43rd National Park and while the creation of it was easy enough to support it doesn’t mean that all is well for our National Parks.

In the last year, Parks Canada has had its budget slashed by 29 million dollars and is being asked to do more with less.   The budget cut mean jobs will be lost and the government is slashing over 600 positions including biologist and facilitator-guides who add to the experience for people visiting these incredible spaces.  At the same time visitors to parks are being asked to pay more to visit National Parks despite the reduction of services available.

This probably won’t help another problem which is a consistent drop in people using National Parks (20%) over the last 15 years.  The fact that engaging tour guides are being dismissed - in many cases replaced by signs – while the price of admission rises will do little to reverse the persistent decline in the use of National Parks.

There are also concerns about resource development projects.  Newfoundland’s revered Gros Morne National Park is being eyed as a source of oil from both conventional drilling and fracking.  Among New Democrat concerns with the legislation that created Sable Island National park was unclear language about oil exploration and ways that companies might circumvent the 1 kilometre buffer that currently protects the island from those projects. 

But it isn’t just resource development that threatens these wild spaces.  The balance between visitors and wildlife is a big consideration.  Parks like Banff or Jasper struggle with the interaction between humans and Grizzly Bears.  They have limited access to some parts in an effort to protect bears which must be destroyed if they attack people.  

While Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing does not host a National Park, we are very close to a few gems.  Pukaskwa National Park contains a small isolated population of woodland caribou, covers an area of almost 2,000 square kilometres, and protects part of the longest undeveloped shoreline anywhere on the Great Lakes.    Bruce Peninsula National Park and the nearby Fathom Five National Marine Park are  breathtakingly beautiful with gin-clear water, beautiful old growth hardwood forests, and caves made famous in the movie Quest for Fire.

Ultimately the challenge for Canada will be to make certain these parks thrive by finding the best way to preserve the natural space while allowing humans to enter and enjoy them.  National Parks must be places that we can visit and see something of ourselves and our country in while we are there.  Sable Island is a place where horses still run wild, which is amazing to think about given how developed the country can seem.   It is important that places like that are preserved and made accessible for those who dream to visit them.