Our wild spaces require strong protection

Canada’s national, provincial and community parks are said to belong to everyone. They allow Canadians across the country to enjoy captivating landscapes and to connect with our spectacular natural heritage. We protect these spaces for the present and as a commitment to ensuring they will be enjoyed by future generations of Canadians.

Canadians might feel assured about this since the government has promised to achieve our international conservation commitments to protect 17% of our land and freshwater and 10% of our oceans by 2020. In addition to that, they promised to prioritize ecological integrity in managing our parks.  But commitments require follow up and a report released by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) in July shows that governments at all levels are falling behind in their efforts to protect our wild spaces and biodiversity.

That report shows that Canada has only protected 10.5 per cent of our land and fresh water. It goes on to explain that reaching the goal of  17 per cent, (a promise Canada made in 2010), will require protecting and declaring that off-limits to development parcels of land that would equal the size of Alberta in total over the next two years.  CPAWS notes that federal, provincial, and territorial environment ministers met in early July where they agreed to come up with plans to meet Canada’s 2020 targets by the end of this year. They say the plans have to include specific lands and inland waters that will be protected, as well as name the community partners or Indigenous partners that will ensure the protection actually takes place. 

This was followed up by the release of an Environment and Climate Change Canada study of Wood Buffalo National Park which found that almost every aspect of the Park’s environment is deteriorating, due to industrial hydro and oil sands activities. The study shows that resource projects have taken priority over environmental protection right inside a national park.  This shows how areas that are ostensibly protected continue to be at risk which sends warning signs for any areas that will be protected as we attempt to meet our 2020 commitments.

Indigenous leaders and stakeholder groups have raised serious concerns about the federal government’s failure to truly prioritize conservation and the preservation of biodiversity in our parks and protected areas. Groups like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Canada have also voiced concerns about weak protections for our marine conservation areas, which allow industrial activities like oil and gas exploration within their borders, seriously undermining their ability to preserve biodiversity.  But the need for immediate action is obvious. A report released by the WWF last fall claimed that half of all of Canada’s mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, and fish populations declined by an average of 83 per cent between 1970 and 2014. 

Despite the harrowing news, Canada still has an opportunity to act as a global conservation leader.  CPAWS feel we can even set our sights on broader targets that will more accurately reflect the connectivity our ecosystems need. This will require strong government leadership to ensure that our parks and protected areas are not just lines drawn on a map and are truly preserved for generations to come. We have learned from past commitments such as the Kyoto Protocol on climate change that words aren’t always met with action.  With so much at stake we can’t afford to let that happen again.