Reflections on the World Parks Congress 2014, Sydney, Australia

November 25, 2014

CPAWS delegates and the 2014 IUCN World Parks Congree in Sydney
Australia: Anne-Marie Syslak, Elyse Curley, Patrick Nadeau, Alison
Woodley, Ron Thiessen and Sabine Jessen

Ron Thiessen, Executive Director, CPAWS Manitoba

Thirty-six thousand feet in a metal bird, gazing at the clouds below; I ponder my time at the Congress. My thoughts quickly drift to the grand size of the affair. Over 5000 professionals from across the globe gathered to share what they know, and learn more, about what we do. What we do, in one form or another, is labour to move the needle forward on conserving earth’s great natural lands and waters to ensure a healthy future for people and wildlife. A challenge, I believe, that is both motivating and unsettling at the same time.

Luvuyo Mandela, inspired us all with powerful messages, following in the footsteps of his great grandfather, Nelson Mandela, who spoke at the previous Congress in 2004. Jane Goodall shared her softly-spoken words of wisdom and hope for the future. A number of world political leaders announced various environmentally focused initiatives. And many lesser-known, yet highly talented and determined individuals, made immense contributions to designing greatly needed solutions.

At times, I felt overwhelmed with choices. There were so many concurrent sessions running that the ability to focus and make quick decisions became more of an art than logical analysis. Soon I convinced myself that “going with my gut” was the only approach to take if I wanted to retain my sanity.

Once fully immersed, I soon recalled how grateful I feel to work in Canada where personal safety is not typically a concern simply because one is an advocate for conservation. Also, that much of our nation’s lands and waters are still intact, which gives us the opportunity to plan for a wise balance of conservation and human developments – unfortunately, many countries no longer have this privilege and consequently are gambling that restoration efforts may be able to repair extensive environmental damage. In Canada, we have the luxury of prevention rather than struggling to find a desperately needed cure. Let’s hope we embrace this chance with sage decisions.

A huge highlight for me was presenting alongside Chief David Crate of Fisher River Cree Nation about our journey to establish the Fisher Bay provincial park and our ongoing quest to expand its boundaries. The Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement (CBFA) was also brought into the limelight as a global conservation/economic model through a series of talks delivered jointly by me and Wynet Smith, Director of Integrated Planning for the CBFA.

Through the maze of presentations and discussions, after learning about positive advances toward some goals and steps backward in others, I sat at the closing ceremony feeling exhausted yet stimulated, intimidated yet hopeful, and more convinced than ever that this amazing and awe-inspiring world we live in is worth fighting for, no matter how tremendous the challenges may be. I believe that designing a healthy future is undoubtedly possible if we congregate and make it a top priority. After all, thirty years ago, conferences and events like this one would have been held in smoke-filled rooms with ashtrays as centerpieces at every table. This is a prime example of how quickly we can achieve mass positive change in a relatively short time period. There’s no uncertainty in my mind that saving our earth, and all life forms on it, will require this same intensive and collective global approach. My fingers are crossed, and my efforts continue, in hope that enough of us will band together with enough strength and conviction before we miss our chance to ensure that future generations won’t criticize us for handing them an irreparable circumstance, but rather thank us for our bold and brave actions that left them a prosperous and wholesome world to live in.

Help Keep Manitoba Wild


CPAWS Manitoba has helped establish 23 parks and protected areas thanks to people like you.

With your help, we can protect half our lands and waters for future generations of people and wildlife.