By Ron Thiessen
Executive Director, CPAWS Manitoba
Sweltering heat waves and orange skies smothered in wildfire smoke don’t have to become our new normal.
There is still time for humanity to rein in climate change if we act quickly and decisively.
Conserving the forests, peatlands and wetlands that absorb carbon from the atmosphere is an essential component of mitigating climate change while also addressing the mass extinction of wildlife.
That’s why Manitobans are asking all political parties and candidates in the upcoming provincial election to commit to developing an action plan that will protect at least 30 per cent of our lands and fresh waters by 2030.
More than 3,000 Manitobans have signed postcards and sent emails to provincial political leaders urging them to commit to protecting 30 per cent of the province by 2030 since the Manitoba chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) launched its public mobilization campaign in May.
A recent poll found that 83 per cent of Manitobans want to see protected areas in our province increase from the current 11.1 per cent to 30 per cent by 2030.
Only nine per cent of respondents said they oppose the move, while eight per cent had not yet formed an opinion. The random sampling of 1,000 adults residing in Manitoba between May 31 and June 13, 2023 had a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.
Support for conservation in Manitoba is both “broad” and “intense,” Probe Research found in the poll commissioned by CPAWS Manitoba.
A hefty 59 per cent of Manitobans said they would be more likely to support a political party that pledges to nearly triple protected areas in the next seven years.
We expect support to be even stronger by the Oct. 3 election.
CPAWS Manitoba’s friendly outreach staff is spending the summer talking to thousands of people at festivals, farmers markets and beaches to help them understand why conservation is so critical to our wellbeing. The response so far has been overwhelmingly positive.
The 30 per cent by 2030 conservation target isn’t an arbitrary number.
It’s the bare minimum that scientists say we must protect if we hope to preserve a healthy future for our planet — and ourselves.
That’s why Canada joined 196 countries in signing a pledge to protect 30 per cent of the world’s lands and waters by 2030 at the United Nations Conference on Biological Diversity last December.
Canada cannot reach the 30 per cent target without support from the provinces and territories, which have Crown jurisdiction over lands and natural resources.
British Columbia and Quebec have already committed to the 30 per cent target for their respective provinces. Our provincial government needs to step up and commit to delivering an action plan that will protect 30 per cent of Manitoba’s lands and fresh waters by 2030.
Much of the work has already been done to identify which areas to protect in Manitoba.
The following opportunities represent 40.6 per cent of the province. With strong provincial leadership and support, enough of these opportunities can be realized in time to achieve the target of at least 30 per cent of Manitoba’s natural lands and waters protected by 2030.
Manitoba has already protected 71,561 square kilometres. That’s 11 per cent of our province. We’re ranked 7th out of 13 provinces and territories for the percentage of lands and waters protected.
The Manitoba government identified Areas of Special Interest (candidate protected areas) more than 20 years ago, representing 11.3 per cent of the province. The areas selected represent the enduring features found within ecoregions that still need to be captured in Manitoba’s protected areas network. There are 120 candidate protected areas remaining which total 73,746 sq. km.
The Seal River is one of the largest ecologically intact watersheds in the world. CPAWS is supporting the Seal River Watershed Alliance of Dene and Cree peoples initiative to protect the entire watershed: a whopping 50,000 sq. km. That’s equal to another 7.7 per cent of the province.
The governments of Manitoba and Canada are working with the Alliance to launch a joint feasibility study.
There are at least seven other Indigenous-led conservation initiatives underway in Manitoba with study areas spanning at least 67,000 square kilometres. Delineating the boundaries for these areas is presently underway. These opportunities could collectively protect as much as 10.3 per cent of Manitoba.
All political parties need to commit to taking swift and decisive action to achieve the target of protecting 30 per cent of Manitoba by 2030. It is achievable. And it is absolutely necessary.
Ron Thiessen is the executive director of the Manitoba chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. He has helped create 23 parks and protected areas in our province.