Winnipeg – In its latest annual report released in advance of Canada Parks Day, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) is calling Canada out for falling behind most other countries in protecting its land and fresh water. CPAWS’ 2015 report, Protecting Canada: Is it in our nature? assesses whether our governments are on track to meet their collective international commitment to protect at least 17% of our land and fresh water by 2020, and to improve the quality of our protected areas.
“Based on our assessment of progress since Canada endorsed the UN Convention on Biological Diversity 10-year plan in 2010, it would take us 50 years from today, not five, to meet our commitment to protect at least 17% of our land and fresh water. And 17% is only the next step we need to take towards protecting at least half to ensure Canada continues to have healthy, functioning ecosystems,” says Alison Woodley, national director of CPAWS’ parks program.
“In Manitoba, we have a long way to go with protecting our wild lands but we’re pleased about the recent designation of the 1000 square kilometer Chitek Lake provincial park, “said Ron Thiessen, executive director of CPAWS’ Manitoba chapter. “It’s the first park created under a new category called Indigenous Traditional Use, which acknowledges Indigenous people’s ancestral connection and preserves the natural state of the lands and waters they have used sustainably for thousands of years.”
“We’re working closely with the Manitoba government and we’re hopeful that the upcoming Manitoba Protected Areas Strategy commits to meeting or exceeding the international Aichi target of protecting 17% by 2020. Based on our analysis, Manitoba could protect 20% by increasing support for Indigenous land use planning and the Protected Areas Initiative.”
Slow to no progress since 2011
CPAWS found that the current percentage of lands and inland waters protected varies dramatically across Canada, ranging from just under three percent in Prince Edward Island, to more than 15% in British Columbia. Since 2011, the area protected in Alberta, Newfoundland and Labrador and the Yukon Territory has not grown at all, and all other provinces, including Manitoba, have increased protection by less than 2%. B.C.’s progress is undermined by its 2014 Parks Act amendments that allow industrial research in parks and boundary changes to accommodate pipelines and logging.
Reasons for optimism
“Some of Canada’s provinces and territories and Indigenous communities are making impressive efforts to advance protected areas. Quebec and Ontario have committed to protecting half of their northern territories, although implementation of these commitments is very slow. Nova Scotia has ramped up efforts and appears to be on track to reach 14% protection. With 10.8% of its landscape protected, Manitoba is moving forward on its commitment to establish 15 new parks and protected areas and to expand others. As well, Alberta, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut all have land use planning processes underway that could lead to new, large protected areas,” says Hebert-Daly.
At the federal level, a large new national park called Qausuittuq in Nunavut (11,000 km2) was just finalized in June, and two more could be announced within the next year. These include an area called Thaidene Nene around the East Arm of Great Slave Lake, NWT, where approximately 30,000 km2 could become a combined national and territorial park shortly. Similarly, the process for finalizing the 10,700 km2 Mealy Mountains National Park Reserve in Labrador is nearing completion, with an adjacent 3,000 km2 provincial park still at the early stages of establishment.
Local Indigenous communities are playing a significant leadership role and partnering with federal, provincial, and/or territorial governments to protect many of these large areas.
CPAWS calculates that if existing plans for creating new protected areas were implemented, along with other commitments for which specific sites have not yet been confirmed, Canada could meet its obligation to reach 17% protection by 2020.
Government leadership needed
“We’re looking for Manitoba to showleadership to help meet Canada’s 2020 protected area commitments. To start, Manitoba should ramp up its support for the Protected Areas Initiative and land use planning that establishes a balance of conservation and sustainable developments,” says Thiessen.