Ottawa – 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? (pdf), 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. “We have one of the best opportunities left in the world to protect large natural areas, because Canada has 20% of Earth’s wild forests and 24% of its wetlands. While overall the world is on track to get to 17% by 2020 with over 15% now protected globally, Canada is way behind many other countries, with just over 10% of our land and fresh water protected.”
In fact, half of all other countries have protected more than 17% of their land bases already, including some that are much poorer and more crowded than Canada such as Bolivia, Republic of Congo and Costa Rica.
“We’re very concerned that Canada has no plan to achieve the protected area commitment by 2020,”says CPAWS National executive director Eric Hebert-Daly. “The federal government released its National Conservation Plan last year, but it doesn’t incorporate the UN protection goals. And while the federal, provincial and territorial governments announced their shared goal of meeting the 17% protected area target earlier this year, they didn’t include a plan either.”
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 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.
“Some of Canada’s provinces and territories and Indigenous communities are making impressive efforts to advance protected areas,” says Hebert-Daly. “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, Manitoba has committed to creating 15 new parks and protected areas and to expanding others, and Alberta, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut all have land use planning processes underway that could lead to new, large protected areas.”
At the federal level, a large new national park called Qausuittuq in Nunavut (11,000 square kilometres) 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-square-kilometre Mealy Mountains National Park Reserve in Labrador is nearing completion, with an adjacent 3,000- square-kilometre 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.
“We know that protecting nature pays off. A brand new study finds that protected areas around the world generate 8 billion visits and $600 billion in direct spending, while costing less than $10 billion to create and manage. That’s a pretty good return on investment,” says Woodley.