Progress To the North: Canada Has "Extraordinary Year" In Protecting Parks and Wilderness

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society was happy to finally see the Canadian government protect the Bowie Seamount area off the coast of British Columbia. CPAWS photo.

Editor's note: In an effort to better understand how other countries are protecting their parklands, and to compare and contrast U.S. efforts to those from abroad, Traveler will on occasion run items from beyond U.S. borders. This story involves Canada's national park lands.

Imagine if the National Parks Conservation Association, or the Sierra Club, or The Wilderness Society reported that the U.S. government deserved credit for an "extraordinary year" in protecting the National Park System. That would be some news, wouldn't it?

Well, that's not the case. However, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society did have that to say about the Canadian government. In looking back over the past 12 months (from July 2007 to July 2008), CPAWS reports that "Canada’s federal and provincial governments deserve credit for 'an extraordinary year' of progress in protecting the country’s parks and wilderness areas."

Why the praise? Well, there are several reasons.

* In April 2008 the federal government promised a new national park to protect the headwaters of the South Nahanni River, an area that is critical for Boreal woodland caribou and grizzly bear.

* In August 2007 the government committed to a massive expansion of the existing Nahanni National Park Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

* A new conservation area announced in April guarantees protection for the Bowie Seamount, a rare underwater mountain in British Columbia coastal waters. It took ten years for the government of Canada and the Haida Nation to work out the plan.

* In Manitoba, officials moved to protect a rare limestone lake that changes color from clear to turqoise to milky blue as the temperature rises.

* And the Nova Scotia and Quebec governments committed to conserve more land, 12% and 8%, respectively, including the area containing southern Quebec’s last free-flowing river – the Dumoine.

Not a bad year for parks and wilderness lovers north of the border. True, not all is rosy in Canada. As CPAWS points out, Algonquin Provincial Park still has more than 5,000 kilometers of logging roads threading through it, and the conservation group doesn't believe Canadian officials are doing enough to protect that country's coastal areas.

Moving forward, among the initiatives CPAWS would like to see is expansion of Waterton-Lakes National Park into the Flathead Valley to its west. This would be a vital acquisition, and not just for Canada. Glacier National Park and Montana officials are well aware of the problems proposed mining projects in the Flathead Valley would pose for them, and have been working hard to head them off.

Here are some other areas CPAWS would like to see the Canadian government make progress on:

Okannagann, BC

Ecosystem: One of the three most endangered ecosystems in Canada, the South Okanagan–Lower Similkameen is part of the “Interior Dry Plateau,” a region of rolling plains dissected by deep valleys and long narrow lakes. Desert-like ecosystems with sagebrush and cactus are found on valley bottoms, changing at higher elevations to dry forests of ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir, or sub-alpine forest and alpine tundra. This area is one of the most interesting and ecologically diverse parts of Canada, with many native plants and animals, and natural communities found nowhere else in Canada.

Fisher Bay, Manitoba

Ecosystem: Located on the southwest basin of Lake Winnipeg, the park reserve is First Nations traditional territory and home to wildlife such as bears, moose, fox, eagles, and a variety of songbirds. The picturesque area is blessed with treed shorelines, long sandy beaches, large islands covered with old-growth forests and reefs. Progress: Manitoban support for protecting the lands and waters of Fisher Bay is overwhelming. Over 5,500 letters have been sent by citizens to Premier Doer encouraging government action to grant the FRCN’s request for permanent protection of the area. Peguis First Nation, Jackhead First Nation, Arborg, Riverton, and the RM of Coldwell have formally supported Fisher River Cree Nation’s protected area request.


Hectate Sponge Reefs, British Columbia

Ecosystem: Huge mounds of glass sponge reefs were thought to have disappeared in the Jurassic era almost 75 million years ago. But in the early 1990s, Canadian scientists rediscovered the hauntingly beautiful underwater creations off the coast of B.C., the only known place for them to exist. They were found in a 1,000-square-kilometre section of the Pacific Ocean – from Hecate Strait to northern Washington State, including the deep water off the shores of Gabriola, Galiano and Malcolm islands.

Challenges: Although trawling in the area is now banned, many sections of the reef have been found demolished by the sweeping nature of trawling nets. In some cases, kilometres at a time have been reduced to rubble. Some scientists estimate as much as half the reefs have been destroyed.