Last week’s “State of Canada’s Parks” report by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) is making news across the country as budget cuts cleave 638 employees from Parks Canada.
“Overall, the trend is extremely discouraging this year,” says CPAWS National Executive Director Éric Hébert-Daly. Parks Canada’s funding cuts mean “that close to 30 percent of all the scientists and technicians restoring and monitoring the ecological health of our parks will lose their jobs. The cuts also mean many parks are cutting their seasons shorter, opening the door to inappropriate use of them with no supervision.”
The cuts come as nations worldwide are debating the chicken-and-egg implications of abrupt budget cuts and economic austerity versus continued spending that could boost the economy at the cost of increased debt.
CPAWS report said, “the tourism sector and nearby communities are also facing economic harm. The government’s own research shows that for every $1 spent on parks, $5 is contributed to Canada’s gross domestic product. Why isn’t the government recognizing the important benefits that result from investing in our parks?” adds Hébert-Daly.
Earlier this year, a series of press releases from the National Park Service in the United States made the same point—spending on parks drives a tourism economy that multiplies government spending on parks into billions in economic impact on often rural and isolated populations across the nation.
CPAWS’ report also says inappropriate recreation and tourism activities within parks threaten park’s ecological health and are “of dubious value in increasing people’s appreciation of nature.”
CPAWS says examples include Parks Canada’s “approval last year of large scale summer use of Banff’s Mt. Norquay ski area– an important habitat area for grizzly bears and other wildlife; a massive new glass and concrete viewing platform approved this year for Jasper National Park; and a decision last month to solicit proposals to re-build the long-closed downhill ski area in Manitoba’s Riding Mountain National Park.”
The report also targets industrial activities within or adjacent to national and provincial parks. The various threats include “efforts to re-open Yukon’s Tombstone Provincial Park to mining exploration; a mine ... encircled by Nahanni National Park Reserve; continued logging in Ontario’s Algonquin Park; forestry activities surrounding Saskatchewan’s Prince Albert National Park; and new deep water oil and gas exploration off the coast of Newfoundland’s Gros Morne National Park.”
CPAWS concerns also indict “wilderness parks that exclude important parts of the ecosystems they are supposed to protect.” The group cites “a proposed new park in Nunavik where habitat for the world’s only population of freshwater seals is being excluded because of hydro-electric interest.”
Éric Hébert-Daly pointed to good news—”a federal commitment to create Rouge National Urban Park outside of Toronto, and Nova Scotia’s creation of a large new wilderness reserve in the Chignecto area”—but he said the bad news way outweighs the good.
CPAWS report made news across Canada, with stories appearing in the Toronto Globe & Mail, Calgary Herald, CBC News, and website called Can-India, “Canada’s Favourite South Asian Newspaper!”
CBC picked up Éric Hébert-Daly’s concerns about the reduction in scientific research staff with an example from Canada’s first national park, Banff. “The loss of scientists is troubling because their work has proved valuable. For instance, he said, scientists figured out elk were overrunning Banff, Alta., 20 years ago because a town expansion had driven away cougars and wolves, the elks' natural predators. ‘So the science that helped to identify why the elk population had boomed also helped us to control the population, make the town site safe, and at the same time make sure there's ecological health and balance in the rest of the park,’ he said.”
Toronto’s Globe and Mail reported, “There was a time when the Conservative government of Stephen Harper countered the criticisms of environmental activists by boasting about the money it was devoting to expand the country’s century-old system of national parks. When that happened, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society was quick to praise the efforts, lauding the rate at which parkland was being set aside and unique natural environments were being protected. But that was in 2008 – before the economic downturn that resulted in a string of massive federal deficits.”
The Globe and Mail also wrote CPAWS Éric Hébert-Daly targeted the Skywalk tourist viewpoint in Jasper National Park, saying, “trying to create the theme-park-style activities, we are actually degrading our ecosystems and actually taking away the value that people are coming from around the world to see.”
CBC reported that Federal “Environment Minister Peter Kent defended the government's conservation efforts and suggested the group is taking a pessimistic view. ‘While CPAWS and our government have shared interests in our parks and protected spaces, CPAWS see a glass half empty while we see it half full and filling.’”
CPAWS report noted that, “Canada has about 20% of the world’s remaining intact forests, 25% of the world’s wetlands, and 9% of the world’s renewable freshwater supply. Parks are one of our most important tools for protecting these globally significant natural resources. But the future of our parks as healthy, well-functioning ecosystems is by no means certain.”
The group says, “CPAWS is Canada’s voice for wilderness. Since 1963 we’ve led in creating over two-thirds of Canada’s protected areas. That amounts to about half a million square kilometres – an area bigger than the entire Yukon Territory! Our vision is that Canada will protect at least half of our public land and water. As a national charity with 13 chapters, 55,000 supporters and hundreds of volunteers, CPAWS works collaboratively with governments, local communities, industry and indigenous peoples to protect our country’s amazing natural places.”