Opinion | Canada Needs More National Parks

Editor's note: Last week the Canadian government released its National Conservation Policy. In the following opinion piece, Éric Hébert-Daly, the National Executive Director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, makes a case that the government overlooks the need for more national parks in the country.

The Federal Government announced its long-awaited National Conservation Plan today.

We welcome conservation progress in all of its many shapes. At this point it is not clear how this plan will allow the government to meet its stated international goal of protecting at least 17% of our land and 10% of our oceans by 2020. We are at 10% and 1% today.

The three principles of the plan are all very laudable – and necessary: Conserve, Restore, Connect.

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The executive director of CPAWs argues that Canada needs more national parks. Mount Rundle in Banff National Park/Kurt Repanshek.

Conserve

Protecting land, both private and public, should be a central piece of the plan. The significant investment in private land conservation is an important step which we support. However, governments are the stewards of 90% of our land mass. Only 10% of Canada is owned privately. Yet there is no investment in expanding our public protected areas on land.

It was shocking to see no support for National Parks in today’s announcement. There are still many new National Parks to be created in order for us to complete our system of National Parks... And Parks Canada’s capacity to track the state of our park ecosystems was severely cut in the 2012 federal budget , so much so that the federal Environment Commissioner questioned how the Agency would be able to fulfil its mandate to protect the ecological integrity of our national parks. National parks are the federal government’s flagship conservation tools that are beloved by Canadians. A national conservation plan that ignores our national parks has an enormous gap.

It was very encouraging to see an investment in marine conservation over five years. Canada has fallen behind significantly in marine conservation and our assumption is that this money will be used to create a network of marine protected areas that will help us achieve the international goal of protecting at least 10% of our oceans by 2020.

Restore

On the restoration front, we welcome restoration of wetlands and other degraded ecosystems. While there are few details on this component as well, it is an important investment.

But let us not forget that restoration is far more expensive than if we had just kept the ecosystem intact to begin with. Protecting much more of our vast and relatively intact landscapes needs much more focus. CPAWS believes that at least half of our lands and waters need protection in the long term if we are to have healthy ecosystems to provide us with clean water, clean air, food and other necessities of a good life in the future.

Connect

Connecting people to nature is critical to our survival as a species. Understanding how all living things are connected and making sure we get to experience them is essential if we’re going to build an ethic of conservation in the future. The Rouge National Urban Park can be a great model for that kind of connectivity with a large urban audience.

Connectivity means more than just people connecting to nature. It also means protected areas being connected to one another. We need to make sure that our protected areas are not isolated islands of nature -- we have learned from experience that parks and protected areas need to be connected together so wildlife can move through the landscape or else they will lose the biodiversity we seek to protect.

Overall, there is the potential for progress in thisannouncement. But there are some serious omissions and many details that are still missing that are critical to the success of a conservation plan. We need a clear road map to meeting all of our 2020 international conservation targets. We need to include national parks as a key part of the plan. We need to take advantage of the gift Canada can make to the world through the conservation of private AND public lands in this country. Through our restoration, let us remember the ecological and economic benefits of preventing the need for restoration. In connecting people to nature, let’s also ensure the importance of connecting nature to nature in our planning.

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