How dare Parks Canada let Canadians enjoy their parks!
Just in time for an environmental celebration day—Canada Parks Day (this year, on July 16)—an environmental group has produced a report raising an alarm about the state of Canada’s parks.
The report by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), entitled Protecting Canada’s National Parks—A Call for Renewed Commitment to Nature Conservation, is ostensibly about the state of Canada’s parks. On deeper inspection, however, it reads mostly as an anti-development manifesto that says little about the health or breadth of Canadian parks and protected areas, but more about CPAWS’ belief that Parks Canada has gone off-mission by allowing more Canadians to enjoy and experience Canada’s magnificent natural beauty.
Specifically, the CPAWS report attacks plans to expand facilities for visitors to Banff; to expand bicycling access to Jasper/Lake Louise, and to allow overnight accommodation at Maligne Lake, in Jasper. In fact, the CPAW report calls for banning additional development in Jasper and Banff completely. Showing a distinct disdain for those who want greater access to one of Canada’s most beautiful parks, CPAWS director Alison Woodley notes that “We don’t all have to go to Banff at the same time.”
The problem with the CPAWS report is that it’s long on facts regarding Parks Canada budget, staffing allocations and regulatory process, and short on data regarding Canada’s actual parks and Canada’s long historic record of leading the world in creating parks and establishing the world’s first park service.
CPAWs main complaint seems to be that Parks Canada seems to be… fulfilling its charter, which is: “On behalf of the people of Canada, we protect and present nationally significant examples of Canada's natural and cultural heritage and foster public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment in ways that ensure their ecological and commemorative integrity for present and future generations.” To give credit where it’s due, CPAW does raise some important issues of transparency in decision-making at Parks Canada, but then, it’s hard to name an entity that doesn’t have important issues of transparency in the federal government. Everyone loves transparency, until that transparency complicates their job, then, not so much.
What are some realities regarding parks and protected lands in Canada as we approach Canada Parks Day?
• Canada established the world’s third national park when Banff National Park was established in 1885.
• Canada established the world’s first national park service in 1911.
• Parks Canada currently lists 47 national parks.
• Canada’s protected areas have grown steadily since 1990, now covering more than 10 per cent of its terrestrial areas (land and freshwater) and about one per cent of Canada’s marine environment.
• In addition to its 47 parks, Canada has 146 protected areas covering 12 million hectares.
Canada’s history of protecting its environment is one of long leadership and amazing progress. While everyone wants to see Canada’s parks protected, it’s also true that Canadians want more access to their parks, and that requires balancing protection of the environment with giving Canadians (of all levels of health and mobility) access to those parks to experience, benefit from, and bond with Canada’s incredibly diverse and beautiful nature.
Parks are not wilderness areas, they are parks—regions set aside for their beauty, but meant to be experienced by the Canadians for whom they are held in trust. Simply saying “No” to the Canadian people’s desires to see their own parks is not an answer, nor is haughtily telling us that “We don’t all have to go to Banff at the same time.”
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