Progress on Newfoundland and Labrador parks stalled in past year: CPAWS

Ottawa – In its sixth annual review of the state of Canada’s parks, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) finds that, across the country, most parks and proposed protected areas are facing greater challenges than they were a year ago.

“In Newfoundland and Labrador, we’re most worried that the Natural Areas Plan for the province remains stalled after almost two decades, while industrial development continues,” says CPAWS- Co-Executive Director, Tanya Edwards.

“Newfoundland and Labrador has many globally significant natural features, including up to 40 million seabirds every year, rare and endemic plants, and vast areas of Boral forest which are home to herds of caribou and other sensitive species of plants and animals.  If we are to protect these important ecological areas it is critical that the natural areas plan is finally released to the public,” adds Edwards.

In a slightly more positive tone, CPAWS welcomed a reprieve in the past year for Newfoundland’s Gros Morne National Park – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – when a proposal to drill and frack for oil metres from the park boundary was halted last fall.   The organization is now calling on the provincial and federal governments to create a permanent buffer zone free of oil exploration activities around the park to protect its natural beauty and the tourism economy it sustains.

Overall, CPAWS annual review of the treatment of Canada’s parks is far from glowing. The organization is most worried about a growing trend by governments to prioritize industrial and commercial interests over the long-term ecological, social and economic benefits of establishing and protecting Canada’s parks, often contravening scientific evidence and public opinion.

It notes, for example:
With little public notice or debate, the B.C. government amended its Park Act in March to facilitate boundary adjustments for pipeline and other industrial developments. 

In a surprise move, the New Brunswick government signed an agreement in March with forestry company J.D. Irving Ltd that will open up previous wildlife and water conservation zones to increased logging and limit further creation of protected areas.  This will further lower the bar in a province already lagging on protected areas.

Parks Canada’ s ability to protect the ecological integrity of national parks continues to be in question due to the 2012 funding cuts to the Agency’s science and conservation programs, an issue highlighted by the federal Environment Commissioner in his November report to Parliament.

In Jasper National Park, Alberta the federal government is considering a proposal for a hotel at Maligne Lake that would violate a park policy designed specifically to limit commercial development, and could put a highly endangered caribou herd in the park at greater risk.

In the Yukon, First Nations and conservation groups including CPAWS were in court earlier this month challenging the territory’s plan to open up over 70% of the spectacular Peel watershed to mineral, oil and gas staking, in direct contravention of a government-supported commission’s recommendation after six years of study to protect 80% of the area in parks and other conservation zones.

“An obvious question that arises from this year’s review is, why is protecting Canada’s amazing nature within parks and other forms of protected areas so difficult to achieve when their benefits to nature, human health and the economy are so strong?,” says Alison Woodley,  national director of CPAWS’ parks program.

“Canadians love their parks and there is strong evidence that they are overwhelmingly beneficial for people and nature.  We’re urging Canada’s governments to better recognize the true value of parks in their decision-making.  In the report we have identified many immediate opportunities for governments to make progress on parks across the country,” adds Woodley.

A report released this year by the Canadian Parks Council shows protecting nature in parks provides strong health and economic benefits.    And a 2011 report found that Canada’s parks support more than 64,000 fulltime jobs, generate nearly $3 billion in labour income, and $337 million in government tax revenues.

While CPAWS was generally worried by the direction for Canada’s parks, the organization also noted positive steps that have been taken in some regions in the past 12 months.

For example:
Manitoba gets good marks for launching a process in December to create a huge new park to protect polar bears and other species on the Hudson’s Bay coast.

In the Northwest Territories, progress was made in the long effort to establish Thaidene Nene at the East Arm of Great Slave Lake, with the initialing in December of a draft agreement between Parks Canada and the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation.

In the southern Yukon, the territory re-started a long stalled effort to create the 3,000 km2 Kusawa Territorial Park, and the City of Whitehorse is moving forward with plan to create five new regional wilderness parks, which would position the city at the forefront of municipalities in parks and protected areas.

In response to the findings in this year’s report, CPAWS is calling on governments to better recognize the environmental, economic and social benefits of parks, and to commit to significant expansions and better management of parks systems across the country.

Canada will join the rest of the world at the once-in-a-decade IUCN World Parks Congress in November in Australia.  In the lead-up to this global gathering, federal, provincial and territorial governments in Canada should embrace the opportunity to create more parks and better protect our existing ones.  We have identified plenty of opportunities to do just that in the report,” adds Woodley.

For interviews, contact: 
Tanya Edwards/Co-Executive Director 

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