“Before I read Rick Searle’s remarkable manuscript, it had not occurred to me that the national parks of Canada were in such desperate trouble…A cry has gone out that parks should be run like a business, complete with profit-and-loss statements issued annually, to promote the tourist trade, to pay for themselves through Disneyland-land gimmickry. As a result, our first national park, Banff, is a disaster; more than half of Jasper has been destroyed or degraded through commercial enterprise, over use, government penny-pinching, and sheer inattention. No Canadian has a God-given right to invade a protected area, trample over its native species and corrupt its wildlife. Yet this is the prevailing attitude. We have forgotten that the national parks of this country are sacred places and not cash cows for entrepreneurs.” (Pierre Berton, foreword to Phantom Parks)
With this eye-opening start, Rick Searle goes on to paint a portrait of Canada’s national parks that few want to see. This book is an astonishing exposé of what is happening to our wilderness areas – right under our noses. To the tourist, everything appears wonderful with no indication that their very presence, in such large numbers, is much more of a threat to every species than any wild animal ever could be to them. Since changes within the national parks have been subtle, wild species and ecosystems have disappeared without anyone noticing.
Admittedly, there is no single cause to the decline of the parks in particular, and the environment in general. However, the common denominator is humans. “Death by a thousand cuts” is the best description of the worldwide ecological decline: global warming, acid rain, heavy-metal and chemical pollution, climate changes, logging, agriculture, cattle ranching, and mining are listed as the most damaging causes; and all caused by mankind.
Adding to the problem is the ever-increasing urbanization that encroaches upon protected areas. Developers sound a death knell by promoting a “back to nature” feel. This “human tsunami” is being felt, not only in the national parks, but also in provincial parks, and other supposedly preserved areas. Added to all this is the fact that too many visitors expect the comforts of home when they go on vacation. “Getting away from it all” usually means either taking it with them or expecting it to be wherever they are going.
Supposedly simple additions to parks for the comfort of visitors takes place at the expense of the ecosystem. There is just no way around it. Walkways, parking lots, roads, trails, picnic tables, concession stands, bathrooms, drinking fountains, cabins, hotels, restaurants, or buildings of any kind, all displace and fragment the natural habitat to such an extent that species can no longer survive. However, to blame the park visitor entirely would be wrong.
Since before the formation of Canadian parks, governments have pounced on money-making schemes. Always in debt, they have sought ways to offset this by “bedding down” with entrepreneurs. Consequently, cutbacks have forced Parks Canada to run the parks like a business. All the while, federal authorities were reassuring the public that protecting the ecological integrity of the national parks would not be compromised by any measures to cut costs or generate revenue.
How they thought this could be possible is yet to be understood. Needless to say, Canadians have been quite content to be rocked to sleep by this absurd lullaby and are now paying the price. Too true to be funny, one park official darkly suggested that there could have been “greater foresight of all of Canada’s parks” had they been made “much larger and laid-out with a lengthy north-south dimension similar to the national mountain parks of Alberta, but starting at 49 degrees latitude and running to the pole!”
One example of such ecological trade-offs is golf courses in and around national parks. Although they may generate revenue for the park, they do so at a huge expense of the ecosystem. Parks being used for movie sets is another example. If you has ever seen a movie set, you will understand just how much is involved: big rigs, equipment by the ton, and masses of people.
One such occurred in Forillon National Park, where an eleven million dollar television series was being filmed. Permits were granted for trees to be cut, trails to be widened, surfaces applied to access roads, and native vegetation removed. How much revenue did this generate for the Park? A paltry $30,000. Parks are a priceless and sacred trust that should not be placed in the same category as a Disney adventure.
According to Searle, another of the most recent and distasteful examples of political interference involves the Greenwich Dunes, near Prince Edward Island National Park. In February 1998, it was announced that the dunes would be transferred from provincial crown land over to the Government of Canada to become a part of the 61-year-old park.
The dunes were a little-used and unique section of land found nowhere else in North America. At the same time this announcement was made, Lawrence MacAulay, the Minister of Labour and an Member of Parliament for Cardigan, the riding that encompasses the Greenwich Peninsula, made the announcement that the expanded park would bring in “sustainable economic benefits” and delightedly trumpeted a $1.3 million development plan to prepare the dunes for upwards of 100,000 visitors annually. (Strangely, he left out the fact that his brother headed up the advisory board for this development).
Within a couple of months, two directors of Earth Action visited the site and were horrified to find that a ten-foot swath had been cut around the perimeter of the park, damaging and fragmenting fragile wildlife habitats. A pathway, excavated to a depth of about eight inches and filled in with gravel, now went over top of four out of the six identified archeological sites in contravention of the Archeological Sites Protection Act, which prohibits any excavation or alteration.
A hastily constructed trail was already collapsing over the side of one of the dunes and onto the beach below. They also found survey sticks marking a future parking area that would accomodate ninety cars, ten buses, toilets, showers, and food concessions. The horrified locals immediately put pressure on Mr. MacAulay, who was found to be backing a proposed $3.5 million deal for the construction of an interpretive center and 45 “eco-lodges” on the land within easy walking distance of the dunes.
This was only the first stage of a development that was eventually to include time-shared condos, shops, restaurants, and tourism-related businesses. Dispite all the criticism, MacAulay just could not see where he was violating his concept of protecting the land. (pp. 113-116) Incredible!
On the other side of the country, Pacific Rim National Park has wisely taken steps to slow the tide of deterioration by capping the number of visitors, allowing only 8,000 visitors per year. To register, one has often to spend several days on the telephone for peak-season slots, and then pay over $100 in a variety of fees.
All other parks could greatly benefit from such an approach. To offset the hue and cry of “all individuals have a right to the park and should not be left only to those who can pay!”, I say to you – take a good look at what is happening in Vancouver during the summer of 2003. Squatters are currently living in the city parks, including Stanley Park.
Efforts to remove them have ranged from weak to none. Taxpaying citizens and tourists alike are accosted by their aggressiveness. Crews had to be hired to clean up the mounds of petrifying garbage left in their wake. The ever-present danger of fire, during this very dry summer, greatly increased the likelihood of destruction, with warnings stating that Vancouver’s unique Stanley Park could disappear within an hour.
Despite this, little action was taken. So much for allowing the poor to take advantage of nature – although, often the so-called “rich” are no better. The simple solution is to give back control of the parks to the parks, as well as the reinforcing of their mandate to preserve them from any type of destruction. Man is the only species on the planet that requires laws to keep him within his own boundaries.
Canada’s size plays a significant role in the “wilderness” perceptions of other countries.
- It is the second largest country in the world; and, if laid overtop of Europe, it would stretch from the west coast of Ireland to the Ural Mountains of western Asia.
- It has 10% of the world’s forest and fresh water, ranking third after Russia and Brazil.
- It has more lake area than any other country in the world, with more than 565 lakes over 100 square kilometers in size.
- Its most defining feature is the Precambrian Shield, a span of granite that covers almost half of the country from the Strait of Belle Isle by the St. Lawrence River to the mouth of the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories. This shield is as central in Canadian history as it is to its geography and vital to the understanding of “one of the earth’s most ancient wildernesses.” (p. 157)
However, since Confederation (1867), Canada has lost:
- 65% of the Maritime tidal marshes;
- 70% of the Great Lakes-Superior Basin wetlands;
- 70% of the Fraser River delta wetlands;
- most of Atlantic Canada’s Acadian forest, the Carolinian forests of Ontario, and the short-grass prairie of Western Canada.
This leaves an area barely large enough to sustain what is left of the wildlife dependent on these unique ecosystems. Currently, there are seventy-two species designated as threatened and seventy-three that are endangered. (p.160) Globally, the best “guesstimate” is that there are between 50 and 250 species per DAY disappearing from the face of the earth.
There is no doubt that Canada’s national parks are in grave danger. A 1994 report from Parks Canada states “It is no longer enough to consider an area protected by just designating it a park…certain species that currently persist in parks may not survive in the long run.” The 1997 report makes it clear that, despite efforts in maintaining and restoring ecosystems and species, the national parks are losing ground, and lists twenty-nine different stresses causing the most damage. (pp. 27, 221)
The number of parks and protected areas scattered around the world amounts to nearly 10,000, consisting of only 6.5% of the land area. These tragically small sections are hardly enough to stave off extinction of the unique plant and animal species found within them. A survey of 135 national parks in 61 countries resulted in the documentation of over 1,600 different kinds of threats, with three-quarters of them being human-caused. A California biologist, William Newmark, studied the collapse of species within the national parks of Western North America since their establishment. These parks included Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Rocky Mountain, Glacier, Waterton, Kootenay, Banff, Jasper, and Yoho. According to his findings:
- Twenty-nine populations of mammals have become extinct, and only seven colonized the parks. Point Pelee has lost twenty-three species; Fundy has lost twelve, and Prince Edward Island, nine. At least ten species no longer can be found in the Bow Valley of Banff, with the remainder being referred to as the “walking dead”.
- Parks ecosystems are being invaded by exotic plants and animals. A tiny fragment of the nearly extinct Carolinian forest, located within Point Pelee, has been overrun by more than 230 alien plant species. The St. Lawrence Islands and Bruce Peninsula now have 200 foreign plant invaders, and twelve other parks have documented between 100 and 160 exotic plants. (p.221,222) Everyone is responsible – from the individual entering the park right up to the elected officials responsible for their protection. Clearly, there is much unlearning and relearning that must take place on the part of everyone. Fifty years ago, Aldo Leopold summed up man’s definition of learning, “Education, I fear, is learning to see one thing by going blind to another.”
From the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, human activity has rapidly added more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than at any other time in the history of the world. Scientists from Environment Canada estimate that current concentrations of carbon dioxide are 30% above pre-industrial levels, with about half that growth coming within the last thirty years. Each year, industry in the US generates approximately eleven billion tons of toxic waste – or about forty-one tons of hazardous waste for every American.
The global burning of fossil fuels generates almost five and one-half billion tonnes of carbon dioxide while deforestation adds another one and one-half billion. That is more than a tonne for every man, woman, and child on the planet! Shockingly, Canadians hold the dubious distinction of being the highest per capita contributors of greenhouse gases in the world, with about 80% of our share coming from the burning of coal, oil, and gas. One of the most dangerous attitudes is, that because scientists cannot agree on the causes of climate change, there should not be any effort made to correct measures known to contribute to the problem.
Acid rain, particularly from Ontario and the north-eastern part of the US, has long been known to negatively affect the smallest life forms and destroying sensitive ecosystems. This progresses up the food chain to eventually affect human health. Scientists have also discovered that highly acidic waters render female fish, frogs, and salamanders incapable of producing eggs or of producing enough eggs that hatch. The same thing is happening to birds, especially Canada’s beloved loon.
This slow process of sterilization is affecting more and more species, including humans. In addition, under acidic conditions, the chemical bonds that keep heavy metals locked in the soil, are broken releasing these trace elements into streams, rivers, lakes, and marshes where they accumulate and become highly toxic. These pollutions are also the cause for the disappearance of the wild Atlantic salmon and the tragic decline of the forests throughout Atlantic Canada. To reverse this trend, individuals can make a difference. As each individual joins with another, groups are formed. As groups form, results take place.
Since ancient times, man and his religion were infused with nature; and man was smart enough to realize that, without it, he would cease to exist. The indigenous of every continent have long lived in harmony with nature, taking only for themselves what was needed. According to the ancient Jewish philosopher, Maimonides, “The universe does not exist for Man’s sake, but each being exists for its own sake; not for any other purpose. No part of Creation exists for the sake of another part – but each part is an expression of the order of the universe, of God’s wisdom, and fulfills the intention of the Creator.”
Early Hebraic teachings counsel personal responsibility in living in accord with Creation. Hinduism has similar insights. Buddhism advocates “non-harm” of other beings and sees all beings as interconnected with one another in a great web of interdependence. Despite radical factions. The Muslim faith also advocates that various components of nature have a purpose and function designed by God. As for Christianity? “Perhaps no other religion of earth has been as implicated in the degradation of the planet”. (p.172)
It is the so-called “Christian” nations that have been in the forefront of the industrial revolution and the development of toxic chemicals, coupled with abundant waste. Even “Jesus Christ” spent forty days and forty nights in the “wilderness” rejuvenating himself in preparation for his work ahead! Despite the fact that developed countries, mainly Christian, account for only 20% of the world’s population, they consume 80-90% of the resources.
Parks That Are in Crisis
Banff National Park
The situation in Banff National Park became so bad by the early 1990s that it was in danger of losing its status as a national park (Globe and Mail, Oct. 8, 1996). Embarrassed, the federal government was forced into appointing a task force to assess the situation. After two years of study by five individuals recognized as having expertise in ecological sciences, tourism, public policy and management, it submitted its report entitled “Banff-Bow Valley: At the Crossroads.” They stated that while “Parks Canada has a clear and comprehensive legislation and policies, Banff National Park suffers from inconsistent application of the National Parks Act and Parks Canada Policy…If this crisis is not resolved in Banff, it will spread throughout the entire national park system.” (page 54). According to this report, “the reasons for Parks Canada’s inconsistency and loss of control over development in Banff came down to two key things: money and values.” Consistently being hit with enormous budget cuts, the park felt it had to look to alternatives in order to maintain a semblance of control within the mandate they were forced to accept. Much to her credit, Sheila Copps did try to reinforce many of the suggestions within the report, which pleased environmental groups, but few others.
A few things were implemented, but the cap on the growth of the townsite proved to be more difficult with which to deal. In June 1997, the mayor and his council approved an additional 79,000 sq. metres (850,000 sq. ft.) of commercial development, representing a 25% increase over the current levels. This was passed despite an earlier recommendation by a steering committee for only an additional 59,000 sq. metres (635,000 sq. ft), and against the town’s opposition to further growth. Copps sternly informed the mayor that the federal government would not approve the plan, and instead, gave the town a 32,000 sq. metre (345,000 sq. ft) increase. The mayor and council had no choice but to capitulate. This action was applauded by Catherine Ford, a Southam national columnist, in the Calgary Herald “Canadians who have seen the tourist-trap horrors of Niagara Falls and what development has done to the natural beauty of Vancouver, don’t need to be so-called environmentalists to want someone in authority to issue the halt order.”
However, the battle was not won by anyone as all that had to be done was wait until a new, more “amicable” minister took her place. Consequently, park managers were slow in acting upon the recommendations, waiting for such a time. For example, the airstrip was closed, but it was still being maintained rather than restored to wildlife habitat; draft guidelines for ski and commercial areas were too loose; and there was recent approval for an expansion of Chateau Lake Louise to the tune of $45 million dollars, featuring a seventeen-storey addition that would include a meeting room for 700, a dining room to seat 250, and eighty more rooms.
Since Banff Park is the oldest one in Canada, it has seen the most destructive changes. From the high steel fences along the highway, supposedly designed to keep wildlife off the Trans-Canada Highway, to the endless construction within the park itself, this park has long ceased to be Canada’s pride and joy. Fences, roads, railway lines, buildings, all carve the landscape into smaller and smaller pieces of wilderness, shrinking it to such an extent that the plants and animals the park was designed to protect have nowhere to go and, thus, bringing them into extinction.
Within the townsite, and within the last fifteen years or so, Brewster/Greyhound Bus Lines has built a new terminal to accommodate more visitors to the park. Consequently, more hotels have gone up, as well as a huge increase in stores and commercial ventures, including a multi-level car park. The town administration office has a contemporary design incorporating glass and steel that stands out “like a sore thumb” against the natural setting. The residential area fares no better. New subdivisions have sprung up, freshly carved out of the forested slopes of the Cave and Basin hot springs – the very reasons for the creation of the park.
From its very beginning in 1885, to keep the hot springs from falling into the hands of developers or settlers, a 26-square kilometer federal reserve was formed. Already it was attracting 3,000 visitors a year. By 1903, that number had grown to 10,000. Just two years later, that number doubled, then doubled again within a year after that. More recent estimates, place the number of yearly visitors to the park at nearly five million. During the peak season, there may be as many as 60,000 people within the park on any given day, with rates growing an average of 2% each year. At this rate, the number of visitors will reach nineteen million by the year 2020. Between 1986 and 1996, the retail rate of development exploded by 104% and office space by 125%. In 1986, there were nearly 600 businesses; but, by 1996, that number had swelled to 900. For its size, the town of Banff offers such a range of options as to be compared to a city more than four times its size. Good thing it is a “protected” area!
The elk that roam the townsite may be a tourist attraction, but it is a sign that all is not well with them. Instead, is a sign of an ecosystem in disarray. There is an estimated 800 elk roaming the townsite, a number that is ten times higher than historic levels. The elk are causing a decline in the growth of aspen, the preferred food source. Tender shoots, seedlings, and branches are consumed, leaving only old trees standing. Since the 1970s, beaver populations have also contributed to the decline of the aspen by 90%, which is also their preferred food source and used for dam-building materials.
Elk also threatens the existence of the moose. Overgrazing by elk have left little food for the moose. Presently, there is no full-time resident moose in the lower Bow Valley region. In addition, park officials cannot even estimate how many birds and small mammals have suffered because of the exploding elk population. Their only natural enemy is the wolf, but there may only be one or two individual wolves in the area. Elk are also becoming more aggressive, leading to more human/elk encounters. In addition, elk move into a newly burned area and quickly eat up any new sucklings emerging from the ground.
Not surprising, the Banff-Bow River watershed has been found to be laced with a wide range of toxic chemicals as are many of the parks.
Cape Breton Highlands National Park
A 1993 study found that the park’s infrastructure was dramatically affected and directly linked to the Highlands Links Golf course. These changes included habitat loss, irrigation (which reduced the amount of water available for fish and other species), and the use of pesticides and herbicides. The golf course uses at least eight different pesticides to maintain their greens, which are known to have negative impacts on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, causing sediments to build up in the food chain. The golf course also threatens habitat loss within the park’s already threatened Acadian Forest Region. The under-story vegetation and dead timber are routinely cleared from forested areas adjacent to the fairways in order to make it easier for golfers to retrieve wayward balls. This clearing destroys or degrades critical habitat of songbirds and small mammals.
The pine marten and woodland caribou populations have been dangerously reduced to the extent that their role in the ecosystem is virtually absent.
Fundy National Park
At least twenty plant species have not been seen since 1960. This is in addition to fourteen species of vertebrates and one of invertebrates. In their place are 153 known exotic species of plants, mammals, and birds, which have crowded out the native species. The last lynx to be seen there was in 1978.
Since the 1980s, almost one-third of the entire ecosystem has been harvested or otherwise disturbed. Within the next twenty years, this will double. This scenario is also being played out in Gros Morne, Cape Breton Highlands, Forillon, La Mauricie, Pukaskwa, St. Lawrence Islands, Riding Mountain, Prince Albert, Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, Waterton, Glacier, Mount Revelstoke, Pacific Rim, and Yoho – all threatened by logging on adjacent lands. At least eleven species of reptiles and amphibians in Point Pelee National Park have disappeared, while in Banff National Park, the grizzly bear is so rare as to be thought almost extinct.
Jasper National Park
Of its 11,000 square kilometers, fewer than 7% are montane, with more than half destroyed or degraded by the townsite, facilities, roads, and rails, which pinch off the crucial flow of wildlife through its three principle valleys.
A major threat to this park is the proposed Cheviot project near the eastern boundary. Owned by Cardinal River Coals, this mine will cover an area twenty-two kilometers long and one to three kilometers wide. It will feature twenty-six deep, open pits at its peak. Although it will create a small economic boon for the local communities, this will be short-lived and will further erode the national park right next door and its ecosystem. It will be a death-trap for the grizzly bear, in particular, as the mine will lie right in between the park and some of the best berry-producing habitat in the region. Mining has clearly been implicated in the decline of the ecological integrity of fifteen national parks, including Banff, Cape Breton Highlands, Gros Morne, Terra Nova, Kluane, and Nahanni.
Kejimkujik National Park
Very few animal sounds symbolize the spirit of Canada’s wilderness than that of the loon. Over the last five years or so, the number of breeding pairs has dropped by more than half because of pollution and human intervention. Loons are solitary birds that cannot breed near human habitation. One such incident is described when Rick Searle’s wife overheard a man recounting his week-long canoe adventure to the park. He excitedly told a friend that he paddled for an hour and a half closely behind a pair of loons who kept crying and wailing. These distress calls obviously fell on deaf ears. The birds were trying to tell the men to back off. While the loons were being chased, their unguarded nests were left to be plundered by raccoons or foxes.
Park visitors think it is cute to feed the animals and leave their food and garbage lying around in campgrounds. Consequently, there has been an explosion in the raccoon population which, in turn, depopulates the loons. With 17,000 people travelling through the park each year, even a small percentage of ignorant people can cause significant damage.
Higher levels of mercury have been found in loons from this park than at other North American sites used for comparison. Furthermore, they discovered that the fish which the loon eats had mercury concentration levels in excess of those known to cause reproductive impairment in the birds. Each year, fewer and fewer calls of the loon are heard, until one day, there will only be lonely silence to bear witness to their disappearance.
Canoeists are demanding more backcountry campgrounds, which, in turn, displace more animals and destroys more of the ecosystem.
Kouchibouguac National Park
The large numbers of visitors displace shorebirds and trample the dunes ecosystems. In order to accommodate the increasing numbers of visitors, a boardwalk was constructed across a salt marsh and lagoon, which cut this sensitive habitat into two smaller pieces, making them less effective in protecting birds and animals. The beaches in the park, provide crucial nesting habitat for the endangered piping plover. With the constant trampling of the area and the construction of boardwalks, this bird will cease to exist. Despite this, some park managers still want to construct more boardwalks to accommodate more beach visitors, as well as to providing camping facilities.
Additionally, adjacent lands are used for forestry, agriculture, peat bog harvesting, commercial fishing, and clam harvesting.
Although the ecosystem science program was cut by $20,000 in order to shift funds over to the restoration of a barn at the Anne of Green Gables National Historic Site at Prince Edward Island National Park, new picnic shelters in Kouch were constructed at more than $30,000 a piece.
Riding Mountain National Park
Located in southwestern Manitoba, the park is an ecological island covering about 3,000 sq. kilometres and was the site of one the most intrusive case studies ever done. The problems with the ecosystem are not strictly the fault of Parks Canada, but also neighbours of the parks, including municipalities, farmers, loggers, miners, and land developers. Over the past few decades, farming, logging, and recreational subdivisions have eroded the surrounding landscape, leaving the park sharply defined. Even though it is the fourth largest national park in southern Canada, it is still not enough to protect ecosystems and species from attack along its boundaries. The number of cattle surrounding the park has increased by 16% during the mid 1990s alone, and cropland has increased by 27.5%. On the other side, farmers are irate that the animals are “allowed” to come onto their land and destroy their crops. (Animals are funny that way. They don’t know where the boundaries lie.) One farmer summed up his frustration this way, “Why should I like the park? It breeds beaver that flood my fields, elk that eat my crops, bears that eat my honey, and wolves that eat my cattle. The park is nothing but a liability to me.”
Wolves have been hunted almost to extinction. In Manitoba, the wolf is classified as a big-game species that can be hunted by anyone with a proper license. The provincial government also sets out poisoned baits as part of a predator control program. Farmers and ranchers have the right to shoot wolves if they are threatening their livestock – or preceived to be.
With the disappearance of the wolves, the natural enemy of the moose and elk, comes devastating results both to the herds and to the ecosystem. As the numbers increase, the amount of food decreases, causing the animals to die of starvation.
Another threat to Riding Mountain’s elk population is the government’s attempt to diversify the agriculture industry. Park wardens fear it will have severe biological consequences for the Park as it tries to boost the farming industry. The allure is “green velvet”, an early stage of antler growth that, when processed into powder for the Asian market, is worth as much as $275 a kilogram or about $1,500 for a pair of antlers. Another “inovative idea” of the government is to sell the elk. A bred cow can bring up to $30,000, while a prime bull can sell for $100,000. The elk found within the park are of a unique subspecies, manitobaensis, and are highly valued for their antlers. Consequently, elk are being lured out of the park, even by provincial government employees, according to a Winnipeg Free Press article, which stated that all involved were close friends of the party in power (Searle, p.68).
The number and size of the boats on Clear Lake has been allowed to grow, forcing Parks Canada to fill in sensitive wetland ecosystem spartially to accommodate the increase in vehicles and trailers around the launching docks.
In the last twenty years, the wolf population has diminished by half.
Each year, more than sixty million liters of sewage from the Wasagaming townsite is pumped through a treatment facility designed to handle twenty-one million liters. The excess spills over into a nearby lake, as well as a creek associated with the sewage lagoon. Both feed Clear Lake, the park’s largest lake and main attraction. No longer are there crayfish or clams.
In the fall of 1994, the provincial government signed an agreement with the multinational forestry company (Louisiana-Pacific) granting them harvesting rights over 6,000 square kilometers immediately north of Riding Mountain National Park. In an area greater than the size of Prince Edward Island, the company will harvest 900,000 cubic meters annually, or roughly two million old-growth aspen trees over a ten-year period. In return, the company pays the province the “huge” sum of fifty[five cents per tree!!
Plants are vanishing at an astonishing rate. Many of the park’s prairies are succumbing to Kentucky bluegrass and smooth brome grass, introduced by grazing livestock in the late 1960s. The park has also been invaded by leafy spurge, scentless chamomile, and caragana (to name just a few), which can move into an ecosystem and reproduce so aggressively that it displaces the natural components of the ecosystem. The prime sources for the introduction and spread of invasive species is the soil disturbance caused by road building, agriculture, and subdivisions.
Wood Buffalo National Park
The federal government and senior bureaucrats within Parks Canada buckled under pressure from local politicians to allow construction of a winter road through the heart of the park. They are likely to do the same for mining efforts in the north.
Who Can Help
Parks Canada must:
- embark on a complete cultural transformation, with leadership, a renewed sense of direction and purpose, and a reframed corporate plan that aligns with the mandate of maintaining ecological integrity;
- reinvigorate interpretation and public outreach by ensuring they are adequately funded and staffed;
- incorporate state-of-the-art techniques in social marketing and adult education;
- ensure that park management decision-making is driven by ecosystem and social science;
- bolster ecosystem science funding and staffing to levels adequate to meet management needs within and adjacent to the parks;
- embark on a process of limited use, including the decommissioning of facilities and restoring damaged ecosystems;
- direct field staff to become active participants in adjacent-land-use management and support them when park values conflict with these outside users.
Federal government must:
- direct Parks Canada to embark upon cultural transformation to bring it more into alignment with the mandate of maintaining ecological integrity;
- ensure that Parks Canada is provided with sufficient funding to carry out its core responsibilities: the establishment and protection of the national parks and the delivery of public education programs;
- demonstrate leadership in the protection of wildlife within and between national parks by encouraging provincial and local government co-operation in the development of policies designed to reduce the ecological impacts of current human activities;
- provide financial incentive for private land stewardship, as covenants.
Provincial and local governments must:
- develop and implement land-use plans that support the establishment of wildlife corridors and zones of cooperation around and between parks;
- resist the temptation to encourage subdivision of land into smaller and smaller lots, which fragments critical wildlife habitat;
- offer incentives to landowners who wish to keep sections of their land as wildlife habitats;
- designate lands adjacent to parks and other protected areas as special management zones, in which land use activities will be managed to reduce impacts on wildlife and wilderness;
- work with each other and with landowners towards the establishment of wildlife corridors between parks and protected areas.
Resource industries, including farming, mining, logging, and all other exploitive industries and their associated processing/manufacturing industries must:
- adopt standards of doing business that go beyond mere compliance with federal or provincial environmental protection laws;
- avoid large-scale disruptions or destruction of habitat and movement corridors;
- restore wildlife habitat wherever possible;
- keeps roads and utility corridors to a minimum and close them as soon as possible to limit habitat fragmentation;
- reduce and eliminate production and/or use of toxic chemicals;
- reduce and eliminate the consumption of natural capital, especially non-renewable resources.
Local communities must:
- strive to embody the highest levels of environmental stewardship in all their activities;
- take an active interest in the welfare of their neighbouring parks, offering assistance and support wherever possible;
- protect significant and sensitive habitat from development;
- pass by-laws that promote land (as well as environmental) stewardship.
Urban dwellers must:
- become more aware and knowledgeable about the ecological consequences of their choice to consume resources;
- seek to minimize their environmental footprint by reducing consumption in addition to reusing and recycling materials and products.
Park visitors must:
- reduce the ecological footprint of their activities, moving from mechanized, consumptive forms of recreation to self-propelled, conserver forms;
- support the establishment of limits on numbers and kinds of use, as well as the decommissioning of facilities in the most popular parks;
- become informed and caring users of a park by learning about the threats to it and then act accordingly.
- The National Parks and Conservation Association (NPCA), the only non-profit organization in the United States dedicated to protecting, promoting, and enhancing public understanding of the national parks system, published a book called Our Endangered Parks (San Francisco: Foghorn Press, 1994, ISBN 0-935701-84-2). It is packed with solid ideas on how individuals can help protect the parks and definitely worth picking up.