Parks are be­ing ‘loved to death’

High num­ber of visi­tors, re­source ex­trac­tion harm­ing wildlife pro­tec­tion

The Sun Times (Owen Sound) - - NATIONAL - CAMILLE BAINS

VAN­COU­VER — Canada is a global leader in pro­tect­ing its con­served land from hu­man de­struc­tion, but its parks are in dan­ger of be­ing “loved to death” by thou­sands of peo­ple trekking through the back­coun­try, says a co-au­thor of a study that de­tails the degra­da­tion of one-third of the world’s pro­tected ar­eas.

Os­car Venter, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of forestry in the ecosys­tems science and man­age­ment depart­ment at the Univer­sity of North­ern Bri­tish Columbia, said Banff and Jasper are ex­am­ples of iconic parks in Canada where a high num­ber of visi­tors pose a chal­lenge to main­tain­ing healthy pop­u­la­tions of some en­dan­gered species.

Eco­nomic pur­suits, such as forestry, min­ing and oil and gas, are also part of the prob­lem, Venter said.

“In Canada, we value our nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment but we also put a lot of value on nat­u­ral re­source ex­trac­tion,” he said.

Venter is part of an in­ter­na­tional team of re­searchers, in­clud­ing from the Univer­sity of Queens­land in Aus­tralia and the Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion So­ci­ety, whose work was pub­lished Thurs­day in the jour­nal Science. It looked at 50,000 pro­tected ar­eas world­wide and found one-third of the area is un­der in­tense pres­sure from ac­tiv­i­ties like road build­ing, log­ging and ur­ban­iza­tion.

Most of the degra­da­tion was in Asia, Europe and Africa — in ar­eas that were in­tact when they were des­ig­nated as pro­tected, the study says, adding there’s an ur­gent need for coun­tries around the world to ob­jec­tively as­sess the im­pact of hu­man ac­tiv­ity.

The find­ings are a re­al­ity check on the ef­fort to avert the bio­di­ver­sity

cri­sis, said se­nior au­thor James Wat­son, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in the school of earth and en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­ences at the Univer­sity of Queens­land and di­rec­tor of science and re­search ini­tia­tive at the Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion So­ci­ety.

“We show that gov­ern­ments are sig­nif­i­cantly over­es­ti­mat­ing the space they have made avail­able for na­ture,” he said in a state­ment. “Gov­ern­ments are claim­ing these places are pro­tected for the sake of na­ture when in re­al­ity they aren’t. It is a ma­jor rea­son why bio­di­ver­sity is still in a cat­a­strophic de­cline, de­spite more and more land be­ing pro­tected.”

Wat­son said 111 coun­tries be­lieve they have met their obli­ga­tions to­ward the United Na­tions Con­ven­tion on Bi­o­log­i­cal Di­ver­sity, which set a global goal in 2010 for na­tions to pro­tect at least 17 per cent of their land by 2020.

“If you only counted the lands in pro­tected ar­eas that are not de­graded, 77 of those na­tions don’t meet the bar,” he said.

“Help­ing them suc­ceed re­quires more sus­tained and ded­i­cated ef­fort and we are un­der­tak­ing re­search to iden­tify those in­tact, bi­o­log­i­cally im­por­tant places around the world that still need pro­tec­tion and the mech­a­nisms that will best en­sure they are pro­tected.”

Venter said that while 2.5 per cent of Canada’s pro­tected area has been mod­i­fied by hu­mans, there are chal­lenges to man­ag­ing the im­pact of hu­man dis­tur­bance to en­dan­gered species, such as cari­bou in parks in the Rocky Moun­tains and else­where.

As for meet­ing its com­mit­ment by 2020, Canada has so far reached only 10.5 per cent of its goal while Namibia and Costa Rica are fur­ther

ahead, he said.

“There’s a com­mit­ment from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to pro­tect 700,000 square kilo­me­tres of land. That’s an area the size of Al­berta,” Venter said of Ottawa’s strat­egy, which was boosted with a $1.3-bil­lion com­mit­ment in the last bud­get.

“One of the first places we have to look is our recre­ational parks and how do we bal­ance the recre­ational op­por­tu­ni­ties we pro­vide in those ar­eas with the con­ser­va­tion val­ues we have.”

Ali­son Ron­son, na­tional di­rec­tor of the parks pro­gram at the Cana­dian Parks and Wilder­ness So­ci­ety, said while sev­eral prov­inces have re­cently moved to pro­tect land to meet the 2020 con­ser­va­tion tar­get, Canada was be­hind all G7 coun­tries when the so­ci­ety is­sued a re­port last sum­mer.

Brazil had pro­tected 29.5 per

cent of its land by then, China was up to 17.1 per cent and Aus­tralia had reached 17 per cent, the re­port said.

“The bal­ance in the coun­try has been so skewed to­ward in­dus­trial ac­tiv­ity for such a long time,” Ron­son said of Canada.

Fed­eral, pro­vin­cial and ter­ri­to­rial gov­ern­ments need to work with In­dige­nous gov­ern­ments to meet their con­ser­va­tion goals, she said.

Parks Canada said Bri­tish Columbia leads all prov­inces and ter­ri­to­ries in pro­tect­ing 15.3 per cent of its land and fresh­wa­ter. Al­berta is in sec­ond, with 14.5 per cent of its area pro­tected as of Tues­day, when it added more than 13,000 square kilo­me­tres of for­est, wet­land, lakes and rivers. Prince Ed­ward Is­land is in last place with 3.2 per cent of its area pro­tected.


A griz­zly bear is seen fish­ing along a river in Tweedsmuir Pro­vin­cial Park near Bella Coola, B.C., in 2010. Large amounts of visi­tors to Cana­dian parks are harm­ing wildlife con­ser­va­tion efforts, says the co-au­thor of a study ex­am­in­ing the im­pact of hu­mans on pro­tec­tive ar­eas world­wide.

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