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2012: The Year in Conservation

Omnibus bills, new parks, caribou recovery strategies, new forest protection… it’s been quite the year!

I love to look back on a year and see what has transpired. In entertainment, in world issues, in climate events, in technological advances… everyone does a year in review. Why shouldn’t we take a look at the year it’s been for conservation?

In January, the Federal Minister of Natural Resources released a public letter decrying environmental groups claiming that they have ‘radical ideological agendas’. It was a rough start to the year that would see two omnibus bills to implement the federal budget that were far more than just about the federal budget. They included significant changes to the Fisheries Act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the National Parks Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act and many others. It was enough for CPAWS to do something it doesn’t do lightly – use a portion of our resources to speak out against the proposed legislation.

In May 2012, Black Out, Speak Out was born in response to the first omnibus bill. While we may not have succeeded in preventing both bills from being ultimately adopted, we were strengthened by tens of thousands of voices across Canada who shared our concern, both inside and outside the environmental movement.

In February, the government announced that it would go ahead with a project to build a glass-bottomed viewing platform on the side of a mountain in Jasper National Park. A private project that could have impacts on the big-horn sheep and mountain goats who use the valley to travel from one part of the park to another. This was the start of a renewed push for major infrastructure developments in our national parks. As the only national voice for Canada’s parks, we rallied supporters to fight this trend after years of focus on the creation of new parks.

In July, we released our annual parks report. It was the most critical report on the state of our parks in the five years we’ve been preparing reports. It highlighted the budget cuts to Parks Canada which reduced their ability to do scientific monitoring and has meant that some parks are closed in the winter months. The report also pointed to growing threats to the ecological integrity of Jasper, Banff, Riding Mountain and Gros Morne National Parks. A full copy of the report can be seen here.

But despite these challenges, we also saw some fantastic progress..

The Nova Scotia government created a great new protected area in the spring. We had been working to protect the remaining wilderness forests of Chignecto for the last few years and were pleased to see this area finally designated. With our encouragement, the government also bought back sizable amounts of land from a forest company in order to add it to its growing contingent of protected areas.

Our Newfoundland and Labrador chapter engaged hundreds of new people in a puffin conservation project in the spring of 2012. The project continues to engage people throughout the province.

Our Get Outside program was into its second year in BC and promises to expand into other areas in 2013. It is a fantastic project that gets young people out into nature and fights the ‘nature deficit disorder’ that is a growing threat to the health of our young people and our movement.

In June, the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement saw its first major success with an area in northeastern Ontario the size of Algonquin Park that is now off-limits to logging. The announcement was made with the support of local communities, First Nations and the provincial government. CPAWS had been leading this effort on behalf of environmental groups through our Wildlands League chapter and the able leadership of Janet Sumner.

Also in June, we released our interim report on the progress of marine protected areas in Canada. In 2011, we issued a challenge to advance 12 new marine protected areas by the end of 2012. The good news is progress has been made on 9 of the 12 sites. The bad news is that budget cuts have led to a slowdown  in the later part of 2012.

In August, a new national park was announced in the Nahanni headwaters, although the boundaries were not what we were hoping for. We’ll need to continue working to improve them so that they can effectively sustain wildlife.

We had been working actively to get a strong Woodland Caribou Recovery Strategy under the Federal Species at Risk Act in place. In October, we were rewarded with a  plan that, while not perfect, was significantly improved from earlier versions. Over 32,000 people were engaged in our campaign. Thanks to all of you!

We also took an active role in  the newly-launched Protect the Prairie conservation campaign in Saskatchewan, centred around the possible sell-off of one of the world’s most endangered ecosystems: grasslands. The campaign has grown enormously in the last few months and our Saskatchewan chapter has been at the heart of this campaign along with the Public Service Alliance of Canada. Thousands of Canadians are rallied around this cause.

In November, the Alberta government put logging in the Castle Wilderness Area on hold – something our southern Alberta chapter had been working on for years. The government has agreed to do land-use planning in the area first and foremost.

In December, we received great conservation news in Quebec! Following years of public campaigning and education around the values of the Nastapoka River watershed, the Quebec government announced the creation of the largest provincial park in Canada and the largest protected area in all of eastern North America! Tursujuq Park includes the world’s only population of inland freshwater seals. This represents 31,000 square kilometres of protected wilderness, thanks to the efforts of CPAWS- Quebec and people like you from across Canada.

2013 will be an exciting year with continued work to protect the South Okanagan and Flathead Valley in BC, the Peel River Watershed in the Yukon, the Restigouche in New Brunswick, the Dumoine River in western Quebec, continued work on the Boreal Forest Agreement and provincial caribou recovery strategies. We welcome the Manitoba government’s green strategy and look forward to working with them to make it the most effective possible tool in conservation and environmental measures. Our work will continue to ensure a balance to ‘gold-rush style’ mining in Ontario’s Ring of Fire. The battles to protect Gatineau Park and to stop logging in Algonquin Park will also carry on.

Given all we’ve seen this year, we’re worried about the future of the Species at Risk Act. The federal government has said it is “reviewing it”. We’ll need all hands on deck to keep this important legislation in place.

In the end, I know that we don’t do our work alone. First Nations, provincial and federal governments, industry and local communities are all important partners with us in finding conservation solutions. But you, our supporters and members, are truly heroic in your efforts to let decision-makers know that people care. Thank you to all of you. You make our work possible through your actions, volunteerism and donations.  Stay with us in 2013… if our efforts in a year that was set to be a challenging one could create this many successes, imagine what we can do together next year!