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Glimmers of hope in Canada’s National Conservation Plan

Despite the attacks on nature and democracy over the last few months and in particular our deep concerns with the Budget Implementation Bill (Bill C-38), I saw a few glimmers of hope today in a report released by the House of Commons Environment Committee.

For the last few years, the federal government has been promising to create a National Conservation Plan for Canada.

At CPAWS, we’ve been looking for a strong, united conservation vision for Canada, led by the federal government, that would result in a network of large core protected areas, including a completed national parks system. Such a vision would also ensure that protected areas are ecologically connected, would ensure the sustainable management of the land and sea where industrial development and resource extraction take place, and restore degraded ecosystems where necessary, particularly in the crowded south of our country.

We liked the government’s outline of ‘protect, connect, restore’ that we saw early-on in the government's thinking about a national conservation plan. But we were worried that the plan might drift, and miss the boat by downplaying the essential role of protected areas as a cornerstone of Canada's efforts to to conserve nature.

Today, the Environment Committee of the House of Commons released a report following hearings it held across Canada. You can see it here. CPAWS presented to the committee in Ottawa and in Vancouver, and also submitted a written brief.  The Committee report examines what a National Conservation Plan should contain. While it may not be the report that CPAWS would have written, we were pleased to see a number of key points included:

  • “Protection” is a key component of what should be in a National Conservation Plan. If we don’t protect significant areas of wilderness and wildlife habitat from  development and human encroachment, we can't sustain biodiversity and healthy ecosystems for future generations.
  • At minimum, meeting the targets Canada agreed to under the Convention for Biological Diversity (including protecting 17% of land and 10% of our oceans in protected areas by 2020) is identified as important.  This is an area where we believe Canada can and should go well beyond the minimum, and where we can be a world leader, given our vast expanse of relatively intact wilderness.   
  • The report also highlights the importance of basing decisions on best available science. This seems like a no-brainer, but science is frequently being pushed aside these days in the interests of development or politics. The importance of being science-based is central to CPAWS’ mission and must be at the core of decisions we make as a country. The report includes Aboriginal traditional knowledge in this definition – for which we commend the committee.
  • Connecting people with nature should be a component of the National Conservation Plan. The report is clear about the importance of building appreciation for nature in Canada. We agree. Anyone who disagrees should read Richard Louv’s book “Last Child in the Woods” about the nature deficit disorder.

Today’s report highlights the importance of balancing the economy and nature conservation.  We agree, but would go further to highlight that a healthy Canadian economy depends on the long term health of our ecosystems.

Now that the committee has completed its report, its up to the government to develop the National Conservation Plan.

We hope that the plan will result in more than just words. Done right, it offers an opportunity for Canada to proactively plan for conservation and development in an integrated and inclusive way, which would create more long-term certainty for all.  Our wilderness, and the wildlife it sustains, can’t afford to have us pillaging first and asking science-based questions later.