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If I had to describe 2015 in one word, it would be ‘surprising’.


In January, if you had told me that the Castle Wilderness Area in Alberta would finally see protection after years of work, I would have thought you were crazy. If you had said that the BC government would be consulting on creating a National Park in the South Okanagan, I would have said you were dreaming. If you had told me that the home of the incredible Glass Sponge Reefs (the dinosaurs of the ocean) were going to be off-limits to fishing, I would have thought it was ambitious to think it could happen in 2015.

Yet 2015 saw all of these successes happen, along with other big wins that CPAWS has been working on for quite a while. The Broadback in Québec is a stunning 500,000 hectares of land near James Bay that is now protected. Bison reintroduction began in Banff National Park after their disappearance almost a century ago. The isolated Qausuittuq National Park in Nunavut and stunning Mealy Mountains National Park in Labrador were both officially created in 2015, as was the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area, checking in at 10,000 square kilometres of protected fresh water.

We actively fought against inappropriate infrastructure development in our parks: outlying commercial accommodations at Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park (our case was heard in court in October); the doubling of a ski hill in Banff National Park (just before the federal election); the massive Mother Canada statue in Cape Breton National Park; and the development of a ridiculous snowmobile trail up the side of Mount Carleton in one of New Brunswick’s iconic provincial parks.

While we were pleased to see the creation of Canada’s first National Urban Park near Toronto, we were disappointed that the precedent-setting legislation was so weak. Conservation was not the first priority in the management of the Rouge National Urban Park, which is something we are now actively trying to fix. The new federal government has committed to making this a reality.

We also won an important court victory to protect the Peel Watershed in the Yukon, but were disappointed in the resolution which allows the government to start the land-use planning process over again and ignore First Nations involvement in the process to date. We are, as a result, asking the Supreme Court to review the decision.

There was also some progress for the threatened caribou. We were pleased to see a suspension of new energy lease sales on caribou habitat in Alberta, a caribou recovery strategy and the protection of caribou habitat announced by the Manitoba government, and the requirement that forestry companies include plans to maintain large areas of caribou habitat undisturbed in the forests of Saskatchewan implemented. Progress on species recovery continues to be slow, but there are glimmers of hope in our latest caribou update.

Ultimately, we know that individual campaigns on specific places are not enough. We need to be thinking about conservation at a bigger scale. That’s why we’re going to continue to push provinces, territories and the federal government to at least meet, if not exceed, the 17% terrestrial goal and the 10% marine goal by 2020 – as an important milestone in protecting at least half of Canada’s wilderness in the years to come.

We were pleased to see that the new federal government has taken our advice to work towards these goals in their platform and the ministers’ mandate letters. We’re only at 10% protection on land and 1% of our ocean, so we’re going to need to do a lot of work in the next couple of years to meet these goals. See our report released earlier this year on how Canada is doing on terrestrial conservation and our 2014 and 2015 ocean reports on charting Canada’s course to 2020, and whether marine protected areas are really protected? You can bet that we’ll be offering our support and collaboration to decision-makers to meet these targets. But, we couldn’t do any of this without our donors and supporters.

Between creating new protected areas and addressing threats to parks, we’re going to be busy in 2016. If I were to dream of what I’d like to see happen before my next year-end blog post, it would be something like this:

On land: In water:
A formal end to inappropriate commercial development in our National Parks Large, new protected areas created on all three coasts
Establishment of a buffer zone around Gros Morne National Park Agreement by federal, provincial, territorial and indigenous governments to work together to protect 10% of the ocean by 2020
Effective protection and robust range plans for boreal woodland caribou across Canada Final protection of the glass sponge reefs MPA in Hecate Strait with strong regulations
Legal boundaries and formal protection for Gatineau Park outside Ottawa Endorsement by the federal government of the Marine Planning Partnership (MaPP)’s MPA network on the Pacific North Coast
Conservation as a first priority in Rouge National Urban Park Establishment of St Anns Bank MPA with the strong conservation measures agreed to during stakeholder consultations
New and expanded protected areas and national parks created across the country Elimination of oil and gas activities in the proposed Laurentian Channel MPA
Establishment of Thaidene Nene as a National and Territorial Park A marine protected area network plan for the Bay of Fundy
Official protection of the Peel Watershed in the Yukon Protection of the Magpie River in Québec

 

There’s certainly more I’d like to see, but that’s a great start. It’s a dream that can be made possible through the work of an incredible team of conservationists across Canada, political will, and supporters like you. Please consider giving a one-time gift or becoming a monthly donor to help make our conservation goals a reality in 2016.

I wish you all a fantastic new year, filled with joy, peace and promise.