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Protection for the Rouge takes a step backwards!

In the past few weeks members of the House of Commons have been looking at the legislation to create Canada’s first ever national urban park in the Rouge Valley near Toronto.

When the legislation was introduced in June, in our view it was lacking a key component – the prioritization of nature in management decisions.  So we submitted constructive recommendations to amend the legislation. However, yesterday the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Environment finished its hearings, and government members of parliament rejected all amendments.

This is deeply worrying for us. For years now, we have said that the Rouge National Urban Park would not meet the test of a protected area if it did not prioritize the conservation of nature. And the international definition of what constitutes a protected area is clear. The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) sets the international standards for parks and protected areas.

Here is  the IUCN definition of a protected area:

A clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.

The IUCN also provides guidance about the definition, clarifying that:

… only those areas where the main objective is conserving nature can be considered protected areas; this can include many areas with other goals as well, at the same level, but in the case of conflict, nature conservation will be the priority.*

When the commons committee members voted to reject amendments to the Rouge legislation, they may have been concerned about fears heard from farmers that they might eventually be evicted from their historic lands adjacent to the park, or forced to change the way they now operate. In our view, amendments  could have addressed this in the Rouge National Urban Park legislation while ensuring a healthy ecosystem for the park. 

We are disappointed that Parks Canada did not work in a collaborative and constructive way with nature groups, including CPAWS, and the farmers to find solutions whenever necessary. In truth, we and farmers share a lot in common. We all love the land. We all need to keep it healthy. We all eat!

We still hold out hope for a new model of near-urban parks.  But it needs to be one that protects the nature within the park’s borders.  And we are very aware that because the Rouge is a long-used landscape within Canada’s largest metropolitan area, there are challenges that will make it difficult to manage for ecosystem health.   Our biggest concern is that the park will be loved to death, nibbled away, and covered in new infrastructure, until all we have left is a municipal park and farm land isolated in an island of suburban development. 

We’re also worried that the government is about to set a bad precedent for future national urban parks.  With urbanites suffering more and more from a lack of connection with nature, we need to take this opportunity seriously.  You can be sure that CPAWS will continue to pay close attention to the legislation for Rouge National Urban Park and its management plan.

*From IUCN “Guidelines for Applying Protected Area Management Categories” 2008