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The future of our national parks

It’s not surprising to see the current round of consultations on fee increases for Parks Canada.
Last summer, the Federal Government cut Parks Canada’s budget by approximately $30 million per year and there have been accumulated smaller cuts over the last number of years as well.

We’re already seeing the impacts.  Scientific monitoring is being drastically reduced. The frequency of management plan reviews is now on a 10 year cycle, making it difficult to identify problems with sufficient time to fix them.  Some parks have shortened their seasons, or are basically shut down for the winter – leaving them vulnerable to inappropriate use and unavailable for those who want to enjoy them throughout the year.

The truth is that Parks Canada does not have the money it needs to protect our national treasures and ensure that we all have appropriate access to them. We listed this as our highest concern in our annual state of the parks report last summer.

And now we see proposals to increase fees in our national parks. I find this worrisome not because of the size of the fee hikes, but  because they are a response to the larger problem of Parks Canada’s budget being squeezed by federal cutbacks and services being reduced.  In this context it is clear that  some of the budget cut is being transferred to the people whom we need to encourage to connect with nature.

In recent years, there has been a disturbing societal trend, documented in a powerful book called “Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv. It highlights the nature-deficit-disorder brought on by urbanization resulting in a generation that has not been introduced to the beauty of nature, nor to the fundamental importance of nature to human well-being. Our national parks have a critical role to play in helping Canadians to connect with nature in a real and transformational way.  Surely we should be ensuring that there are fewer barriers to falling in love with our parks, not additional ones.

Most importantly though, these parks belong to you and me. They are public assets that we collectively own as Canadians. They are national icons that showcase Canada to the rest of the world. And they are sanctuaries for nature and for all Canadians.  Letting them slip through our fingers through budget cutbacks is a problem for all of us today and in the future.  Cutting Parks Canada’s world-leading science and monitoring programs will quickly hamper our ability to protect and restore these national treasures.   We could see further pressure to privatize and build inappropriate infrastructure in our parks in an effort to raise money to support them. More parks could become seasonal and close for part of the year to help save a dollar rather than saving an ecosystem. And over time, prices to get in could start to be out of reach of ordinary Canadians because Parks Canada needs the revenue to ‘keep the lights on’.

Meanwhile, the government’s own report on the economic impacts of parks, released in 2011, demonstrated that for every dollar invested in Parks Canada, $5 is added to the Canadian economy.  Public funding of national parks is an investment in our environment, our people, and our economy.

CPAWS has been Canada’s national voice for our parks and protected areas for half a century now. Join us in sending the message that our parks belong to us – and that we want to see them well-resourced, well-managed and protected for the benefit of our children and our children’s children. Tell your MP that you love our parks!