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2011 CPAWS J.B. Harkin Conservation Award Recipient

  • Published on Feb 01 2012 |
  • This article is tagged as: harkin

Nik Lopoukhine at the J.B. Harkin award eventThe Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society is pleased to confer the J.B. Harkin Medal for Conservation on Nikita Lopoukhine for his lifetime of commitment to promoting scientific discussion and conservation within Parks Canada and for promoting Canadian conservation and park values globally.

After a long and distinguished career at Parks Canada, Nik Lopoukhine was elected as Chair of the IUCN's World Commission on Protected Areas. This occurred after a hard fought electoral campaign at the World Conservation Congress in Bangkok, Thailand, in 2004. He was re-elected to a second term in Barcelona in 2008. The World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) is one of six Commissions of the IUCN. The WCPA is the world's premier network of protected area expertise. It is administered by IUCN's Programme on Protected Areas and has over 1,400 members, spanning 140 countries. Although Nik is a full time chair, his work is voluntary, speaking volumes of his personal commitment to conservation and protected areas.

In this role with the WCPA, he oversaw the update of the IUCN Management Guidelines which included a revised definition of a protected area that places nature protection as a primary objective. He championed the strengthening of IUCN’s commitment to protected areas and co-authored a major publication called Natural Solutions, which positions protected areas as a key solution to our premiere global challenge, climate change.

Nik started his professional career with Forestry Canada. He brought broad ecological thinking to the Government of Canada in the developing field of land mapping of ecosystems. In the early 1970s the whole notion of ecosystems was new, and the idea that they could be mapped and used for planning was even newer. Nik inventoried and produced ecological maps for some of Canada's most famous parks including Waterton Lakes, Gatineau Park and Pukaskwa National Park. He conducted the first ecological land classification of Labrador, and that data was used to plan for the Torngat Mountains National Park and the upcoming Mealy Mountains National Park.

Nik was recruited to Parks Canada in 1981 from Treasury Board as one of three national science advisors. He left a huge legacy by setting the foundation for Parks Canada's fire management program. This was a period when Canada was coming to grips with the idea that management intervention in national park ecosystems might actually be required. Fire management, especially the use of prescribed fire, was an enormous conceptual challenge and Nik was instrumental in leading the development of new thinking. This policy was the foundation of the modern fire program that ensures healthy ecosystems in today’s national parks. It had impact across Canada, outside national parks and internationally.

In the 1990s Nik turned his attention to the emerging question of climate change, pushing Parks Canada to take this issue seriously. Ecological restoration also became a preoccupation. Elected as the third Chair of the Society for Ecological Restoration Nik has since continued to work at promoting the principles of ecological restoration globally. An example is the forthcoming WCPA Guidelines on Restoration for Protected Areas to be launched later this year.

Nik became Director of the Natural Resource Branch (which he renamed the Ecological Integrity Branch) of Parks Canada in 1999. He then became Director General of National Parks in 2001. In his role as a senior manager, he was a leader who "got it". He was a champion of conservation. He was a key supporter and mover of the idea of ecological integrity in the Parks Canada program, of strengthening science and coming to grips with the emerging challenge of climate change.  During his tenure as Director General, Nik was responsible for the passing of the New National Parks Act, the Species at Risk Act, and the National Marine Conservation Act. In that period, Parks Canada also bolstered its science capacity and tried vainly to avoid the arming of wardens.

Nik Lopoukhine was born in Paris, landing in Canada in the town of Québec and eventually in Maniwaki, Québec, where his father worked as a forester. English is Nik's 3rd language, but as a descendant of the famous author Leo Tolstoy, it is not surprising he is adept with languages. He is married to Mary Ann and together they have 3 children. Mary Ann has been Nik's constant partner for over 41 years and supporter of his work.