OTTAWA – In its latest annual report released in advance of Canada Parks Day, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) is calling on Parks Canada to re-focus on its legal obligation to protect nature as the first priority for managing our national parks, and to immediately stop development in Banff and Jasper National Parks.
In recent years, CPAWS has observed a major shift in how Parks Canada is managing our national parks, moving away from its priority mandate of nature conservation, and towards a greater focus on tourism and marketing, increasing visitation, and revenue generation. This shift in priorities has resulted in developments being approved behind closed doors, with inadequate regard for how they impact on parks’ ecological integrity or for public input, and financial decisions being made that undermine the Agency’s conservation and science capacity.
“National parks are supposed to be the gold standard for conservation in our country,” says Alison Woodley, National Director of CPAWS’ Parks Program. “If Parks Canada shifts away from its conservation mandate, where will our wildlife and wilderness be safe?”
CPAWS is encouraged by the new federal government’s commitments to limit development in our parks, re-focus on protecting their ecological integrity, re-invest in science-based management, and restore open, transparent decision-making. So far two important decisions have been made that begin to deliver on these promises – cancelling the giant Mother Canada statue proposed for Cape Breton Highlands National Park and strengthening legislation for the Rouge National Urban Park to focus on protecting ecological integrity as the first priority. However, as this report highlights, there are systemic problems in Parks Canada’s management approach that need to be overcome for the new government to fully implement their commitments. For example:
- Limiting development: Recent development approvals include a massive expansion of the Lake Louise Ski Resort in Banff into legally protected wilderness, commercial accommodations proposed for Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park that contravene the management plan; and a $66 million paved bike path through sensitive caribou and grizzly bear habitat which mysteriously appeared in the 2016 Federal Budget with no prior public discussion or environmental review.
- Re-focusing on ecological integrity and funding for science: Parks Canada’s last publicly available report indicates that less than half of national park ecosystems measured were deemed to be in “good condition”, more than a third were in declining health, while 41% of park ecosystems remained to be assessed. There is an urgent need for more conservation effort, not less. Yet over the past five years there has been an over 30% decrease in Parks Canada’s conservation staffing while visitor experience staffing has risen by 9% over the same time period. The report also finds that public “state of park” reporting has virtually disappeared, and park management plan reviews are less frequent.
- Open, transparent decision-making: Public consultations on development proposals within national parks have become short processes that are geographically restricted, and that largely ignore public feedback. Legally required biennial Round Tables on Parks Canada’s performance are no longer focused on accountability, instead focusing on how to increase park visitation with little or no attention to how well the Agency is delivering on its core conservation mandate.
“We have put forward 17 recommendations to the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change that we believe will help get Parks Canada back on track to conserving nature as the first priority in our national parks,” says Woodley. “We hope the new government will act immediately to stop developments in Banff and Jasper, and restore Parks Canada’s culture as a science-based nature conservation organization working in the long term public interest. The future of wildlife and wilderness in our national parks depends on re-focusing on nature first and foremost in their management.”