Ecological integrity highest priority for Parks - Minister McKenna
Thursday, Mar 16, 2017 06:00 am
Canada’s Environment Minister Catherine McKenna was in Banff last week to address a national parks conference and made it clear she sees ecological integrity as being the top priority for management of protected places in this country.
McKenna made comments about ecological integrity, a key conservation mandate, during her address at the Canadian Conference held at the Banff Centre, March 8-11.
The minister for the environment and climate change, who also oversees Parks Canada, said there are three things that she cares deeply about when it comes to protected areas.
“The importance of ecological integrity, science, conservation and traditional knowledge and my renewed focus on it,” McKenna said. “The integral role Indigenous people will continue to play with Parks Canada as we move toward reconciliation and three, the future. What will our legacy be for the next 150 years and how can we work together?”
Ecological integrity and protected places have a role to play in this government’s action on climate change, said the minister, as well as reconciliation. She said through partnerships and commitments at all levels of government and stakeholders, these goals can be worked toward together.
McKenna pointed to reintroduction of bison into the Panther River valley of Banff National Park as an example of the importance of working together, conservation and traditional knowledge from Indigenous peoples.
“The bison is a timely reminder that we must work together to protect and restore the ecological integrity of our cherished national parks for future generations and I want to make sure protecting ecological integrity is front and centre in every decision I make in our national parks,” she said.
“That will be my first priority in all aspects of park management and I will ensure everyone who works for Parks Canada, from front line staff to scientists to everyone in-between embodies this principle in everything they do and we will do this in the spirit of reconciliation with Indigenous people across Canada.”
Large areas of wilderness that are protected into the future also helps address challenges Canada is facing in terms of climate change. McKenna said while national parks and historic sites in the country generate $3.3 billion each year in contribution to the GDP and supports 40,000 full time equivalent jobs – her mandate is to limit develop and focus on protecting and restoring ecological integrity.
Canada committed earlier this year to meeting Aichi Biodiversity Targets set out at the convention on biodiversity originally in 2010. McKenna said by 2020 that means protecting at least 17 per cent of land and inland waters and 10 per cent of the country’s ocean areas.
“This process is already underway and we are working together with the provinces, territories and Indigenous people to accomplish this,” she said.
Those efforts include a marine conservation area in Lancaster Sound, Nunavut and the Anguniaqvia niqiqyuam Marine Protected Area in the Northwest Territories.
“This expansion of our protected areas is part of our commitment to meeting the Aichi targets and it will have many benefits,” McKenna said. “It will restore and maintain biodiversity, help create corridors for migration and habitat expansion and as the ravages of climate change continue to impact our world, these areas will be preserved as carbon sinks in our forests, peat lands and oceans.
“Protected areas are an insurance policy against the impacts of climate change.”
The same day the minister made her remarks at the conference, the UNESCO report on Wood Buffalo National Park was released and it wasn’t good news for Parks Canada. The United Nation’s agency report issued a warning about the health of Wood Buffalo National Park.
Not only did it find poor environmental health in the protected area, but found that cumulative impacts of energy development projects and poor management were contributing to its overall condition.
“I welcome this report,” said McKenna. “It is important that we all take this report seriously and as I told the Mikisew Cree First Nation today, our government will provide leadership to secure the future of Wood Buffalo.”
The First Nation invited UNESCO to inspect the current status of the national park and its future because of concerns with projects in the overall region like hydro dams on the Peace-Athabasca Delta in B.C. and oilsands development in Alberta.
McKenna said Canada would show leadership in addressing the UNESCO report, in meeting Aichi targets and protecting and restoring protected areas and building relationships with Indigenous people, including finding mechanisms for First Nations to protect lands as well.
“I have been clear we will place a renewed focus on ecological integrity,” she said. “We will move forward on our commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, including the development of Indigenous protected areas, and looking at how we can expand the guardians program as a new path forward.”