Feds promise billions for conservation

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The federal government will spend $1.3 billion on conservation initiatives to conserve more land, water and biodiversity across the country.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau made the announcement as he tabled the 2018 federal budget in Ottawa, Tuesday (Feb. 27).

He described it as “one of the largest commitments to conservation in Canada’s history.”

Part of the money, $500 million, will go toward creating a new $1 billion Nature Fund in partnership with the private sector, non-profit groups and other levels of government to secure private land for conservation and help protect species. The government also hopes to use the money to help build Indigenous capacity to achieve those same goals.

The remaining funding will help increase the government’s capacity to protect species at risk, expand national wildlife areas, migratory bird sanctuaries and increase the federal capacity to manage protected areas, including national parks.

The government also intends to use the money to continue to implement the Species at Risk Act (SARA) and establish a network of conservation areas with provincial, territorial and Indigenous partners.

“This is a really great announcement, it’s an historic investment in nature conservation in Canada,” said Anne-Marie Syslak, the executive director of the Southern Alberta Chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

She said her organization is hopeful that the money will be used to restore the science and conservation capacity of Canada’s national parks, which was previously cut under the former Conservative government.

An addition $3.2 billion over five years was also earmarked in the budget for Canadian science and research, including money for granting councils and Canada Research Chairs, upgrading outdated laboratory facilities and harnessing the power of “big data.”

Finance Minister Bill Morneau also reiterated a previously made announcement that admission to Canada’s national parks for youth 17 and under will be “permanently free.

“When we encouraged Canadians to visit our national parks last year, they responded by the millions. Some parks were so busy they had to turn people away. We saw how popular our free admissions program was, and that’s why we decided to make Canada’s national parks permanently free for kids,” said Morneau to rapturous applause in the House of Commons.

Catherine McKenna, minister of environment and climate change, announced in November that admission would be free for youth 17 and under for all national parks, historic sites and marine conservation areas starting in 2018.

That decision came on the heels of the Liberal government’s decision to make admission free for all visitors to Canada’s national parks in 2017 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation.

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