Canadian Protected Areas Status Report 2006 to 2011: introduction


Protected areas are a fundamental tool in the conservation of biological diversity. Terrestrial and marine protected areas in Canada protect representative samples of ecosystems and help maintain a diversity of native species, including species at risk. While conserving biological diversity, protected areas yield additional dividends, many of which are essential for human well-being. Clean air and water, fish spawning sites, pest and disease control, crop pollination, and the genetic resource base for many pharmaceuticals are a few of the goods and services equally attributable to protected areas.

An important more recently recognized value of protected areas is their role in mitigating effects of climate change. The growing vegetation within protected areas, especially salt marshes and seagrass meadows, absorbs and stores carbon. By definition protected areas are not subject to development and exploitation. Hence, protected areas assure the retention of carbon that would otherwise add to the 20% of greenhouse gases emitted through disturbances of peat, soils and vegetation. At the same time, the undisturbed ecosystems of protected areas serve as benchmarks for research on the effects of climate change and are ideal for other studies that broaden our knowledge of natural systems.

The economic importance of protected areas can be measured tangibly and intangibly. Tourism, rural development and enhanced property values of adjoining areas are readily measurable tangible economic benefits. While mental and physical health benefits derived from connections with nature are proven, it is nevertheless difficult to derive hard statistics. Recent research shows that backpackers scored 50% better on a creativity test after spending four days in nature disconnected from electronic devices (Atchley et al., 2012). Connecting Canadians and visitors with nature is an intangible benefit as important as the tangible.

Intact ecosystems within protected areas contain cultural and historic landscapes that strengthen and support Aboriginal culture. Many of Canada’s recent protected areas have been established through land claim processes because there is recognition of this fundamental relationship of nature and culture among Canada’s Aboriginal peoples. Protected areas assure places where this relationship can continue to flourish.

Most importantly, protected areas provide settings for some of life’s most joyous moments. The aesthetic beauty, the feeling of solitude or an interaction with wildlife can trigger moments of exhilaration. Vacations centred on protected areas provide ideal times for relaxation and sharing a special moment or adventure with family and friends. These experiences become embedded as memorable moments and, for many, they can be life-transforming events.

The many attributes and values of protected areas have driven the world to establish more than 160 000 protected areas covering almost 13% of the globe terrestrially and just over 7% of marine ecosystems. Canada is lagging behind these global numbers and is further challenged by the global commitment to expand coverage to 17% terrestrial and 10% marine by 2020.

Human, financial and other resources to manage the world’s protected areas are lagging. The human capacity to manage these areas is a perpetual challenge facing most countries of the world. Canada’s financial resources dedicated to protected areas are without a doubt the envy of many countries. Yet Canada, like many other countries of the world, is not meeting the basic requirement of effective management of the majority of its protected areas. A fundamental tool of management is the setting out of objectives that are derived through consultation with stakeholders. Such objectives are normally captured through the preparation and approval of a park management plan. The majority of Canada’s parks and protected areas do not have a management plan, and hence the purpose of management is not defined.

This is the second report on the status of Canada’s protected areas, covering 2006-2011. The results captured herein are laudable. Organizations have set out for the reader a detailed litany of achievements over the past five years. The growth in number of protected areas and area covered is noteworthy, as are efforts to tackle specialised management challenges from ecological integrity to mitigating effects of climate change. Further, by comparing these achievements to targets and objectives of the International Convention on Biological Diversity, organizations acknowledge their commitment and adherence to this important global instrument to safeguard biological diversity.

This report is praiseworthy for not only providing the reader with statements of achievement over the past five years but also boldly identifying where additional work is required. By identifying gaps, it is a frank report that encourages the engagement of readers to assure that their protected areas are well managed and achieve conservation of biological diversity and other dividends enumerated above and in more detail in the report.

And finally, the challenge that this report addresses head-on is to convey to Canadians the importance of protected areas. The promise, excitement, and ecological, social, and economic benefits of protected areas must be understood and supported by Canadians; otherwise the will to protect them in the future will diminish.

Nikita Lopoukhine
(former Director General National Parks, and former Chair of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature World Commission on Protected Areas)

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