Golden Ears Provincial Park on Maple Ridge’s north border, draws thousands per year. (Black Press Media files)

Protect Canada’s parks from being ‘loved to death’ says study co-author

Lots of visitors pose a challenge to maintaining healthy populations of some endangered species

Canada is a global leader in protecting its conserved land from human destruction, but its parks are in danger of being “loved to death” by thousands of people trekking through the backcountry, says a co-author of a study that details the degradation of one-third of the world’s protected areas.

Oscar Venter, associate professor of forestry in the ecosystems science and management department at the University of Northern British Columbia, said Banff and Jasper are examples iconic parks in Canada where a high number of visitors pose a challenge to maintaining healthy populations of some endangered species.

Economic pursuits, such as forestry, mining and oil and gas, are also part of the problem, Venter said.

“In Canada, we value our natural environment but we also put a lot of value on natural resource extraction,” he said.

Venter is part of an international team of researchers, including from the University of Queensland in Australia and the Wildlife Conservation Society, whose work was published Thursday in the journal Science. It looked at 50,000 protected areas worldwide and found one-third of the area is under intense pressure from activities like road building, logging and urbanization.

Most of the degradation was in Asia, Europe and Africa — in areas that were intact when they were designated as protected, the study says, adding there’s an urgent need for countries around the world to objectively assess the impact of human activity.

The findings are a reality check on the effort to avert the biodiversity crisis, said senior author James Watson, associate professor in the school of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Queensland and director of science and research initiative at the Wildlife Conservation Society.

“We show that governments are significantly overestimating the space they have made available for nature,” he said in a statement. “Governments are claiming these places are protected for the sake of nature when in reality they aren’t. It is a major reason why biodiversity is still in a catastrophic decline, despite more and more land being protected.”

Watson said 111 countries believe they have met their obligations toward the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, which set a global goal in 2010 for nations to protect at least 17 per cent of their land by 2020.

“If you only counted the lands in protected areas that are not degraded, 77 of those nations don’t meet the bar,” he said.

“Helping them succeed requires more sustained and dedicated effort and we are undertaking research to identify those intact, biologically important places around the world that still need protection and the mechanisms that will best ensure they are protected.”

Venter said that while 2.5 per cent of Canada’s protected area has been modified by humans, there are challenges to managing the impact of human disturbance to endangered species, such as caribou in parks in the Rocky Mountains and elsewhere.

As for meeting its commitment by 2020, Canada has so far reached only 10.5 per cent of its goal while Namibia and Costa Rica are further ahead, he said.

“There’s a commitment from the federal government to protect 700,000 square kilometres of land. That’s an area the size of Alberta,” Venter said of Ottawa’s strategy, which was boosted with a $1.3-billion commitment in the last budget.

“One of the first places we have to look is our recreational parks and how do we balance the recreational opportunities we provide in those areas with the conservation values we have.”

Alison Ronson, national director of the parks program at the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, said while several provinces have recently moved to protect land to meet the 2020 conservation target, Canada was behind all G7 countries when the society issued a report last summer.

Brazil had protected 29.5 per cent of its land by then, China was up to 17.1 per cent and Australia had reached 17 per cent, the report said.

“The balance in the country has been so skewed toward industrial activity for such a long time,” Ronson said of Canada.

Federal, provincial and territorial governments need to work with Indigenous governments to meet their conservation goals, she said.

Parks Canada said British Columbia leads all provinces and territories in protecting 15.3 per cent of its land and freshwater. Alberta is in second, with 14.5 per cent of its area protected as of Tuesday, when it added more than 13,000 square kilometres of forest, wetland, lakes and rivers. Prince Edward Island is in last place with 3.2 per cent of its area protected.

— Follow @CamilleBains1 on Twitter.

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Maple Ridge’s tent city evacuation shelter closing

Becomes a night refuge only, then shuts for good March 31

Former Maple Ridge resident in Sonic Boom Music Fest

Aaron Graham will be featured at the upcoming Sonic Boom Music Festival

UPDATE: Styrofoam melting machine the cause of Saturday’s fire in Pitt Meadows

Fire spread quickly to surrounding Styrofoam and lumber

Looking Back: Books and haircuts

What do they have in common?

Bees facing high mortality after long, hard winter

Some Pitt Meadows beekeepers seeing half of their hives die

VIDEO: RCMP ask kids to help name soon-to-be police dogs

13 German shepherd puppies will be born this year

No injuries, pollution in Vancouver Harbour ship collision: Transport Canada

Transportation Safety Board says it has deployed a team of investigators look into the incident

Budget 2019: Five things to watch for in the Liberals’ final fiscal blueprint

Finance Minister Bill Morneau will release the Trudeau government’s final budget on Tuesday

New concussion guidelines launched for Canada’s Olympians, Paralympians

The guidelines will be in effect at this summer’s Pan American, Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru

Accused Surrey transit cop shooter’s bail hearing set for April

Daon Gordon Glasgow, 35, is accused of shooting Transit Police Constable Josh Harms, 27

Alphonso Davies doubtful for Canada game against French Guiana in Vancouver

Canada will be without injured captain Scott Arfield and veteran Will Johnson

Watchdog called after man who yelled racial slurs at B.C. vigil hurt during arrest

BC RCMP say man was ‘acting suspiciously’ at prayer vigil for victims of New Zealand mosque shootings

NDP’s Jagmeet Singh steps into the House of Commons, making history

Burnaby South MP becomes first visible minority to lead a federal party in the House of Commons

Most Read