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Canada Commits Historic $1.3 Billion to Create New Protected Areas

The Trudeau government committed an unprecedented $1.3 billion in Tuesday’s Budget 2018 to protect land and water in Canada over the next five years. The funds will help Canada meet its target to protect 17 per cent of land and 10 per cent of oceans by 2020 under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.

“This is a very good news day for conservation in Canada,” Alison Woodley, national conservation director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), told DeSmog Canada.

In addition to significant financial investments, the budget also outlines a new model for collaborative conservation efforts bringing Indigenous, provincial and territorial governments together.

“For the first time the government is not only investing in federal action but also recognizing the importance of partnerships, recognizing Indigenous, provincial and territorial government’s work to protect land and water,” Woodley said.

Over the next five years the federal government will invest $500 million in conservation partnerships and $800 million to support the creation of new protected areas, increased park management, protection of species at risk and to establish a coordinated network of conservation areas with other governmental partners.

“I think the great thing about this is we’re not starting from scratch,” Woodley said. “There are places across this country where Indigenous and other government have proposals underway to protect large landscapes.”

Protecting the celebrated Peel Watershed in the Yukon would be an easy win when it comes to protecting undisturbed wilderness, Woodley said.

Proposals for the South Okanagan Similkameen national park to protect rare and diminishing desert in British Columbia, plans to protect undeveloped land in the Rockies and the Indigenous-led Thaidene Nene conservation project in the traditional territory of the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation could also represent big conservation wins, she added.

Indigenous-led conservation a priority

“We are particularly pleased to see the budget acknowledge the leadership of Indigenous peoples in protecting Canada’s land and waters,” Éric Hébert-Daly, CPAWS national executive director said in a statement.

“This funding will support Indigenous governments in their conservation efforts, which will make an important contribution to reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada.”

Indigenous-led conservation efforts have resulted in some of Canada’s most iconic land use agreements, including the creation of the Great Bear Rainforest and the Gwaii Haanas national park.

And the creation of tribal parks in unceded First Nations traditional territory in British Columbia — like the Dasiquox Tribal Park — has helped redefinine conservation strategies to more thoughtfully prioritize indigenous land use and cultural practices.

Steve Ganey, director of the land and ocean program for the Pew Charitable Trusts, applauded the federal government for its renewed commitment to conservation but said more can and should be done to emphasize reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in all land protection efforts.

“National and provincial governments should work to support new forms of Indigenous-led conservation in their efforts to meet the biological diversity targets,” Ganey wrote in a response to Budget 2018. “This is particularly important in northern Canada, where most of the country’s intact natural areas — and many of its Indigenous communities — are located.”

Ganey added Canada should consider creating protected Indigenous lands that are managed under a self-governance structure that highlights traditional knowledge — similar to Australia.

“This is the best and perhaps only way to rapidly expand conservation efforts while honouring Indigenous rights.”

Woodley said many of Canada’s Indigenous communities are already leading the way when it comes to protecting their lands and cultural practices.

“Indigenous-led conservation initiatives can be a great tool to advance reconciliation,” she said.

Continued investment needed to protect at-risk species

Conservation efforts are key to recovering Canada’s species at risk, such as caribou and orca that have suffered critical habitat loss and degradation over the last several decades.

“The number one reason that species across Canada and globally are in danger is because they’re losing habitat,” Woodley said.

“Protected areas are a key tool, whether on land or in the ocean, for addressing species at risk.”

Canada has been harshly criticized for failing to adequately protect its endangered species, especially through the creation of strict no-go zones that would protect critical habitat from industrial development and human activity.

Aerin Jacob, conservation scientist with the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y), said today’s investment in protected areas signals a change in tide.

“This type of vision shows the government is serious about protecting nature on the scale it needs to thrive,” Jacob said.

“Now the hard work lies ahead since we need different conservation approaches in different parts of Canada. This includes carefully planning where the new protected areas should be, based on intact wilderness, connectivity, species at risk and more.”

Woodley said conservation creates cascading positive effects where protected areas benefit wildlife, nature-based tourism and allow people to enjoy the lifestyles that come with landscapes that aren’t industrialized.

“This funding can deliver a whole suite of benefits to Canadians from nature conservation, economic, social and health perspectives.”

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