Mount Charles Stewart in the Alberta Rockies is shown near Canmore, Alta., on Sept. 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Mount Charles Stewart in the Alberta Rockies is shown near Canmore, Alta., on Sept. 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Protected areas may not safeguard all that Canadians need them to: research

A remote watershed in northern British Columbia may filter a lot of water, but it all runs into the ocean

The natural regions Canada protects don’t line up that well with where Canadians actually need them, research suggests.

A paper published Tuesday concludes that the country’s vast network of parks isn’t adequately safeguarding areas that provide fresh water and recreation to nearby populations. It also saysover half of the areas Canadians rely on for those benefits are facing mining, energy or forestry pressure.

“We need to start considering those other benefits,” said Matthew Mitchell, lead author of the paper in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

The paper looks at which parts of the country are able to provide fresh water, carbon storage and recreational opportunities, and where those benefits are most needed.

A remote watershed in northern British Columbia may filter a lot of water, but it all runs into the ocean. A stream in the Alberta foothills may not hold as much, but it all flows into rivers on which millions depend.

An Arctic national park may be spectacular, but a beauty spot in the south is likely to be more affected by heavy visitor numbers.

The research found “hot spots” where those environmental assets are both abundant and heavily used. It says the areas line up poorly with Canada’s protected areas network.

“Some of the convenient places to put these big protected areas in the past have been places that are beautiful areas of rock and ice, but not necessarily where people benefit,” said Aerin Jacob of the Yellowstone to Yukon conservation initiative and a co-author of the paper.

It says the hot spots are coming under increasing pressure: up to two-thirds of the areas most important for freshwater, carbon storage or recreation are also subject to resource extraction.

One of them is the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, not only a source of drinking water all the way into southern Saskatchewan, but a place of great beauty that millions visit.

“Those eastern slopes just pop right out as a place that’s really important,” said Mitchell.

But the area is heavily logged and drilled. The Alberta government has recently opened up large parts of the eastern slopes for coal mining, a decision being challenged in court.

Mitchell said the paper isn’t meant to critique Canada’s approach to protected areas, which conserve millions of square kilometres of natural habitat from coast to coast to coast and into the oceans.

But as populations and economies grow, he said, land-use planners will have to start considering other landscape values than what can be cut or dug out.

“It highlights the challenge of conserving some of these places.”

Parks aren’t the only tool, Mitchell said. Indigenous protected areas or stewardship agreements with landowners can all work.

Canadians are going to have to get serious about tough choices about their land, he suggested.

“When we’re thinking about recreation and water, it’s a really complex landscape. We need to think more creatively about how we do (industrial activity), but in ways that conserve those ecosystem services.”

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Terry Keogh, an RDN Transit driver, used his paramedic skills the morning of Jan. 22 after coming across an unconscious woman along his route in downtown Nanaimo. (RDN Transit photo)
RDN Transit driver stops his bus and helps get overdosing woman breathing again

Former EMT from Ireland performed CPR on a woman in downtown Nanaimo on Friday

Peter Crema and Harmony Gray (from left), past participants of the Nanaimo Art Gallery’s Code Switching teen art group, at work in ArtLab in 2019. The NAG will be expanding the space thanks to a $75,000 arts infrastructure program grant. (Bulletin file photo)
Nanaimo Art Gallery, Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre receive new arts infrastructure funding

Province announces recipients of funding through B.C. Arts Council program

Angela Waldick is the new team photographer for the Nanaimo NightOwls. (Nanaimo NightOwls photo)
Half-blind photographer will help Nanaimo’s new baseball team look picture-perfect

NightOwls announce partnership with Angela Waldick of Nightengales Photography

Emergency crews were called to a crash involving a hatchback and a taxi minivan at the intersection of Fitzwilliam, Pine and Third streets on Friday afternoon. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
Driver hurt as taxi and hatchback crash in Nanaimo

Collision happened Friday at intersection of Fitzwilliam, Pine and Third streets

A person experiencing homelessness in downtown Nanaimo last week. (News Bulletin photo)
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Change approach to combatting homelessness

Letter writers express frustration with status quo

Emergency crews were called to a crash involving a hatchback and a taxi minivan at the intersection of Fitzwilliam, Pine and Third streets on Friday afternoon. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
Driver hurt as taxi and hatchback crash in Nanaimo

Collision happened Friday at intersection of Fitzwilliam, Pine and Third streets

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a daily briefing in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
31 cases of COVID-19 variants detected in Canada: Health officials

Dr. Theresa Tam made announces 13 more variant COVID-19 cases in Canada

Daily COVID-19 cases reported to each B.C. health region, to Jan. 20, 2021. Island Health in blue, Northern Health green, Interior Health orange, Vancouver Coastal in red and Fraser Health in purple. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate stays stable with 508 cases Friday

Vaccine delivered to more than 110,000 high-risk people

Black Press file photo
Investigation at remote burned-out Vancouver Island cabin reveals human remains

Identity of victim not released, believed to be the owner of an SUV vehicle found parked nearby

Nanaimo City Hall. (News Bulletin file photo)
City of Nanaimo councillors like new sustainable buying policy

Finance and audit committee recommends council approve new procurement policy

Danielle Groenendijk raised more than twice her goal for Parkinson Canada. (Photo submitted)
VIU volleyball athlete doubles fundraising goal for Parkinson’s

Daily runs over 30 days by Groenendijk add up to 254 kilometres

An Atlantic salmon is seen during a Department of Fisheries and Oceans fish health audit at the Okisollo fish farm near Campbell River, B.C. in 2018. The First Nations Leadership Council says an attempt by industry to overturn the phasing out of salmon farms in the Discovery Islands in contrary to their inherent Title and Rights. (THE CANADIAN PRESS /Jonathan Hayward photo)
First Nations Leadership Council denounces attempt to overturn salmon farm ban

B.C.’s producers filed for a judicial review of the Discovery Islands decision Jan. 18

More than 100 B.C. fishermen, fleet leaders, First Nations leaders and other salmon stakeholders are holding a virtual conference Jan. 21-22 to discuss a broad-range of issues threatening the commercial salmon fishery. (Black Press file photo)
B.C. commercial salmon fishermen discuss cures for an industry on the brink

Two-day virtual conference will produce key reccomendations for DFO

Premier John Horgan leaves the podium following his first press conference of the year as he comments on various questions from the media in the Press Gallery at B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, January 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interprovincial travel restrictions a no-go, Horgan says after reviewing legal options

The B.C. NDP government sought legal advice as concerns of travel continue

Most Read