By francis tessier-Burns // contributor
Observe & Preserve: A Case for the Conservation of Our National Parks
Provincial and National Parks are our most tangible way of showing we care about the environment. In 2010, Canada signed on to goals set by the Convention on Biological Diversity, one of which was to protect 17% of our land and 10% of our waters by 2020. Currently, only 10.6% and 0.9% of these areas are considered protected.
Parks Canada is responsible for conserving our existing 46 national parks and establishing new ones. Faced with budget cuts over the last few years, the agency has focused on getting more people into parks rather than protecting them—something the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society noted in a recent report. “The reality is [parks] are finite places and they can’t sustain limitless development. Their primary purpose is to conserve nature,” says Alison Woodley, National Director of CPAWS’s Parks Program.
In 2011, Parks Canada released the latest state of parks report—a document that’s required by law to be published every two years. Only 58% of our Parks’ total ecosystems at the time were assessed, with approximately one third of those in decline.
The forest of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park is one of those ecosystems. In 2014, Parks Canada launched the four-year Bring Back the Boreal project. Thick grass and hyper-abundant moose have prevented the forest from regenerating naturally, resulting in the construction of an enclosure in the western part of the Park to keep these animals out and to plant more than 50,000 seedlings. The local First Nations community have yearly moose harvests to reduce the population, which was reported to be four times above the forest’s natural sustainable capacity.
Projects like this stem from Parks Canada’s ability to monitor our parks, something that hasn’t been possible in the recent past—at least not to the degree needed. “By cutting money from monitoring and research, there’s not even the knowledge needed to understand the impacts of development,” says Woodley. “The whole point of those programs is to have an early detection system.”
Without early detection, situations such as the disappearance of a long-studied pack of wolves in Alaska can occur. Researchers had been tracking the pack since the 1930s, but a mix of heightened hunting and misguided management has led to the wolves possibly being wiped out.
An example of this in Canada is caribou and grizzly bear populations in our Rocky Mountain Parks. Caribou have already disappeared from Banff and are “just hanging on” in Jasper, according to Woodley. These populations are now threatened by the proposed 107km, $66 million Icefields Trail. The funding for the multi-use path was approved in this year’s federal budget despite the actual route not yet being confirmed. “The goal is for the trail to have no net ecological impact by avoiding wilderness zones,” says Parks Canada. But for Woodley, it sounds like a backwards approach. “It’s putting the cart way before the horse to announce funding in a budget before having any public information.” This network of Parks, she adds, “is one of the last places left in the western mountains where all native wildlife species are still found.”
Whether it’s to meet our international goals, literally save the forest, or learn to appreciate nature by experiencing it firsthand, conservation is increasingly important in an industrialized world. In 2017, Canada will open its National Parks to all visitors, free of charge. Let’s take this forthcoming opportunity to appreciate their spectacular natural values and, as Woodley says, ensure the future can, too. “We don’t want to be the last generation of Canadians who can enjoy grizzly bears and caribou in Banff and Jasper.”
@FTessierBurns // franktburns.wordpress.com
By Lauren Kearney // Contributor
Visiting a National Park? Don't be that Tourist
Often, tourists visit National Parks in the hopes of getting closer to both nature, and its inhabitants. But sometimes, “close” can be too close. Visiting a National Park is intended to be about observing and conserving these protected areas, however, more increasingly it appears to be the opposite for tourists, and it’s this ignorance that results in the endangerment of wildlife. From taking selfies with wild species, to feeding them in an attempt to get up close and personal, wildlife in National Parks is suffering at the hands of irresponsible tourists – and that’s something wildlife can’t afford.
Selfies are typically harmless, in the right time and place. The act of taking a selfie with wild animals, however, can be an extremely risky and detrimental behavior. While taking selfies with wildlife seems trivial, few people know how to handle these animals correctly. Hence the reason for the spike in selfie-related wildlife injuries (and deaths). These types of selfies don’t just put wildlife in danger. Last year, for instance, a woman was wounded whilst taking a selfie with a bison in Yellowstone National Park. Regardless of the National Park or species, the fact remains that wild animals and selfies do not mix. When you take a selfie with a wild animal, you are putting both yourself and the animal at risk for the sake of an injurious and unnecessary activity.
Getting up close and personal with wildlife is also rarely a good idea; interfering with these wild species often ends up in some sort of tragedy, and not just for tourists. A perfect example of this is the incident which occurred in Yellowstone National Park in May of this year. A bison calf was euthanized after tourists placed the animal in the back of their vehicle and transported it to a ranger station after they assumed it had been abandoned and left out in the cold. The euthanasia was a result of the young calf being later rejected by its herd, after which it began to approach cars along the roadway. Last year, a moose calf also died at the hands of tourists; a camper who found the calf near the carcass of its mother took it to fish and wildlife officials. Instead of being cared for, officials euthanized the calf due to the risk of spreading disease.
You may also assume that feeding wildlife in National Parks is helping the species, perhaps because we assume they are hungry or starving. In reality, feeding these animals results in more harm than good. Not only are most of the foods we eat toxic to wildlife, but animals also become habituated to being fed, especially when the feeding is consistent. Ducks often develop a deformity called ‘’angel wing,” for example, when fed a diet high in bread, crackers or other human food. The Grand Canyon Park issues a warning to visitors upon entering that they should refrain from feeding wildlife, as do many other National Parks. Doing so can put tourists at risk of being injured by hungry or volatile wildlife which associate the presence of tourists in their habitat with "feeding-time." When visiting any National Park, resist the urge to feed any wildlife you pass.
In order to keep wildlife wild - the way it’s meant to be – tourist behavior in National Parks needs to exclude chasing the perfect selfie, removing wildlife from their natural habitats and playing “doctor” with infantile wildlife. Visiting a National Park or other protected area is a wonderful experience, but one which should not cost the life of an animal. Intervening in any way is not the responsibility of tourists. Wild animals are born survivors - rarely do they need the “aid” of humans and, most often, it is when they receive help from tourists that problems for wildlife in National Parks can transpire.
By Out of Wilderness Magazine
Our Picks for North America's Top 10 National Parks
From wanderlust-ridden tourists to curious travelers and adventurous explorers, National Parks have become go-to destinations for just about anyone seeking an unadulterated, untouched view of nature at its best. Whether it’s viewing bison in Yellowstone or kayaking the crisp, blue waters of Banff National Park, it’s no secret that these protected areas hold secrets and vistas you likely won’t find anywhere else. In honor of the National Park Service’s 100th birthday, and Canada’s decision to open all Parks across the country for free in 2017, we thought we’d give you a taste of the Top 10 Parks on our bucket list. Get ready to book that plane ticket and lace up those hiking boots.