There have been a few mistakes made in the 100 years since Canada established the world’s first national parks service.
Take St. Lawrence Islands National Park, for instance.
It was created in 1904 and was the first Canadian national park east of the Rocky Mountains. But the wolves that were once the primary predators on the tiny collection of 21 islands were allowed to disappear. That led to an overabundance of deer that fed on the rare plants, such as American ginseng, that make the park special.
So the officials at Parks Canada had to innovate. They agreed to allow hunters from nearby Akwesasne to cull a certain number of deer every year, keeping aboriginal traditions alive while preserving the flora that was in danger of disappearing forever.
It was an important lesson for Canadian parks – but also for those around the world that have come to rely on the innovation and expertise of Parks Canada’s scientists.
Over the past century, “I think we as a country, and we as an organization, have developed approaches to conservation, to visitor experiences, to restoration, to new park establishment that are now seen as international examples,” said Alan Latourelle, chief executive officer of the Parks Canada Agency.
Foreign parks managers are now coming to Canada to ask for advice and assistance as they establish and improve their own parks systems.
After all, it was Parks Canada that defined the concept of ecological integrity and determined that it would be the driver for future parks expansion – something that is now being embraced internationally.
It was Parks Canada that developed a scientific monitoring system to measure ecological health.
And it is Parks Canada that is leading the world in restoration efforts, many of them underwater. The work that was done to repair the harm done by forestry to 12 lakes in La Mauricie National Park in Quebec and to return native species of fish to the Devon Lakes in Banff National Park is being replicated in other countries.
“Our objective is to connect people to these national parks but also to show international leadership in terms of the conservation objectives that we have for national parks,” Mr. Latourelle said.
The challenges of managing a park are not very different from country to country, he added. “The species may be different. In Africa, it may be elephants, versus grizzlies here. But the approach to conservation and human/wildlife issues are quite consistent across all of these countries.”
Canada was one of the first countries in the world, for instance, to use controlled burns to restore habitats. That meant it had to be one of the first to learn how to safely burn sections of forest with the co-operation of local communities.
It was also among the first to use overpasses and underpasses to prevent animals and cars from colliding.
Even as other countries line up to tap such experience, however, it is the ability to measure ecological degradation that may be Canada’s biggest advance.
Developed by Stephen Woodley, the head of ecosystem sciences in the National Parks Directorate, the process has been adopted in whole or in part by parks systems around the globe, including those in the United States, South Korea and Finland.
“We use the measurement to decide what needs to be fixed and what’s the standard against how we will fix it,” Mr. Woodley said. “We are really talking about the health of the land.”