Like islands in a restless ocean of human activity and development, many of Canada’s national parks serve as crucial refuges for threatened species and ecosystems.
Now, a new federal initiative aims to broaden the reach of some of Canada’s most ecologically sensitive national parks by harnessing nearby private land for achieving conservation goals.
Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault unveiled the initiative, called the Landscape Resiliency Program, at an outdoor press conference near Ottawa on Tuesday.
The program, funded equally by Parks Canada and the Nature Conservancy of Canada, will direct $30-million toward enabling the purchase, donation or recognition of private land that can benefit species near 10 national parks across the country. The land will add to a network of locations where habitat is suitable for supporting threatened species associated with a particular park, even when that habitat is not immediately adjacent to the park boundary.
“Conservation in Canada goes beyond simply protecting isolated pockets of nature,” Mr. Guilbeault said. “It also involves understanding the importance of ecological connectivity.”
Last year, Canada committed to protecting 30 per cent of its total land area by 2030 under the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity. Since then, the country has edged closer to that goal, increasing protected areas by one million hectares during the past month alone, Mr. Guilbeault said.
By that measure, the amount of new land that could be added to that total by the new program is modest – up to 30,000 hectares, or about one half the area of Toronto – by the end of 2025. But because of the proximity to national parks, often in places where there are few other protected areas, the impact could be consequential for species at risk.
“It’s really at the landscape level that we’re trying to have meaningful conservation outcomes,” said Marie-Michèle Rousseau-Clair, chief conservation officer with the conservancy. The approach, she said, involves asking “what do we need to protect to make sure that the areas in which those parks are located can be resilient.”
From west to east, the 10 parks include:
- Gulf Islands National Park Reserve and Kootenay National Park (British Columbia)
- Waterton Lakes National Park (Alberta)
- Grasslands National Park (Saskatchewan)
- Thousand Islands, Bruce Peninsula and Point Pelee National Parks (Ontario)
- La Mauricie National Park (Quebec)
- Kouchibouguac National Park (New Brunswick)
- Kejimkujik National Park & National Historic Site (Nova Scotia)
The announcement also noted that more parks could be added to the list in the future. Among those named, most are located in the southern parts of Canada where biodiversity is most concentrated and where the human footprint is largest.
In some places – for example, near Ontario’s Point Pelee National Park – high property values would be far in excess of the the program’s $30-million budget.
Ms. Rousseau-Clair said that was why the program was not limited to purchasing land for conservation but also includes negotiating donations or conservation agreements with landowners to optimize the ecological benefits of private property near the parks. In some areas the program could also support Indigenous-led conservation efforts.
Ryan Norris, a conservation biologist at the University of Guelph who has worked with the Nature Conservancy but who is not involved with the new program, said the agency stood to increase its impact by partnering with the national parks.
He added that while the conservancy can be more nimble than Ottawa at identifying and negotiating agreements for protecting nature on private land, the effort would benefit by operating around park land.
In a study published last month in the journal Biological Conservation, Dr. Norris and co-authors found that habitat connectivity was highest around government held land, compared with private protected areas in Canada.
“Generally, national parks house a pretty high degree of biodiversity,” Dr. Norris said. “If you can increase the amount of protected area around them, or restore areas to add to the total, I think that’s all a positive.”