|Parks and Protected Areas
On guard for Canadas national parks
National parks help protect Canadian wilderness areas against the juggernaut of industrial and commercial development. They preserve our nations unique ecosystems before they are lost forever.
Parliament sets aside and protects natural areas as national parks for the people of Canada. Most Canadians know national parks as places to vacation, camp, hike and canoe, but they are far more than just summer playgrounds. They are spectacular and serene landscapes that harbour globally significant wildlife populations and habitats of endangered species.
Our national parks system began in 1885 with the protection of several tiny hot springs in a 23-square kilometre reserve in Banff, Alberta. Today our 42 national parks include as much land as the entire country of New Zealand. But there is still plenty of room to grow. Twelve more parks are needed to complete the national parks system (land has been granted interim protection for two of these sites, at the East Arm of Great Slave Lake and Northern Bathurst Island.)
Since 1971, Nature Canada has played an important role in the protection of more than 125,000 square kilometres of lands and waters in Canadas national parks system. Our current priority is ensuring the creation of five new national parksthe Mealy Mountains in Newfoundland, Bathurst Island in Nunavut, Manitoba Lowlands, South Okanagan-Similkameen Valley in BC, and Wolf Lake in the Yukon.
Nature Canada also seeks to protect the ecological integrity of existing national parks, which face a broad range of threats:
Habitat loss - In Canada, over 90 per cent of Carolinian forests have been converted to farmland or towns. On the prairies, 99 per cent of the native tall-grass communities and 75 per cent of mixed grass communities have disappeared. In Atlantic Canada, 65 per cent of the coastal marshes have been drained of filled. Across northern Canada, only 35 per cent of the boreal forest remains undisturbed. Largely as a result of this habitat loss, many Canadian species are currently threatened.
Habitat fragmentation - Many species have difficulty surviving in habitats that are broken into isolated fragments. Roads and railways also cause direct wildlife mortality. Hundreds of large mammals and thousands of birds, amphibians and other creatures are killed on park roads each year.
Pesticides - Pesticides used outside of parks are being detected within parks. For example, the pesticide toxaphene was widely used outside national parks until two decades ago. It can disrupt endocrine systems, damage lungs, livers and kidneys, and cause problems with reproductive and immune systems, developmental disorders and cancer. Research at Bow Lake in Banff National Park has found toxaphene in some zooplancton, while trout in Bow Lake have toxaphene concentrations up to 20 times greater than other fish in the lake. The pesticide DDT has been found at significant levels in lake sediments and in fox snakes at Point Pelee National Park. High DDT levels have been correlated with reduced frog populations and species loss in several other parks and wildlife reserves.
Alien species - In Point Pelee National Park, garlic mustard is invading Carolinian forests and out-competing native species. In Gros-Morne National Park, moose and snowshoe hares introduced to Newfoundland several decades ago are altering habitat and vegetation regimes inside the park.
Over-use - Growing levesl of human use within most national parks have created crowding, overuse of facilities and infrastructure such as sewage treatment systems, over-development and other problems that in turn degrade water and air quality, cause erosion and damage wildlife habitat. In Waterton Lakes National Park, every valley has either a road or a hiking trail - or both. Only the most northerly parks have not yet been subject to high use demands.