|Parks and Protected Areas
The Underlying Threat: Addressing Subsurface Threats in Environment Canada's Protected Areas
Some of Canada's best wildlife habitat has been set aside in a network of 51 National Wildlife Areas and 92 Migratory Bird Sanctuaries that span all provinces and territories. This protected areas network is managed by Environment Canada and is critical to Canada's efforts to conserve biodiversity.
This protected areas network rivals the National Parks system in size: more than 12 million hectares of the nation's lands and waters, critical habitat for many federal species-at-risk, are conserved within this network including larger portions of at-risk southern ecosystems, like grasslands and Carolinian forest, than are found in our National Parks.
Despite the conservation significance of national wildlife areas and migratory bird sanctuaries, they remain legally exposed to the threat of subsurface oil, gas or mineral resource exploitation.
Neither of the federal statutes that provides for the creation of these areas – the Canada Wildlife Act and the Migratory Bird Convention Act, respectively – provides for permanent protection of subsurface lands. This is in significant contrast to National Parks and National Marine Conservation Areas, for which the empowering legislation – the Canada National Parks Act and the Canada National Marine Conservation Areas Act, respectively – provide full protection of the lands and waters within those areas from the sky to the 'core of the earth'.
In our report, The Underlying Threat: Addressing Subsurface Threats in Environment Canada's Protected Areas, we argue that our national wildlife areas and migratory bird sanctuaries could enjoy a higher level of protection. To do that, we offer 7 recommendations.
Since publishing our report earlier in 2012 at least one of our recommendations has been fulfilled: the adoption of an official policy for permitting prohibited activities in these protected spaces. This policy is an important step toward effectively managing Environment Canada's protected areas, though regulatory reform would be the most consistent, reliable way to reduce the threat of subsurface resource exploitation.
The Underlying Threat report reinforces a long-standing message from Canadians that our parks and other protected areas are meant for conservation and are off-limits to industrial development. By sharing this report with government decision-makers we can strengthen the existing regulations for national wildlife areas and migratory bird sanctuaries – all in the name of promoting responsible resource development and greater certainty for all stakeholders.
The Underlying Threat report was made possible with support from the Mountain Equipment Co-op's Community Contributions program.