OTTAWA — Canada needs to get its act together and pony up big bucks for wildland conservation if it’s going to reach its international commitments, says a federally commissioned report.
It says meeting a goal of protecting 17 per cent of Canada’s land mass by 2020 will require significant cash — more than $800 million annually for the first few years and more than $500 million after that.
Too many jurisdictions and departments involved in protecting landscapes are blocking progress toward Canada’s promise, said Janet Sumner, a member of a national panel advising Ottawa on how to reach its goal.
“There are something like over 100 different acts and legislature tools across this country that are there for landscape protection,” said Sumner. “If you’re going to deal with this in any kind of way, the goal is really to try and streamline that. We need to get acts co-ordinated and aligned.”
Sumner’s panel, which includes representatives from environmental groups, First Nations and industry, released its report Friday.
It points out current ways of creating protected areas aren’t getting much done. Canada has protected 10.6 per cent of its land mass, an increase of only one per cent since 2010.
“There needs to be a fundamentally new approach,” the report concludes. “The existing structure has not proven successful.”
It recommends a national agency to co-ordinate and oversee all efforts. It would be backed by a political agreement between Ottawa, the provinces and territories, with significant input from First Nations.
Much of the money the report recommends is already in place, said Sumner. Ottawa has committed $1.3 billion for wildlife conservation and pots of money exist all over the country. Existing programs could be reconfigured to meet conservation goals as well as their initial aims, she said.
“I would not imagine it would all come out of one pocket. It would come out of several and it would come out of several governments.”
The report also sees a strong role for First Nations. Many of the areas that would be protected are either traditional or treaty lands.
It says the Indigenous Guardians program, already in place in national parks such as Gwaii Haanas in British Columbia, should be expanded.
It also emphasizes that protected areas that are close to each other are stronger than isolated ones.
Jodi Hilty of the Yellowstone to Yukon Initiative praised the document’s focus on connecting protected areas.
“I get really excited when I see them talking about large landscapes,” she said.
National conservation agencies are already in place and getting results in places such as Europe and Australia, Hilty said.
Cynthia Waldmeier of the Mining Association of Canada, which had a member on the panel, liked the emphasis on First Nations.
“We are pleased to see that the report provides a greater emphasis on the inclusion of Indigenous peoples in protected areas planning,” she said in an email.
Alison Ronson of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, which also had members on the panel, said some kind of national approach to protected areas is vital.
“All of the provinces and the territories report back on the status of their protected areas and they don’t all have a common understanding of what the (international) categories and standards are. There’s uneven reporting across the country.”
The report is to be discussed at a meeting later this month between federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna and her Alberta counterpart Shannon Phillips, who are leading the conservation effort. It will be considered along with a similar document from an Indigenous panel.
Grant Hogg of the Canadian Wildlife Service, who is part of the team trying to reach the 17 per cent target, said the federal government is aware of the need to co-ordinate action.
“Integration, collaboration, the development of standards and best practices, how to plan for continuity of habitat rather than do it in an ad hoc way. We want to be a little bit more organized.”
— By Bob Weber in Edmonton. Follow @row1960 on Twitter
The Canadian Press