Mount Charles Stewart in the Alberta Rockies is shown near Canmore, Alta., on Sept. 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Mount Charles Stewart in the Alberta Rockies is shown near Canmore, Alta., on Sept. 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Protected areas may not safeguard all that Canadians need them to: research

A remote watershed in northern British Columbia may filter a lot of water, but it all runs into the ocean

The natural regions Canada protects don’t line up that well with where Canadians actually need them, research suggests.

A paper published Tuesday concludes that the country’s vast network of parks isn’t adequately safeguarding areas that provide fresh water and recreation to nearby populations. It also saysover half of the areas Canadians rely on for those benefits are facing mining, energy or forestry pressure.

“We need to start considering those other benefits,” said Matthew Mitchell, lead author of the paper in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

The paper looks at which parts of the country are able to provide fresh water, carbon storage and recreational opportunities, and where those benefits are most needed.

A remote watershed in northern British Columbia may filter a lot of water, but it all runs into the ocean. A stream in the Alberta foothills may not hold as much, but it all flows into rivers on which millions depend.

An Arctic national park may be spectacular, but a beauty spot in the south is likely to be more affected by heavy visitor numbers.

The research found “hot spots” where those environmental assets are both abundant and heavily used. It says the areas line up poorly with Canada’s protected areas network.

“Some of the convenient places to put these big protected areas in the past have been places that are beautiful areas of rock and ice, but not necessarily where people benefit,” said Aerin Jacob of the Yellowstone to Yukon conservation initiative and a co-author of the paper.

It says the hot spots are coming under increasing pressure: up to two-thirds of the areas most important for freshwater, carbon storage or recreation are also subject to resource extraction.

One of them is the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, not only a source of drinking water all the way into southern Saskatchewan, but a place of great beauty that millions visit.

“Those eastern slopes just pop right out as a place that’s really important,” said Mitchell.

But the area is heavily logged and drilled. The Alberta government has recently opened up large parts of the eastern slopes for coal mining, a decision being challenged in court.

Mitchell said the paper isn’t meant to critique Canada’s approach to protected areas, which conserve millions of square kilometres of natural habitat from coast to coast to coast and into the oceans.

But as populations and economies grow, he said, land-use planners will have to start considering other landscape values than what can be cut or dug out.

“It highlights the challenge of conserving some of these places.”

Parks aren’t the only tool, Mitchell said. Indigenous protected areas or stewardship agreements with landowners can all work.

Canadians are going to have to get serious about tough choices about their land, he suggested.

“When we’re thinking about recreation and water, it’s a really complex landscape. We need to think more creatively about how we do (industrial activity), but in ways that conserve those ecosystem services.”

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Crown prosecutors have stayed attempted murder charges against Kelowna’s Jesse Pez. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
Man accused in Kelowna Halloween stabbing has attempted murder charge stayed

The Crown only proceeds with charges when evidence provides ‘a substantial likelihood of conviction’

Toronto’s Mass Vaccination Clinic is shown on Sunday January 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Interior Health reports 2 more deaths, 83 new COVID-19 cases

Health authority also identifies new virus cluster in Fernie

A rendering of the proposed “Aqua” resort in Kelowna’s Lower Mission area. (Contributed)
Towering waterfront resort planned in Kelowna

Mission Group’s ‘Aqua’ resort has been in the works for more than a decade

A pair of Okanagan Regional Library reference librarians have created a podcast called Hard Cover that takes a zany but informative look at books, libraries and librarians. (File photo)
Okanagan reference librarians produce quirky podcast

Davin Helkenberg and Peter Critchley are behind Hard Cover

Okanagan Symphony Orchestra music director Rosemary Thomson in action at the podium. Photo by Lynda Miller.
Kelowna filmmaker gets funding to create new ‘Local Heroes’ documentary

The documentary will be focused on the director of the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra and Opera

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addresses the media during a news conference at the BC Centre of Disease Control in Vancouver B.C. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
B.C. announces 485 new COVID-19 cases, fewest deaths in months

‘The actions we take may seem small, but will have a big impact to stop the virus,” urges Dr. Henry

RCMP released this photo on Jan. 27, 2021 of Terrance Jones, 40, a Caucasian man with a closely shaved head, brown eyes, dirty blonde or brown hair, and a thin mustache and beard. The inside of his right arm is covered in tattoos, including one of a face. (Kamloops RCMP photo)
RCMP want public’s help to locate Shuswap man wanted on charge of attempted murder

Sicamous man was arrested previously on Jan. 11 for allegedly breaching conditions of release

Royal B.C. Museum conservator Megan Doxsey-Whitfield kneels next to a carved stone pillar believed to have significance as a First Nations cultural marker by local Indigenous people. The pillar was discovered on the beach at Dallas Road last summer. Museum curatorial staff have been working with Songhees and Esquimalt Nation representatives to gain a clearer picture of its use. (Photo courtesy Royal BC Museum)
Stone carving found on Victoria beach confirmed Indigenous ritual pillar

Discussion underway with the Esquimalt and Songhees about suitable final home for the artifact

Former Vancouver Giants forward Evander Kane is seen here in Game 7 of the second round of the 2009 WHL playoffs against the Spokane Chiefs (Sam Chan under Wikipedia Commons licence)
Gambling debts revealed in details of bankruptcy filing by hockey star Evander Kane

Sharks left winger and former Vancouver Giants player owes close to $30 million total

Othman “Adam” Hamdan, pictured in front of Christina Lake’s Welcome Centre, was acquitted of terrorism related charges in 2017. He has been living in Christina Lake since November 2020. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Man acquitted on terrorism charges awaits deportation trial while living in Kootenays

Othman Ayed Hamdan said he wants to lead a normal life while he works on his upcoming book

B.C. Premier John Horgan wears a protective face mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 prior to being sworn in by The Honourable Janet Austin, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia during a virtual swearing in ceremony in Victoria, Thursday, November 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Premier Horgan calls jumping COVID vaccine queue ‘un-Canadian’

Horgan says most people in B.C. are doing their best to follow current public health guidelines

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Vernon’s Noric House long-term care facility is dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
COVID-19: Two more deaths at Vernon’s Noric House

Total deaths climb to 17 at local long-term care outbreaks

Most Read