Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Gift to the Earth - Celebrating Parks Canada's 100th birthday with an eye to the future

Good afternoon, Folks!

I'd like to recap a fantastic week for protected areas in Canada last week. You'll recall that Parks Canada Agency marked its 100th anniversary last Thursday, the same day it received a prestigious “Gift to the Earth” award from WWF International. Way to go Parks Canada!

One hundred years ago to the day, May 19th 1911, the Dominion Parks Branch (now the Parks Canada Agency) was created following the establishment of Banff National Park in 1885. This was the first national parks service in the world (Yellowstone National Park in the US was the first actual national park of its kind created in 1872) and has in many ways set the standard for how governments approach conservation in the national interest the world over.

Nature Canada representatives attended a ceremony last Thursday to commemorate this important historic milestone, at which Parks Canada proudly highlighted its progress on protecting representative examples of Canada’s 39 natural regions on land and 29 marine natural regions on water. You can read more about that progress, as well as forthcoming parks and marine conservation areas here. You can read more about specific conservation achievements here.

But Parks Canada and conservation organizations weren't just celebrating a 100th birthday and a major award last Thursday: the Agency also announced the remarkable expansion of Grasslands National Park through the addition of 110 square kilometers of native mixed prairie grassland on the park's existing West Block!

Grasslands are one of the most threatened ecosystems in North America and the world and, as Canada's only national park in the Prairie Grasslands natural region, Grasslands National Park is home to several nationally-listed species at risk. Nature Canada and other organizations are working to safeguard Canada's remaining grasslands in the Prairies region and British Columbia's dry southern interior. (In fact, you can help us better protect a National Wildlife Area in Canada's Prairie region by taking action here.)

You can celebrate Parks Canada's Centennial and its ongoing work to conserve Canada's epic wild spaces all year long with monthly themes focused on Canada's natural and cultural heritage.

Nature Canada celebrates all of Parks Canada's conservation achievements and seconds WWF International’s choice for the Gift to the Earth award. Alongside other organizations, we have worked hard to support and advocate for the establishment of national parks across Canada to protect our wildlife and their habitats. And we’re poised for more exciting announcements by Parks Canada about further progress toward completing Canada’s national park/ marine conservation areas system. With parks and marine conservation areas currently in progress, Parks Canada is set to expand the national park/marine conservation area system by an additional 28% beyond its existing size – to over 410,000 square kilometers.

One of the sites Nature Canada and other groups are working hard to establish is the proposed South Okanagan-Similkameen National Park Reserve in British Columbia’s southern dry interior. That region is Canada’s “pocket desert” and is a truly unique ecological region that we need to protect before it’s too late. CBC recently did a piece on the issues surrounding that park proposal on The National television broadcast, which you can watch here.

Here's to another great year for national parks, national marine conservation areas and other protected areas in Canada! And don't forget to remind your newly elected Members of Parliament how you would like them to protect these and other 'naturally breathtaking' spaces.

Daybreak at La Mauricie National Park of Canada, Qu├ębec (A. MacDonald)
Paddler's bliss in Kejimkujik National Park & National Historic Site, Nova Scotia (A. MacDonald)