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.

Just Posted

Police officers and their dogs undergo training at the RCMP Police Dog Services training centre in Innisfail, Alta., on Wednesday, July 15, 2015. Mounties say they are searching for an armed and dangerous man near a provincial park in northern Alberta who is believed to have shot and killed a service dog during a police chase. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
RCMP search for armed man in northern Alberta after police dog shot and killed

Cpl. Deanna Fontaine says a police service dog named Jago was shot during the pursuit

Alberta now has 2,336 active cases of COVID-19, with 237 people in hospital, including 58 in intensive care. (Black Press file photo)
Red Deer down to 73 active cases of COVID-19, lowest since early November

The Central zone has 253 active cases of the virus

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a joint news conference following the EU-Canada Summit, in Brussels, Belgium, Tuesday June 15, 2021. Trudeau says Canada is on track now to have 68 million doses delivered by the end of July, which is more than enough to fully vaccinate all 33.2 million Canadians over the age of 12. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine deliveries enough to fully vaccinate all eligible Canadians by end of July

Three in four eligible Canadians now have their first dose, nearly one in five fully vaccinated.

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question during a news conference, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases attributed to the highly contagious Delta variant grew in Canada this week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s public health agency reports spike in confirmed cases of Delta variant

More than 2,000 cases of the variant confirmed across all 10 provinces and in one territory

The federal government says it wants to ban most flavoured vaping products in a bid to reduce their appeal to youth. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Craig Mitchelldyer
Health Canada proposes ban on most vaping flavours it says appeal to youth

If implemented, the regulations would restrict all e-cigarette flavours except tobacco, mint and menthol

The Montreal Police logo is seen in Montreal on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. Some Quebec politicians are calling for an investigation after a video was released that appears to show a Montreal police officer with his leg on a young Black man’s neck during an arrest. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Probe called for after video appearing to show Montreal officer’s knee on Black youth’s neck

Politicians call for investigation after clip evokes memories of George Floyd incident

Thousands of protesters make their way through the downtown core during a Black Lives Matter protest in Ottawa, Friday June 5, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
MPs’ study of systemic racism in policing concludes RCMP needs new model

Chair of the House public safety committee says it’s time for a reckoning on ‘quasi-military’ structure

A case filled with packages of boneless chicken breasts is shown in a grocery store Sunday, May 10, 2020, in southeast Denver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-David Zalubowski
One million chickens euthanized during labour dispute at Quebec slaughterhouse

Premier says waste amounts to 13 per cent of the province’s chicken production thrown in the garbage

A section of the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies is seen west of Cochrane, Alta., Thursday, June 17, 2021. A joint federal-provincial review has denied an application for an open-pit coal mine in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, saying its impacts on the environment and Indigenous rights aren’t worth the economic benefits it would bring. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Panel says Grassy Mountain coal mine in Alberta Rockies not in public interest

Public hearings on the project in southern Alberta’s Crowsnest Pass region were held last fall

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on Friday, February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
U.S. border restrictions to remain in place until at least July 21

Safety minister says Canada, U.S. extending restrictions on non-essential international travel

Most Read