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

Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported an additional 456 COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Five new COVID-19 deaths in Central zone, two in Red Deer

Province reports 456 new cases of COVID-19

The team that disconnected, lifted and loaded the old Bobtail Road bridge. (Photo submitted)
Bobtail Road bridge moves to new home in Meridian Beach

The 100-year-old bridge was moved Jan. 14

Whether the Town of Ponoka gets enough ‘bang for its buck’ under its Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) membership was discussed during town council March 26.
File photo
Town of Ponoka appoints Sandra Lund as CAO

Ponoka town council voted unanimously at its regular meeting on Jan.12 to… Continue reading

Kelowna RCMP Stock Image.
Ponoka RCMP respond to several B&E’s

Calls include complaint of a spray painted garage

Black Press file photo
Maskwacis male charged with 2nd degree murder

18-year-old Kaydence Clark Roasting of Ermineskin Cree Nation was arrested at his residence.

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

In this March 28, 2017, file photo, a dump truck hauls coal at Contura Energy’s Eagle Butte Mine near Gillette, Wyo. Public opposition to the Alberta government’s plans to expand coal mining in the Rocky Mountains appears to be growing. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mead Gruver, File
Alberta cancels coal leases, pauses future sales, as opposition increases

New Democrat environment critic Marlin Schmidt welcomed the suspension

COVID update Jan. 19
Ponoka County COVID-19 numbers on steady decline

Numbers of active cases of COVID-19 have continued to drop in Ponoka… Continue reading

File photo
Wetaskiwin Crime Reduction Unit recovers valuable stolen property

Property valued at over $50,000 recovered by Wetaskiwin Crime Reduction Unit.

In this March 28, 2017, file photo, a dump truck hauls coal at Contura Energy’s Eagle Butte Mine near Gillette, Wyo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mead Gruver, File)
First Nations seek to intervene in court challenge of coal policy removal

Bearspaw, Ermineskin and Whitefish First Nations are among those looking to intervene

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau vows to keep up the fight to sway U.S. on merits of Keystone XL pipeline

Canada’s pitch to the Biden team has framed Keystone XL as a more environmentally friendly project than original

Central Alberta’s Catherine Hayreceived a letter from the Government of Canada recently stating she had to repay the government. Photo submitted
Central Albertan asked to repay CERB amount

Catherine Hay says she received a letter in November saying she had to completely repay the benefit

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
No Pfizer vaccines arriving in Canada next week; feds still expect 4M doses by end of March

More cases of U.K. variant, South African variant found in Canada

Health-care workers wait in line at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Canadians who have had COVID-19 should still get the vaccine, experts say

Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were found to have a 95 per cent efficacy

Most Read