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Wilderness and Species Conservation

Wild areas, and the wildlife that lives in them, are increasingly under threat across Canada, from industrial resource extraction, climate change and development pressures. While early settlers in Canada wrote of eking out existences in our vast wilderness areas, today almost half of these natural areas have been degraded, fragmented and impaired by industrial use or out rightly converted to cities, towns and farms.

One means of protecting our remaining wild spaces and wildlife is by creating protected areas, at federal and provincial levels. However, although protected areas do often offer wilderness areas a reprieve from the onslaught of development and industrial use, they also raise numerous conservation challenges.

Inside some protected areas, the success of the management commitment to prioritize the protection of ecological integrity is highly questionable; conservationists are working in many areas to keep industrial and commercial operations from working within protected areas.

Further, while gap analysis reveals that the majority of natural regions are still under-represented in protected areas, parks are often conceived of as enough; that is, once an area is protected, the surrounding landscape is perceived as ‘open for business.’

Finally, although park boundaries are easily communicable to humans, they pose a challenge to the protection of wildlife, as wildlife frequently moves between park boundaries and the surrounding landscape.

Thus recent years have seen the promotion of protected areas on a broader scale, by designing and implementing conservation area designs, which give consideration to a variety of protection, mitigation and restoration measures across an entire landscape, including core protected areas, buffer zones, special management areas and connectivity corridors. Land use plans that incorporate conservation area designs are currently being used to advocate the protection of wildlife and wilderness areas in the Yellowstone to Yukon and Adirondacks to Algonquin initiatives.

The opportunity to plan at broader scales to protect regional, and even national ecosystems is especially pertinent as, at present, there are vast wilderness areas in Canada’s northern boreal forest that have not yet been allocated to industry or set aside as protected areas. Integrated land-use planning processes that incorporate conservation biology and include local and Aboriginal communities and environmental, non-government organizations should occur prior to deciding the fate of presently unallocated wilderness areas.

Sadly, loss and degradation of habitat has already devastated populations of wildlife species in Canada, as it is responsible for the endangerment of more than 75 percent of the 402 species on our national Species at Risk list. Endangered species legislation, though weak at the federal level and variant from province to province, has the potential to aid in our work to protect endangered and threatened species, if used to its full extent.

To read more about our wilderness campaigns, select one of our campaign links on the right-hand side of this page.


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Value of Parks
at Risk

Papers from the Oct. 2006 public information forum, Looking Ahead to Alberta Parks' 75TH Anniversary: The Value of Parks for Communities.

Sierra Club of Canada National Office