Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I'd like to first of all thank the committee for inviting Parks Canada to speak about our role in the development of a national conservation plan.
I would like to reinforce the comments Mr. Keenan has made regarding the value of a national approach to conservation that builds on existing successes and identifies innovative approaches to conserving the health and diversity of Canada's wildlife and ecosystems for the benefit of current and future generations of Canadians.
We're hearing from our counterparts in North America and other countries that coherent broad-based approaches to conservation are central to sustaining our ecosystems, economies, and the communities we all live in.
As you are aware, Parks Canada, along with our partners and stakeholders, contributes significantly to the key elements around which a national conservation plan can be framed, particularly in the thematic areas that the ministers' round table participants told us are important to them.
Parks Canada is reaching out to urban, new, and young Canadians, for example. We are developing new models for establishing protected areas. And we are using state-of-the-art technologies in our conservation and engagement actions. Our successes in these areas are due, in no small part, to our strong collaborative partnerships with the provinces and territories, aboriginal people, the private sector, and non-governmental conservation organizations.
I would like to take just a few minutes to outline for the committee how Parks Canada's mandate and some of our recent successes can provide an important basis for building a national conservation plan. These include conserving large natural spaces; connecting ecosystems and habitats; restoring ecosystems and habitats and bringing back native species; and connecting Canadians' hearts and minds and engaging them with nature. We have many successes to build upon and we are taking steps with our partners in all four areas.
As you know, recent successes in protecting large, natural spaces have included several world-leading achievements, which led the World Wildlife Fund International to bestow the “Gift to the Earth” award to Parks Canada in 2011.
The establishment of the Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve and Haida Heritage Site, in partnership with the Haida Nation, in 2010 led to Canada achieving a world first: a protected area that extends from alpine mountain tops to the deep sea floor.
In 2009 the Nahanni National Park Reserve was expanded to six times its original size through a strong collaboration with the Dehcho First Nations and with the support of the Government of the Northwest Territories. This was a landmark achievement for Canada, possibly one of the greatest in a generation. The expansion of the Nahanni National Park Reserve protected magnificent natural spaces. It also ensured that the Nahanni watershed will remain connected and that iconic wildlife like the grizzly bear, woodland caribou, and Dall sheep would continue to roam freely across this northern landscape.
In 2006 the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario signed an agreement to designate the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area, which, at 10,000 square kilometres, is the world's largest freshwater protected area. Since 2006 the Government of Canada has taken actions resulting in the creation of new protected areas within Parks Canada's network, or that have set the stage for future conservation decisions, totalling over 150,000 square kilometres. This will result in a 54% increase in Parks Canada's system of national parks and other protected areas.
In the southern regions of Canada, wildlife habitats have become fragmented, and opportunities for species to move and adapt to changing conditions are increasingly limited. Innovative solutions such as the construction of wildlife overpasses and underpasses, where the Trans-Canada Highway runs its course through our Rocky Mountain National Parks, allow bears, elk, and other native animals to range freely through their habitat without the risk of collision with automobiles.
We're also finding solutions to make sure that the health and integrity of our treasured natural places remain strong. We're using space-based technology, in collaboration with the Canadian Space Agency and the Canada Centre for Remote Sensing, to map and monitor the health of Canada's most remote northern parks.
Where it's needed, we're taking action on the ground; for example, through completing a massive restoration of lakes and rivers impacted by past logging practices in La Mauricie National Park in Quebec.
Also, we're bringing back native species. The reintroduction back into Grasslands National Park of plains bison and the black-footed ferret, which was thought to have been extinct for most of the 20th century, are inspiring examples of success in restoring the natural landscape.
Canadians continue to be inspired by their national park and national marine conservation areas. As they celebrated our centennial with us last year, we took innovative steps, especially with urban and new Canadians, to help them connect with the environment and get out into nature.
For example, many outreach activities were organized to celebrate Parks Canada's centennial in urban areas. In collaboration with multiple partners, we brought genuine Parks Canada experiences to downtown Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver through a day of hands-on activities for urban Canadians to learn more about Canada's protected heritage areas. Our innovative learn-to-camp program opens the door to new opportunities for urban and new Canadians to get outdoors and interact with the natural world while experiencing a unique Canadian camping experience.
Parks Canada also offers a number of exciting and connecting opportunities for youth to understand and experience their national treasures. Among these are programs like My Parks Pass, encouraging grade eight students and their families to come to their national park and connect with nature.
Another example is the Xplorers program, helping children ages six to eleven discover and explore Parks Canada places by means of a booklet that contains a selection of fun activities. In 2011 over 70,000 children participated in this program, at 43 places across the country.
New technologies are allowing us to provide enhanced experiences for our visitors. Through Explora, for example, visitors and hikers at more than a dozen Parks Canada sites across the country can now access GPS-triggered tours about the nature and history of the location using their smart phones.
In addition, Parks Canada has partnered on innovative broadcast productions to reach Canadians where they work, live, and play. Over the last two years Parks Canada has connected Canadians to their national protected places through productions such as A Park for All Seasons, Operation Unplugged, La Part du Monde, and the Gemini-award-winning National Parks Project.
As we reach out and connect with young Canadians, we are listening to them and enabling them to contribute to defining the future of conservation in Canada. In February of this year, for example, Parks Canada hosted workshops with youth from the greater Toronto area to gain their perspectives to help shape the vision and concept of Canada's first national urban park in the Rouge Valley. Youth engagement will continue as the establishment process evolves.
We continue to hear from our stakeholders that national parks and other protected areas must remain a cornerstone of Canada's approach to conservation. New and innovative approaches to the establishment of new protected areas, like the Rouge Valley national urban park, can serve as models for new elements of Canada's conservation toolbox.
Our stakeholders are also telling us that we need to work broadly, engaging all parts of Canadian society in implementing a full spectrum of conservation activities. A national conservation plan could serve as a framework for bringing together new partners in the fisheries, agriculture, and forestry sectors, for example, to find innovative ways to connect protected areas together through ecologically healthy and sustainably managed working landscapes and seascapes.
A national conservation plan has the potential to inspire Canadians to work together in delivering on our conservation commitments. With protected areas as a key pillar, these renewed efforts can also provide benefits beyond biodiversity conservation by securing services like clean air and clean water that Canadians and our economy depend on.
Canada's national parks, national marine conservation areas and other protected areas can serve as the conveners and catalysts for bringing Canadians together in working towards a shared vision for conservation.
Parks Canada looks forward to the points of view and insight of the committee on the development of a national conservation plan.