Good afternoon, and thank you for this opportunity to share with the committee our recommendations for a national conservation plan.
My name is Alison Woodley. I'm the national conservation director at CPAWS.
My presentation today will focus primarily on the fundamental elements that we believe are essential for a national conservation plan to effectively advance conservation in Canada. We will also present a more detailed brief in the coming weeks that will elaborate more on our detailed recommendations.
CPAWS is Canada's voice for public wilderness protection. Since our creation in 1963, we've played a key role in the establishment of over two-thirds of Canada's protected areas. We have 13 regional chapters in nearly every province and territory, as well as a national office here in Ottawa. We have over 50,000 active supporters across the country.
Our vision is that Canada will protect at least half of our public lands and waters.
Over the past few years, CPAWS has welcomed significant steps forward, including the sixfold expansion of Nahanni National Park Reserve in 2009 and the creation of Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area in B.C. in 2010.
CPAWS worked hand in hand for many years with first nations communities, other partners, and governments to support these protected areas. For our Nahanni work, we were honoured last fall—with Dehcho First Nations and Parks Canada—with the Royal Canadian Geographical Society's prestigious gold medal for our collaborative efforts to expand the park.
Establishing large protected areas like these is critical, but we now know that to safeguard healthy ecosystems, we need to do more. We need to integrate our protected areas into sustainably managed land and seascapes so that wildlife can move between them. It's particularly important in the context of climate change. We need to allow plants and animals the space they need to shift and adapt to changing conditions.
Nature conversation enjoys broad support in Canada. Wildlife and wilderness are part of our national identity. Polling consistently shows that Canadians strongly support conservation action. Canada stewards about 20% of the world's remaining intact wild spaces and we have the world's longest coastline.
Clearly, we have an unique opportunity to embrace an ambitious conservation agenda. A full 90% of lands are publicly owned in Canada, as well as all of our waters, so Canadians have an important role in determining their future. But to date, only 10% of our lands and 1% of our oceans have been protected.
This is less than the global average and much less than what's needed to secure our natural heritage for the future. We still have a lot of work to do.
Let me next share our recommendations for the basic elements of the national conservation plan. First, we believe the plan should focus on large land and seascape scale conservation. We support framing a plan with the basic elements of protect, connect, restore, and engage.
The “protect” component should focus on ensuring that large core areas of wildlife habitat are protected in each region of Canada, as a cornerstone of the plan. This requires completing networks of protected areas on land and in the marine environment.
The “connect” component should focus on ensuring protected areas are integrated within sustainably managed land and seascapes, with the goal of allowing wildlife to move between protected areas, and to support the healthy ecosystems we need to sustain our own human communities.
Strong environmental legislation, best industrial practices and certification, stewardship programs, and conservation-focused land and marine planning processes are among the key tools.
The “restore” component is about restoring degraded ecosystems and recovering species at risk. These two require collaborative stewardship tools and strong environmental laws.
Finally, the “engage” component reflects the importance of connecting Canadians with nature. We need to build a community of stewards who will support nature conservation in the future. There are lots of opportunities for partnerships here, including with conservation groups such as CPAWS, Ducks Unlimited, and the David Suzuki Foundation.
Different approaches will be needed in different regions of Canada, and the plan needs to reflect this. For example, in settled southern areas there is more focus on restoration and private stewardship. In the far north, conservation-first land-use planning, led by indigenous communities, offers a major opportunity for progress.
To drive progress, the national conservation plan needs to set clear and ambitious goals and science-based targets, and then measure and report progress toward these.
We recommend that Canada demonstrate international leadership by committing to exceeding the conversation targets under the Convention on Biological Diversity.
These so-called Aichi targets include a commitment to protect 17% of our lands and 10% of our waters by 2020. We suggest that Canada commit to more than that—that we commit to protecting 20% of our lands and 10% of our oceans in protected areas by 2020. We believe this is an ambitious and achievable next step.
To be successful, the national conservation plan needs to build on innovative, large landscape scale conservation initiatives that are already under way across the country. These are led by governments, citizens, indigenous communities, conservation groups, industry, and in many cases, broad partnerships between these various groups.
A great example is the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement. CPAWS and eight other environmental organizations signed this agreement with 21 members of the Forest Products Association of Canada nearly two years ago.
The agreement is an example of a large landscape scale initiative in action. It applies to over 76 million hectares of forest from Newfoundland to British Columbia, and it commits the parties to work together towards six strategic goals, including maintaining protected areas, having world-leading sustainable practices, recovering species at risk—in particular woodland caribou—addressing climate change as it relates to forest conservation, improving forest-sector prosperity, and encouraging marketplace recognition for environmental performance.
It's an innovative approach that has significant potential to help deliver a national conservation plan across a vast area of Canada's boreal forest. It's also important to recognize the enormous co-benefits that are derived from conservation, including significant economic benefits.
We will elaborate on that in our more detailed brief, but just as one example, in 2009, Canada's national provincial and territorial parks contributed $4.6 billion to Canada's GDP. They supported 64,000 jobs and provided $337 million in tax revenues for governments.
CPAWS welcomes the opportunity to continue to participate in the ongoing discussions about the development of a national conservation plan. We appreciate the ability to present some of our initial high-level thoughts today, and we will be submitting a more detailed brief, as I mentioned, and would be pleased to meet with committee members at any time to continue this discussion.
Thank you once again for the opportunity to share our thoughts. I look forward to our discussion.