Thank you, honourable Chair and honourable members. It's a pleasure to be invited to be here.
I represent the Canadian Wildlife Federation, celebrating its 50th birthday this year, with a mission for education and conservation. We're an NGO, and we're supported by and have been supported by over 300,000 ordinary Canadians.
After 58 meetings, I'm sure you have heard lots of statistics and lots of definitions, so I won't go on with “urban” and “conservation”. However, you may have realized that this is the first time in human history that more people are living in urban settings than in rural settings. Therefore, the mandate is large; the shift is on.
We have come up with some definitions of what “urban conservation” is or should be.
There should be an awareness at the basic grassroots level of our environment, built or natural; our role within it; and our consciousness to sustain, conserve, and improve where and how we live. Urban conservation speaks to all levels of community and is not relegated to a destination. It is actualized in all greenspaces, starting in the backyards, schoolyards, balconies, or planters and spreading out from there. Therefore, education is fundamental in achieving this shift of consciousness.
The second question is, what could be the goals of connecting urban Canadians with conservation?
They would be the following: to educate, facilitate, mentor, and demonstrate to Canadians how they can make a positive impact for themselves and for future generations through conservation efforts; to instill and develop the notion that every conservation effort counts, and that collectively individuals will recognize and realize positive change in their very own Canadian communities; to inspire Canadians to make healthy decisions regarding their leisure, family, and working time through experiential learning with their own communities on private and/or on public lands; to showcase Canadian urban conservation initiatives as models for others through sharing positive working solutions, our stewardship, and collaborative efforts at all levels of government; and to allow Canadians the opportunity to enjoy, appreciate, and learn about nature within their immediate community through sound, sustainable urban planning that includes rich open areas and greenspace.
What might the best practices in Canada be for this?
The national parks and derivatives of same are not easily accessible to many urbanized Canadians. This historic model continues to serve a purpose, but with the changing demographics a more community-centric approach is recommended. Canadian Wildlife Federation continues to provide positive exemplars in conservation, as it has for the past half century. CWF, as we are known, informs, inspires, and facilitates individuals, educators, private landowners, and organizations through education and active participation, showing how and why conservation is critical. These programs link Canadians with the Arctic and our oceans, forests, lakes, and rivers, and connect millions of students to practical conservation initiatives.
With regard to urban conservation initiatives currently in use, what are the best practices?
The biggest challenge to urban conservation is accessibility for all. One example, that being the Rouge Valley park, appears to follow a traditional Parks Canada model that is scaled to fit a particular parcel of land. This restorative approach is an excellent start, but it should be supplemented with a strong and visible development and an educational approach focused on sustainability and the urban conservation model.
CWF represents excellence in conservation program development and delivery, shown in programs such as Project WILD, which I'm sure you're familiar with, and Below Zero. These educational resources have been available to and incorporated into subject areas across the country by over 110,000 educators in Canada, reaching thousands of students annually.
Sturgeon Creek in Winnipeg, Manitoba, is a current example of urban conservation that is fully accessible to all by public transit, and it is working.
What are the economic, health, biodiversity, and social benefits associated with this?
The health benefits of open spaces, parks, greenspaces, trees, and plants have been documented for some time. Of late those benefits are increasing, from the obvious examples such as a cleaner air, noise abatement, and the calming effects of a natural setting to the less obvious psychological benefits and therapeutic advantages.
I coin this as “common sense living”. The definition of common sense living could relate to food, sustainable living, ecosystems, and wildlife as a complete and holistic approach to how we live our lives.
Metaphorically it's a web, beginning at home with the practice of initiatives such as maybe growing your own food in a container on your balcony or in your garden. This demonstrates, for youth in particular, that food doesn’t come from a box in a store and that physical input is rewarded in the harvest.
Life lessons such as these are a simple approach, and they abound: tolerance, acceptance, immediate habitat requirements, and consequences of actions. Conservation, urban or otherwise, begins in Canada with education on a smaller, more intimate scale, perhaps at home, which would be the centre of the web, and expanding out to the local pocket park or larger urban conservation areas within Canadian neighbourhoods.
Conservation also reflects a cultural aspect. The knowledge of how to grow something, preferably edible, is a dying art that also requires conservation. Intergenerational transfer of knowledge in areas of urban conservation, cultural and familial traditions, and finally a respect for the land, plants, and animals are in critical need of conservation also. Smaller, localized models and examples of conservation, gardening, and overall respect for the land, perhaps in the schoolyards of Canada, will reach and be more meaningful to a larger and more diverse community of Canadians.
In terms of the social benefits, the great outdoors is not a reasonable retreat for many Canadians. Smaller and more numerous urban conservation areas would be of more value to more Canadians. Urban conservation has an ability to forge and strengthen community, familial as well as new. Typically, these areas could and should provide recreation, exercise, and a sense of belonging to all Canadians. Properly designed models will go a long way to reducing the fears of the outdoors and will address security concerns.
Regarding learning, urban conservation venues should provide for experiential and transformational education in every season. They should give Canadians the tools to practise urban conservation at home with minimal costs and show numerous benefits. This leads to an understanding of why urban conservation is important and how Canadians can be involved in increasing their ability to become more self-sufficient.
Economic benefits could relate to increased jobs in construction and maintenance of new urban conservation venues. That is rather predictable. Industry growth in supplying living infrastructure would also occur. A more informed and conscientious population who actively engage in conservation with common sense lifestyles should benefit the nation as a whole. Of course, spending, investing, and procurement patterns may change. An improvement would seem reasonable on that front. Healthier Canadians equate to fewer sick days and decreased demands on our health care system.
How do we define a protected space? Regulations governing protected spaces are required. Currently, they do exist, but on a smaller scale; the users themselves would become the stewards. Active stewardship begins with and is intrinsically tied to education. Protecting spaces would be, in part, the responsibility of the users themselves, who would come to see their community as the proper owner. Protected spaces therefore should impose restrictions or limits on commercial development, not on the people who use them.
What role should the federal government play in urban conservation? Perhaps setting an example on all government properties would be a fairly easy start, as well as providing information to individuals on the benefits and importance of living in a more sustainable manner.
To my understanding, the federal government legislates, provides funds, and gives tax breaks. All three areas are in focus. As has been said today already, a collaborative approach with other levels of government, particularly within education, is key and fundamental as a role to be played in urban conservation. As well, perhaps there could be a National Capital Commission urban conservation demonstration venue within the national capital region. Using Ottawa as a good example, I cite the public garden at the Experimental Farm as something along those lines that is accessible.
Under the heading of funding, direct funding should be given to organizations that can implement these goals, take action, and achieve results focused on education and conservation, environment, and stewardship.
Finally I come to tax breaks. Incentives should be provided to agencies and individuals who perhaps plant trees, improve habitat, and/or actively engage in conservation efforts. Schools should be assisted to ensure every student has the opportunity to experience nature, understand conservation, and learn their stewardship role. One very easy and practical example that doesn't cost a lot of money would be transportation assistance.