- - Parks & Protected Areas

Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario



Canadians take pride in their National and Provincial parks and other protected areas, assuming that they will safeguard our natural heritage for generations to come, as well as provide opportunities for low-intensity recreation such as canoeing, hiking, camping and viewing of wildlife.


Unfortunately, however, parks and their ecosystems across Canada face many challenges. Only a small percentage of lands are classified as protected, especially in the most populated southern portion of the country. Protected areas that do exist are often far too small to ensure the long term survival of the ecosystems and species within them. Park ecosystems are threatened by rapid climate change. They are being degraded by inappropriate industrial activities outside their boundaries. Park boundaries are not secure, and there is a growing number of cases in which they are being redrawn to facilitate industrial or commercial development. Often park management plans are not based on ecological principles. As a result, industrial and commercial development, as well as inappropriate recreational activities, are being permitted within park boundaries. Finally, protected areas are poorly interconnected, resulting in isolated wildlife populations.

Bison reintroduced to Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan




Atlantic Ocean, Bay of Fundy and Gulf of St. Lawrence


Little attempt has yet been made to establish a network of Marine protected areas in Atlantic coastal waters and farther offshore, which face threats from overfishing and offshore oil drilling and supertanker traffic.


Newfoundland and Labrador:


Gros Morne National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has faced an endless series of threats over the years. Most recently, a proposal for hydraulic fracking along its border has been put on hold while the issue of fracking in the province is studied.

Nova Scotia:


The newly established Sable Island National Park Reserve is not fully protected from oil and gas development, which could have a devastating impact on the island’s fragile ecosystem. The ecological integrity and natural beauty of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park coast at Green Cove, a proposed geoheritage site, is threatened by plans to construct a massive war monument and related infrastructure.


On February 5, 2016, following public pressure to protect National Parks from inappropriate development, Parks Canada rejected the proposal to construct a massive monument at Green Cove in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. It has also stated that the project will not be permitted elsewhere on Parks Canada land. See Friends of Green Cove website.


New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island:


New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island lack viable provincial park systems because so little land has been protected. National parks in the two provinces are also very small and their ecosystems are often compromised by inappropriate activities inside and outside park boundaries.




The Lac-Saint-Pierre UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park and many other important sites along the lower St. Lawrence River are threatened now that tankers have begun to use the waterway to transport tar sands oil to foreign markets. There are plans to construct a major oil terminal on the proposed Energy East pipeline directly across the river from the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park and in critical habitat of beluga whales which ate a threatened species. 




Many Ontario parks are threatened by hydro developments as documented by the Ontario Rivers Alliance. The boundaries of Little Abitibi Provincial Waterway Park have recently been redrawn to permit the construction of a hydroelectric facility. There is a proposal for hydro development within Pukaskwa National Park. Proposals have been made for hydro development of the Namakan River adjacent to the boundary of Quetico Provincial Wilderness Park and the Wanapitei River at the French River Provincial Park boundary.


Much of Algonquin Park, the flagship of the Ontario parks system, is actually an industrial logging zone, with thousands of kilometres of logging roads.




A logging road was recently approved across Grass River Provincial Park in northern Manitoba, despite a ban on “timber cutting” in Manitoba Provincial parks. To make matters worse, a copper mine was recently opened within Grass River Park.



Most grassland ecosystems in Saskatchewan (as well as Manitoba and Alberta) are unprotected and considered to be among the most threatened ecosystems in Canada.




The ecological integrity of Jasper National Park faces multiple threats. A major commercial development, the Glacier Skywalk, was recently constructed along the Icefield Parkway, despite strong opposition from environmentalists. Currently there is another proposal to construct tent accommodations at Maligne Lake, despite the proposal being at odds with Parks Canada policy. Jasper is also threatened by a proposal to expand the Marmot downhill ski area into pristine caribou, wolverine and grizzly habitat in the Whistlers Creek Valley.


British Columbia:


B.C. coastal and ocean marine protected areas are tiny and threatened by existing and/or proposed oil supertanker traffic.

BC permits portions of Provincial Parks to be deleted when a private or public proponent wishes to carry out a development or activity that is not allowed by authorization under the provincial protected area legislation. An application was put forward in 2014 to remove portions of four British Columbia Provincial parks and protected areas, in order to accommodate work on the Trans Mountain oil pipeline.


Northwest Territories:


The newly established Nááts’ihch’oh National Park Reserve in the upper South Nahanni River watershed excludes critical headwaters, as well as large areas of caribou and grizzly habitat. The boundaries were drawn in order to facilitate future mining extraction.





There are a number of important steps that are required if Canada’s parks and other protected areas are to play a significant and long-term role in preserving functioning ecosystems and wildlife populations.


(1)   The number and size of parks and protected areas must be greatly increased. This is particularly important in Canada’s coastal waters and oceans where the protected areas network is in its infancy. It is also critical in southern Canada where parks are usually very small and disconnected, and where there is intense pressures from a large and growing human population, a dense road network, industry, agriculture, and a never-ending stream of inappropriate development proposals in or adjacent to parks.

(2)   Landscape scale linkages between protected areas must be maintained permit the movement of wildlife.

(3)   Governments at both the national and provincial level must adopt (or in many cases reinstate) legislation and policies that permanently safeguard protected areas.

(4)   Parks must be managed appropriately based on ecological principles (a set of guiding principles for park management is provided below).


 Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Nova Scotia



The following guiding principles are designed to assist in the evaluation of Management Plans for parks and other types of protected areas. They have been developed as a result of several decades of reviewing such documents. They are of a general nature and their application must also take into account local circumstances (such as existing population centres, existing infrastructure, etc.), First Nations legal and treaty rights, and the impact of climate change.

General Principles

  1. Parks should be managed from an ecocentric viewpoint, which considers nature and all that it entails as having intrinsic worth.
  2. Parks should be managed in order to maintain and restore Ecological Integrity (EI).

“An ecosystem has integrity when it is deemed characteristic for its natural region, including the composition and abundance of native species and biological communities, rates of change and supporting processes.” (Panel on the Ecological Integrity of Canada’s National Parks, 2000).

Philosophical Principles:  These are general in nature and can be applied to the majority of management decisions.

  1. Precautionary Principle: If the consequences of an action are uncertain, but the action is judged to have some potential for significant or irreversible negative consequences, then the action should not be taken.
  2. Incrementalism: Many small things add up, and can collectively jeopardize the EI of the protected area. Therefore, cumulative impacts must be considered in all management decisions.
  3. Reverse onus: The onus must be placed on those proposing an activity or project to demonstrate that the results are not harmful.
  4. Weight of evidence: If the majority of the evidence suggests that harm to the protected area is resulting or will result from an action, then no further evidence is required before the action is halted. Absolute proof never occurs.
  5. Favour reversible actions: Such actions can be undone if they prove to be harmful.
  6. Risk assessment: Risk assessment of proposed actions and developments is essential, but must include an assessment of a no action/no development option. The use of risk assessment should cause a careful examination of whatever action initiates it.
  7. Mitigation: Beware of such terminology, because it is an admission that damage is being done.
  8. Least harm: Always look for solutions/actions that harm nature the least.

Specific Park Management Principles:

  1. Always consider nature and EI first.
  2. Industrial, commercial and consumptive uses should be prohibited (see #4 below).
  3. Parks should be as large as possible, and encompass a diversity of ecosystems.
  4. Park boundaries should be based on ecological considerations. They should not be gerrymandered to circumvent park protection objectives (e.g., in order to permit continuation of industrial activities).
  5. Park classification and zoning should be based on principles of EI.
  6. Access and development zones should be located on the park perimeter. They should be as small as possible, and never used to circumvent the park’s protection objectives.
  7. Parks require external buffer zones to prevent anthropocentric activities near the park from compromising EI.  Land use practices in areas surrounding the park should have minimal impact on the park.
  8. Park management planning should be based on a greater ecosystem approach.
  9. Always look for and favour connectivity at the landscape level.
  10. All forms of fragmentation compromise EI and should be minimized.
  11. Any withdrawal of animals, plants or other natural elements will compromise EI.
  12. Management schemes that seek justification based on 'improvement' often compromise EI, and should be viewed with suspicion.
  13. All forms of mechanized travel compromise EI and should not be permitted (except in specific instances such as public roadways, park access roads and campgrounds).
  14. Roofed buildings, with the exception of historic structures, should not be permitted in parks. Rather they should be located outside the park boundary.
  15. Parks require monitoring and reporting on a number of relevant indicators. These indicators should be reflective of the park’s classification.
  16. Umbrella species such as Caribou, Elk, Wolf, Wolverine and Cougar need extra consideration in regards to habitat. This will help ensure their continued existence, as well as that of other organisms residing within their habitat.
  17. Non-conforming activities, development or policies, even if grandfathered in, should be eliminated whenever possible.
  18. Natural processes should be favoured and promoted at all times (e.g. wildfires).
  19. Lake and river bottoms, as well as the water column, must be included in park.
  20. Alien species should be controlled and/or eliminated.
  21. The introduction of alien species should be prohibited.
  22. Degraded ecosystems require restoration and rehabilitation.
  23. The Management Plan should address the needs of Species at Risk within the park and in the greater park ecosystem.
  24. The Management Plan should specifically address road ecology issues.


Activities and development that should be excluded from parks: Activities and development that are not compatible with protected status and should be prohibited in parks include but are not limited to logging; logging roads; mining within or under parks; aggregate extraction; utility structures and corridors; communication towers; energy pipelines, access roads; dumps; hydro dams; other water control structures; water withdrawal; over flights; golf courses; ski hills; other commercial developments; mechanized travel (except in specific instances such as public roadways, park access roads and campgrounds); rock climbing; hunting; trapping; bear management; baitfish; baitfish trapping; private buildings; hotels; lodges; other commercial tourism facilities; activities not related to park values.

Gatineau Park, Quebec