Mr. Chair, and members, thank you very much for the opportunity to be here.
My name is Virginia Poter and I am the director general of the Canadian Wildlife Service within Environment Canada.
The topic is urban conservation, so I've tried to give a perspective on that. Urban conservation means protecting and managing the valuable ecological spaces and species in and around cities, as well as the ecosystem services that they provide. As Nature Conservancy defines it, urban conservation activities can either protect biodiversity within urban areas, or maintain or enhance the well-being of urban residences.
Biodiversity, the variety of life on earth, provides important benefits for urban centres and citizens. For example, the quality and quantity of water reaching rivers and available to urban populations is affected by landscape management in the watershed. Wetlands hold back water during heavy rain and runoff, and cleanse the water before releasing it to groundwater systems that ultimately feed the river.
Severe loss of wetlands leads to increased runoff and a subsequent decrease in water quality in the river. We don't necessarily think about what it means to lose these things until we experience the consequences. For example, experts agree that the Asian tsunami and hurricane Katrina would have been much less destructive if coastline vegetation and wetlands had not been destroyed.
The actions of individuals can have significant impact on biodiversity, positive or negative. There is declining interest in conservation and the environment among city dwellers. Connecting urban Canadians with conservation is important for fostering stronger community and stakeholder involvement in stewardship activities. Helping urban Canadians experience and recognize the value of nature and feel connected to it also builds support for conservation policies and programs at all levels of government.
Urban conservation contributes to a population that is physically and mentally healthier and more productive at work and in the community. At the same time, Canada's urban areas have a significant impact on biodiversity. The primary driver of biodiversity loss in Canada is the destruction and fragmentation of habitat. Along with increasing industrial development and conversion of agricultural land, urbanization is recognized as a major contributor to habitat loss and fragmentation.
The total area of urban land in Canada almost doubled between 1971 and 2001. Approximately 80% of the Canadian population lives in urban areas, and that number is expected to increase to 90% by the year 2050. Over 60% of Canadians live in cities of more than 100,000 people.
Although urban areas occupy barely a quarter of a per cent of the Canadian landscape, they are often situated in places that are particularly rich in biodiversity, such as coastal areas and river valleys, and where the impact of loss of habitat may be disproportionate to the size of the loss. For example, 90% of Canadians live along the southern border with the United States, which is also home to vulnerable biodiversity and ecosystems. Urban expansion can also alter watersheds, degrading water quality for aquatic biodiversity and increasing vulnerability to flooding. Historically, some ecosystems, such as wetlands and forests, have been particularly impacted by urban development.
Cities and local authorities are uniquely positioned to develop biodiversity solutions tailored to local needs and priorities. Biodiversity conservation has been traditionally viewed as the domain and responsibility of national, provincial, and territorial governments. However, municipal governments have started to recognize that their role is increasingly relevant, especially in light of increasing urbanization. This connection has been officially acknowledged in the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, the CBD, and reflected in the new Global Partnership on Cities and Biodiversity.
Cities can support biodiversity conservation in many ways through land use and urban planning, leadership and community service delivery. Best practices include green roofs, planting native species, green infrastructure, protection of pollinators, protection and restoration of species, wetlands, and forests, brownfield restorations, trees to combat heat islands, water conservation, and naturalizing schoolyards.
In 2010, Environment Canada, in partnership with ICLEI Canada, published Cities and Biodiversity Case Studies Series showcasing best practices in urban biodiversity management and protection. It highlights some of the internationally recognized leaders among Canadian cities such as Edmonton, Montreal, and Calgary, but also smaller cities that are committed to consider biodiversity in their plans and programs, such as Guelph, Wolfville, and Trois-Rivières.
For example, the City of Guelph is working towards completing a pollination park to provide habitat and protection for such pollinating species as bees and hummingbirds, and to act as a model upon which future parks can be based.
The City of Edmonton has made education on the importance of biodiversity a major local effort. The city has mainstreamed biodiversity and recognized the roles different stakeholders and community groups can play.
Through extensive re-greening programs to restore fragile and damaged landscapes, the City of Greater Sudbury is an example of what is possible through reintroducing nature to the city.
The City of Montreal is active in local and international networks working to share knowledge, lessons learned, and innovative approaches to protection of urban biodiversity.
The City of Toronto has implemented bird-friendly development guidelines and a green roof bylaw with the help of community groups, stakeholders, and academics.
Federal, provincial, and territorial governments can contribute to local efforts in a variety of ways. Their role may include setting national goals and targets, providing scientific and technical support, education and outreach, stewardship funding, building dialogues and partnerships, and developing place-based eco-regional approaches.
They can also support local action by sharing knowledge and information. Reports such as the Ecosystem Status and Trends report Caring for Canada's Biodiversity and State of the Environment Report in the Northwest Territories are good examples. The Province of Quebec also published a guide on biodiversity and urbanization in 2010.
In response to the Convention on Biological Diversity's new strategic plan, Canada is developing domestic biodiversity goals and targets for 2020. Recognizing the important role of local governments, one of the targets proposed by a federal-provincial-territorial working group focuses on integrating biodiversity conservation into municipal plans and strategies.
Environment Canada also has a variety of programs and partnerships that support urban conservation. They include: BioKits developed by the Biosphère to encourage Canadians to go outdoors and discover biodiversity in their neighbourhoods, parks, and urban spaces; the EcoAction community funding program; the ecological gifts program; the natural areas conservation program; and the habitat stewardship program.
Environment Canada is also engaged in many place-based initiatives that touch cities and communities, for example, ecosystem initiatives in the Great Lakes Basin and along the St. Lawrence.
In the 2011 Speech from the Throne, the Government of Canada committed to developing a national conservation plan, NCP. The government has been engaging a broad range of partners and stakeholders to explore how we can build on our successes and find new ways to work together to advance Canada's conservation objectives.
In the spring of 2012 this committee undertook a study on the development of a national conservation plan. The study recommended that connecting urban Canadians to nature and urban conservation should be an important part of the NCP.
Today, the government tabled its response to the committee's study on the NCP, and in it we agreed with that finding. Urban conservation would be a key part of an NCP. working with provinces and territories, municipalities, and other partners and stakeholders. As we continue our efforts to develop the plan, there is no doubt that the testimony and findings of this study on urban conservation will provide additional helpful input.
As Canada's urban areas continue to grow in both population size and geographic area, it will be increasingly important to focus on long-term conservation programs and initiatives that maximize urban biodiversity and the benefit it provides.
Thank you very much.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members, for this opportunity to speak with the standing committee today regarding the study of urban conservation practices in Canada.
My remarks today will focus on Parks Canada's contribution to and role in urban conservation. This contribution extends from Parks Canada's mandate, which is as follows:
||On behalf of the people of Canada, we protect and present nationally significant examples of Canada’s natural and cultural heritage and foster public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment in ways that ensure their ecological and commemorative integrity...for present and future generations.
The mandate inspires the work that we as Parks Canada undertake across the country in urban, rural, and wilderness areas. We welcome visitors to a network of 44 national parks, 167 national historic sites, and four national marine conservation areas which we protect and manage.
Parks Canada was established in 1911, creating the first national parks service in the world. The early visionaries of our parks system recognized that connecting with the natural world can be a deeply meaningful and moving experience and that it can bring enormous benefits to the natural world and systems, as well as the economy. This remains true today.
Parks Canada is also the largest provider of natural and historic tourism products in Canada. We protect ecosystems with a total land area the size of Germany. These destinations, of incredible accomplishments in nature and conservation, form the cornerstones of the Canadian tourism industry. A recent report reveals that the economic contributions made by Parks Canada and the millions of visitors to Canada's national parks, national historic sites, and national marine conservation areas are widespread within the Canadian economy. They create jobs and provide revenues generated for local businesses all across the country. In 2008-09 these benefits contributed more than $3.3 billion to the Canadian economy.
Beyond this contribution, Parks Canada also provides to Canadians clean air and clean water, as Virginia said, through the conservation of large treasured places, be they rural or urban. For example, the protected watershed of Banff National Park supplies life-giving drinking water, provides recreational opportunities, and supports farmers and industries well beyond its borders.
Parks Canada places also provide sustainable ecosystems that are home to, or migratory areas for, many species, such as warblers and monarch butterflies in Point Pelee National Park. These species are in turn a key link in the ecological chain that ends in urban areas.
You could reasonably look at the provision of clean air and water and the economic benefits of natural areas as an incredible contribution, but in fact these make up only a fraction of what Parks Canada provides to Canadians in terms of urban conservation. One could argue that Parks Canada's largest role in urban conservation is to provide, through the opportunities of experiencing nature first-hand, an increased public awareness of sustainable development and natural heritage and an inspiring sense of pride in taking conservation action. This is a cornerstone of what it is to be Canadian.
There is a large body of research that demonstrates that exposure to natural environments helps people cope with stress, illness and injury, and improves concentration and productivity.
Notwithstanding these benefits, the reality is that the percentage of Canadians who have direct connections with their natural and cultural heritage is shrinking. The trend reflects some of the larger changes under way in Canada, such as an increasing urban society. For instance, more than 80% of all Canadians now live in metropolitan areas. Our demographics are also changing significantly. We are more ethnically diverse than ever before, particularly in the large cities. We are more technology dependent. Trends and leisure time have significantly shifted. Also, city residents are on average much younger than rural residents.
Parks Canada is thus in a unique position in providing Canadians with a genuine understanding of the importance of preserving and experiencing Canada's natural treasures. Several national surveys reveal significant differences in attitude between visitors and non-visitors regarding the value of protecting natural areas. For example, if you have visited a protected area, you will be more likely to readily support the continued protection and enjoyment of natural areas. There's a direct link between awareness, experience, and conservation.
The agency is continuing to establish new national parks. In fact, in recent years the number of protected areas has increased by over 50%. These include iconic areas such as Sable Island, Nahanni, the Gulf Islands, and Naats'ihch'oh. These places inspire Canadians by fostering an awareness of conservation in urban Canadians.
At the same time, the government has directed Parks Canada right now to undertake the process to establish Rouge national urban park, which is a unique concept. It includes the conservation of natural and cultural assets, sustainable agriculture, opportunities for learning, and a wide range of recreational activities.
No other country has come close to Canada in recent years to increasing the amount of protected areas and Parks Canada has every intention to build on this record. In providing new Canadians with a sense of urban conservation, national parks and historic sites, such as Banff National Park and George-Étienne Cartier National Historic Site, now host citizenship ceremonies. We work with the Institute for Canadian Citizenship to provide opportunities for new Canadian citizens to experience and connect with Canada’s natural heritage through the cultural access pass.
Working with young Canadians is also important in raising the awareness, as we have seen through the My Parks Pass program, which offers free admission to Parks Canada places to hundreds of thousands of grade 8 students or students in deuxième secondaire each year across the country.
Volunteering is also a sought-after activity in Parks Canada places. Whether it be removing invasive species in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, assisting with a variety of research projects with the citizen scientists in Banff National Park, or assisting in bullfrog studies in the St. Lawrence Islands National Park, urban Canadians are having the opportunity to participate and take action.
Another important role is that Parks Canada establishes partnerships with a wide range of organizations, such as NGOs, private companies, and community groups, to enable a greater number of Canadians to experience the richness of national parks and historic sites directly from within our special places or in urban areas where our partners are present.
For example, the learn to camp program organized in more than 100 places across Canada for the past two years, including at the Halifax Citadel and Fort Langley, has engaged thousands of young people, many of them new Canadians, in their first camping and outdoor experience. This was accomplished thanks to partnerships we have with Mountain Equipment Co-op and the International Mountain Bicycling Association.
Parks Canada also works collaboratively with urban institutions such as the Calgary Zoo, the Vancouver Aquarium, the Royal Ontario Museum, and the Canadian Museum of Nature to focus on conservation, with a call to action for experiencing the habitat of magnificent animals first-hand. By visiting a national park and taking action in their own homes, Canadians can help these species to thrive in the wild.
Mr. Chairman, I believe that understanding the links among awareness, experience, and engagement are crucial to the committee's study of urban conservation. Canada remains a country of wide open spaces, but our population tends to cluster in cities. Television and the Internet have become the primary links to nature and history for a growing number of Canadians. While these media are certainly powerful, they are no match for personal experience.
The key to urban conservation lies in encouraging Canadians to experience their heritage in person. National parks and other protected areas serve as the cornerstone of this approach to conservation. The general public, along with many of our partners and stakeholders, supports Parks Canada's efforts to connect with Canadians using innovative methods. These results are encouraging, and they're precisely why the government has directed Parks Canada to continue to introduce new opportunities for Canadians to connect with their natural cultural heritage.
The creation of the Rouge national urban park, as I have said, is a case in point. We hope that the Rouge national urban park will be for the residents of the greater Toronto area and beyond a window into Parks Canada and our natural world and all that Canada has to offer. I will be pleased to tell you more about the Rouge national urban park in coming weeks.
I hope that what I have provided today demonstrates how Parks Canada fulfills several key roles in urban conservation. Parks Canada provides clean air and water through large protected areas, as well as the necessary corridors to connect nature to both urban and rural areas. Finally, we play a crucial role in presenting places to urban Canadians that foster within them the desire to conserve the environment and take pride in doing so within this great country.
Thank you. I look forward to any questions members may have.
I'll take a stab at this. It's a hard question.
I would preface my comments by saying that most land use planning is within the jurisdiction of the provinces and territories. I think what we can do as federal officials and a federal government is provide information that can inform how provinces and territories might wish to think about planning the land we are going to be living on in a city or maintaining it as rural.
Certainly from an Environment Canada perspective, within the Wildlife Service, we could look at areas that are important for birds, for example. For example, we've been producing bird conservation region plans and have been working to develop which areas we want to focus on for conservation outcomes, as opposed to other areas that are perhaps still important, but are perhaps of a lower quality habitat for birds.
I think a role that federal governments can play is to provide information. I'm speaking about one type of information. Other parts of government would also have information that would be helpful to provinces and territories as they're planning where urban expansion will be and so on.
At a federal level, we can also facilitate that dialogue about best practices. I've spoken quite a bit about Edmonton. Montreal has a very good reputation for having thought through how to build conservation and biodiversity into the city.
How do we connect a city that might not be as far along in its thinking in that regard? That's a role I think governments can play, to facilitate that type of dialogue.
Another thing that can sometimes help is to provide tools and best practices. In some cases we've done that through the habitat stewardship program. We provided some funding to help develop a green bylaws tool kit, some model laws. Certainly that's not how you should do it, but if you are thinking about doing it, that's how you might go about it.
I do agree with my colleague that Parks Canada does play an important role in urban conservation. First of all, I have to refute the premise of her question in that she's making the assumption that the capacity and the ability to deliver these programs have been somehow damaged. That has been the premise of her question. I fully disagree with that point. I believe that we have a very strong case to show that our government has not only increased funding and capacity for science, for educational activities, and for conservation activities within Parks Canada, but has also protected park land across this country.
I think our government has increased protected park space by over 50% from when we took office. This is a very, very important step.
First, the premise of the question is completely wrong, and it's false. I don't think that we should be accepting that within this, and certainly it does disrespect to our witnesses here who work hard to maintain that capacity.
Second, I heard nothing in her line of questioning that would relate to the scope with regard to urban conservation principles.
I think it's very misleading, not only for our witnesses to have to answer these questions, but also to anyone listening to these proceedings, especially given the very positive track record that our government has with Parks Canada. We've just received two major awards, in fact. I believe it was the World Wildlife Federation, and there was another association as well that gave us an award for the ecological integrity, I believe it was, that Parks Canada maintained.
Again, the premise of the question is completely off. I completely disagree with it, and I would also point to scope relevancy.
My colleague Ms. Quach's question was clearly for Mr. Campbell and had to do with Parks Canada. So I think that Mr. Campbell is really the right person to answer that question.
In addition, we are trying to work on urban conservation. My colleague Mr. Lunney mentioned earlier that he wanted people to be able to go to the parks and visit our attractions and natural sites. I don’t see why my honourable colleague’s question, simply asking whether guides and human interaction can improve our relationship with nature, has to be perceived as being beyond the scope of our study.
On the contrary, I think that it is very relevant. I will not expand on Ms. Rempel's comments about all the good things the Conservatives are doing for the environment and conservation. We know there have recently been service cuts in a number of Canadian parks. The season has also been shortened. So, if we shorten the season during which we have access to our parks and services, I do not see how we can say that we are improving access to urban and national parks.
In fact, if we want to do a study on urban conservation and if we want to provide access to those parks, I think we are entitled to ask ourselves what the best way to provide access to those parks is. Is it signs or is it someone who greets visitors to talk about the history and the environmental features of the park?
For example, we were talking about the habitat stewardship program earlier. I am happy we talked about it because that is also a problem in Drummondville. City officials have been applying for funding for years now. They have always received the funding, but all of a sudden they are not receiving it anymore. The regional environmental council in central Quebec is doing an outstanding job. This is a non-profit organization. However, the organization has not received funding this year either.
So, if we want to have an urban conservation program, those are the types of questions we need to ask. As you mentioned, Ms. Poter, we have programs that support urban conservation. As a result, it is normal for us to ask you questions about that. So I don’t see why we would be constantly interrupted when we ask questions about science and programs. Ms. Poter talked about that in her presentation.
I don’t think that you are offended, Mr. Chair, or that the Conservatives are offended because she named the EcoAction community funding program, the ecological gifts program, the natural areas conservation program and the habitat stewardship program. So I think it makes sense to ask questions about that.
I am sorry for taking up a lot of time, but I felt strongly about this and it was starting to get on my nerves a bit.
I think it's really important that we have a fair and balanced approach, and that's always based on evidence. This is national science and technology week, and yet there's the ELA, Kluane, and we've already lost PEARL. It appears that we are losing our research stations. This is important.
When there is good work, we recognize it. For example, we recognize the creation of Nááts'ihch'oh as important, but we should also recognize that the borders are not as broad as stakeholders would have liked and that grizzlies and caribou are not protected.
In coming back to evidence, the reality is that there is a cut of $29 million to Parks Canada. Throughout the summer there was criticism that was levelled about health and integrity of our renowned parks and about reducing the number of scientists.
I think it's important when we're talking about best practices to recognize this. We want a stellar study. We want to make good recommendations, but there are management realities. I think it's important that we recognize them.
I think my colleague's question is very much on point, and I hope she gets an answer.
Sir, madam, thank you for joining us today.
I would like to briefly talk about my riding of Drummond and the City of Drummondville.
We have to make a lot of effort in terms of urban conservation. Despite the goodwill of municipal officials, we are facing significant challenges in this area. Given that the city is growing at an exponential rate, residential, industrial and commercial areas are expanding. Of course, that comes with a lot of consequences, the first being the disappearance of our forests and wetlands. For instance, efforts are being made to turn a forest, specifically the Boisé de la Marconi, into an urban natural area that people can visit.
However, as I said earlier, there are still some problems. As the city is growing, natural environments are dying off. That is why we are creating more and more artificial parks. As you probably know, conservation strategies are not as effective there. The biodiversity of urban parks is not as rich as that of natural parks.
My question is quite simple and has to do with the habitat stewardship program, of course.
The regional environment council of central Quebec is a non-profit organization that works very hard. Concretely, it seeks to conserve urban biodiversity and to increase access to information about endangered species or species at risk, such as a type of turtle in our region.
Could you tell me whether the habitat stewardship program is very effective?
Thanks to the witnesses for their contributions to the beginning of our study here.
I want to pick up on the work of Parks Canada. You mentioned something interesting regarding the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge youth ambassadors engaging youth and reaching out to other youth, which is a very interesting concept.
In my riding of we have Pacific Rim National Park, which is a great park. We have an interpretive centre there, the Kwisitis interpretive centre. I want to say how great the programs are that are going on there day by day. I had a chance a few months ago to participate in one.
You mentioned in your remarks about removing invasive species from Pacific Rim National Park. We joined a group from Vancouver Island University on one of their outings and helped to remove some invasive grass species from the sand dunes that are on recovery out there. It's a fascinating program, with young people being very much engaged. They were studying an ecological program there.
The interactive displays at the Kwisitis centre do not require personnel. They're automated. People can learn all kinds of stuff. On rainy days on the coast, where we get 10 feet of rainfall annually, it's great to have the kinds of events that keep families busy, and they're learning.
Down the road from the park we have another program that has just started in Ucluelet, with the opening of an aquarium. They use a lot of local students to engage people's interest in the intertidal animals. They learn about all kinds of life that's below the surface in the intertidal zone, as by and large, landlubbers will drive by and miss it all.
Many of these young people are going on to study science at university, which is certainly what we're hoping to accomplish. It's the same thing across Barkley Sound at the Bamfield Marine Science Centre. They engage the local students to come in to the science programs. We want to see more of this.
Coming back to Parks Canada, you mentioned in your presentation the grade 8 My Parks Pass. Can you tell us something about that program, the number of students who participate, where the uptake is across the country, about its success and how many years it has been running, and so on?
Thank you to our witnesses.
I'll probably take a slightly different tack on this. My background is in business, and in my business background, research was incredibly important to us. We did a lot of work on research, but ultimately we had to get results. We had to get things done.
That's the way I tend to look at it. The research has to be done, and I agree with that 100%, but along with that we have to be getting results, have to be driving forward, have to be getting projects actually done and completed.
I tie that in because, Ms. Poter, you noted in your presentation that natural areas such as forests and wetlands provide a service for local communities, such as cleansing water and diverting or absorbing heavy rainfalls, holding those for a period of time, and releasing them in a way that doesn't create a flood situation. That would also help curb costs for local governments, as far as I can see. That only makes sense from a business standpoint. Nature is doing some of the work for you, and that's going to save you costs, obviously.
I just wondered if you could share with us any other examples of where forests, wetlands, or other natural areas, other than in those areas that I talked about, could actually have a strong economic benefit.
They did some work around the question of the value that a tree planted in a city provides. It was quite interesting, because it was in the order of maybe $80 a tree per year. Then they looked at the cost of actually planting the tree, and maintaining the tree and whatnot, and it was in the order of $10 or $20.
There is a real net benefit to having a tree in a city. The benefit it provides is in helping to clean the air, to provide shade, to help manage local climates.
The City of Toronto has put in place a couple of interesting requirements. One is that for all new buildings that are over a certain size—I can't tell you what that is, but it's reasonably large—there's a requirement to use green roofs. It's to help regulate the local temperature, provide some habitat for some species, and so on.
I think the people who are living in those buildings are receiving a clear benefit from it as well, such as lowered cooling costs, for sure, in the summer. As well, quite often you can access these roof gardens. I don't know if you'd call it a recreational benefit or just a well-being benefit for the dwellers who are in an urban environment with perhaps less green space. We know that green space is an environment that oftentimes encourages a feeling of well-being, and this provides access for the people who live in an area that doesn't give them as much ready access to it.
Those are a couple of areas of real cost savings. The more green space you have, the more chance you have for some improvements to air quality. There has been a fair bit of work done around that as well. If you have better air quality, of course you have fewer respiratory diseases and impacts on people, so it reduces health care costs.
I could see real benefits to incorporating the notion of conservation into urban planning. It's not the only thing you have to consider. There are many other things to consider, because running a city is a complex business. However, there is certainly benefit to the dwellers of cities to have conservation built into the city design.