Wild areas are essential for maintaining biodiversity at all levels (genetic, species, and ecosystem). Large wild areas are critical “core” habitat for wildlife populations. But even small, wild, backyard corners can provide travel corridors, temporary cover, and other essential habitat components for migrating butterflies and birds, and urban-adapted wildlife.
Protected natural areas maintain the essential ecological functions (e.g., water cycle, nutrient cycle) upon which all life depends. Once again, many small, local efforts can add up to make a significant contribution to the health of the planet.
Protected areas are important to all people, too, for recreational, cultural, and spiritual reasons. It’s great to plan a holiday to some wild places in Canada, but the daily boosts we get from local special places are even more essential for our well-being.
How We Protect Wild Places
We protect wild places by making sure that our behaviour is respectful. This means refraining from collecting or damaging wild plants and animals, and ensuring that we leave no litter or “trace” behind. We might also meet with family and school administrators to agree about how we will act toward a wild place. We sometimes call this “private stewardship” because individuals or small groups take voluntary responsibility for protection and enhancement. Often informal, this type of protection can be important, effective, and lasting.
On a more formal level, we have agreed to officially protect some special places through laws and international treaties and conventions. In fact, Canada has agreed to the international Convention on Biological Diversity, which defines a protected area as a “geographically defined area that is designated or regulated and managed to achieve specific conservation objectives.” Official protection can be very effective over a long period because it is often backed by laws (e.g., Canada National Parks Act).
Provincial and federal organizations, such as governments, are able to organize many smaller special areas into systems of protected areas to ensure more complete protection of desired values. A provincial park system, for example, might include dozens or even hundreds of different areas to make sure that all types of ecosystems (and wildlife species) continue to exist. Country-wide systems, such as our national parks and reserves, and international systems, like the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, can offer similar protection to species that migrate and, therefore, require habitats that span whole continents or hemispheres. These systems complement one another and enable us to cover all the bases.
Types of Protected Areas
Here are some examples of protection at various levels:
- Stewardship of private lands by the owner, such as the members of the Backyard Gardening Committee, who recreated a Garry oak habitat demonstration garden in Victoria, British Columbia, as a CWF’s Golden Gardens project, or corporations that create protected areas such as New Brunswick’s La dune de Bouctouche.
- Stewardship of public lands, such as school grounds.
- Official protection through municipal governments that set aside parklands, greenbelts, and conservation lands that perform important ecological functions such as flood control, erosion control, and water table recharge. Municipalities also enact bylaws to control activities such as tree cutting, and herbicide use on private lands.
Provincial and Territorial Levels
- Corporations and environmental non-government organizations (ENGOs) may purchase lands outright, place them in public trust, and manage them for conservation objectives (e.g., Nature Conservancy of Canada, Prince Edward Island Nature Trust).
- Provincial and territorial governments set aside lands as parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and ecological reserves for the protection of biodiversity.
- The federal government protects biodiversity, cultural values, and unique natural features through several country-wide systems including National Parks and Reserves, National Wildlife Areas, Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, and Marine Wildlife Areas.
- The Important Bird Areas program is a global coalition of more than 100 country partner organizations to conserve all wild bird species and their habitat.
- UNESCO Biosphere Reserves are areas that are recognized by the United Nations because they meet a combination of conservation, sustainable development, and research/education objectives. They may also contain portions that are designated as Ramsar sites and/or World Heritage Sites. (UNESCO stands for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.)
- The Ramsar Convention, also known as the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance is an intergovernmental treaty through which 160 countries, protect 1,932 important wetlands worldwide.
- World Heritage Sites are cultural or natural sites that are recognized as being of value to all humanity.
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