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Canada's parks, nature should be at centre of COVID-19 recovery, says new report

Last Updated Jul 15, 2020 at 8:05 am PDT

FILE - Mount Garibaldi (Source: garibaldipark2020.com)
Summary

Mental health benefits of being outdoors could mitigate healthcare costs, says report highlighting importance of nature

Half of world’s GDP relied on nature, says World Economic Forum

BC’s parks chronically underfunded, parks remain closed during COVID-19

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — As governments look for long term solutions to seemingly intractable issues, such as mental health and the economy, a new report is highlighting the potential for nature to be at the centre of any COVID-19 recovery plan.

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) released a report Wednesday morning that outlines parks and wilderness spaces as an advantage Canada already has. However, it also outlines how chronic underfunding has left the system in disrepair, especially in British Columbia.

“The current health pandemic has really demonstrated that parks and nature are an essential part of our health care system. They’re critical to reducing stress and improving wellbeing,” says Tori Ball, a terrestrial campaigner with CPAWS.

“We’ve also seen recent reports come out that show that there is a huge economic potential, that conservation can drive economic growth, deliver key monetary benefits, and really be a contributor to a resilient economy,” she adds.

However, B.C. parks have been severely underfunded, even seeing a slight drop in the most recent budget. Ball and CPAWS say that’s a strategical error and provincial and federal governments should examine the evidence before settling on plans to move forward.

“In January of 2020, a new report released by the World Economic Forum (WEF) found that $63 trillion (CAD) — half of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) — is moderately or highly dependent on nature and its services. The WEF’s 2020 Global Risk Report further placed biodiversity loss in the top five risks to the global economy,” says the report.

Shortly after the pandemic hit in B.C., parks closures were put in place and many remain to this day, including the closure of Garibaldi Provincial Park in Squamish.

Critics and parks watchers say underfunding means there aren’t enough staff to do maintenance, build trails, monitor crowds, and handle new signage needs. However, they note that being outdoors is essential and that those investments should be made so parks can be reopened.

A well-known critic of parks policy is Steve Jones, an outdoor blogger and advocate. He points out one of B.C.’s largest and most popular parks remains closed despite constant messaging for people to be outdoors.

“In B.C. the provincial parks system suffered severe budget cuts in the early 2000s and that’s really hampered its ability to provide all of the benefits; you know, safe experiences outside and making sure there is really equitable trails access in communities across B.C. and providing jobs for people to work in those parks in every corner of B.C. that the provincial parks system could offer, sustainable jobs in rural B.C., even,” says Ball.

“We’re really hoping there will be an investment made in the provincial parks system both so they can properly manage what they currently have and look forward at creating a larger system; developing more trails, ensuring that people are able to get reservations in a reasonable timeframe,” she adds.

To do that, CPAWS says the B.C. NDP government should inject cash into Indigenous-led initiatives and boost capacity to support volunteer networks to help maintain trails and facilities, as well as manage newly protected areas.

“Major opportunities exist in BC to support Indigenous-led conservation initiatives. Many of these projects are underway across the province with support from the federal government, including IPCA establishment and land use planning initiatives by the Kaska Dena, Taku River Tlingit, Tahltan, and Ktunaxa First Nations,” says the report.

“The Government of British Columbia should invest immediately in BC Parks, increasing staff capacity for visitor management, ecological monitoring, and management planning to better recognize the critical role that parks play in supporting our health, our communities, and our environment.”

Read the full report:

Report_Nature protection at the heart of economic recovery in Canada_CPAWS-BC_media release July 15 2020