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Op/Ed: Looking ahead to 2019, there is hope for nature

Humans are now impacting what is happening at a scale that is affecting all life on Earth. — Photo courtesy Nature Conservancy of Canada

For the first time in human history, our environmental impacts are happening at a scale that is affecting all life on Earth. The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that time may be running out for effective action on climate change. Our list of globallythreatened wildlife has grown to over 26,500 species, and many wildlife populations are declining. In Canada, iconic wildlife like caribou are in trouble, and the Atlantic whitefish, perhaps Canada’s most endangered species, may be doomed to extinction.

Our current environmental issues — from climate change to biodiversity loss — are all the result of many collective impacts. However, there are examples of hope from 2018 as we enter 2019.

The number of protected areas continues to grow

The total area of parks and protected areas now tops over 20 million km2, or about 15 per cent of the planet’s lands and inland waters. Through the collective conservation efforts of all nations, it appears we will meet the global target of protecting 17 per cent by 2020. In Canada, more than 20 per cent of Nunavikin northern Quebec is now protected from industrial development, and our first Indigenous protected area was established: the Edéhzhíe Protected Area in the Northwest Territories.

Historical investment in Canadian conservation

The Government of Canada continued to support private land conservation efforts through the Natural Areas Conservation Program. It also announced $1.3 billion dollars over five years to protect Canada’s lands, oceans and wildlife, including a $500-million Canada Nature Fund. This will help Canada’s commitment to protect at least 17 per cent of our lands and 10 per cent of our oceans by 2020.

Keeping fish in the sea

Between 2016 and 2018, the amount of marine protected areas in the world has increased from 10.2 per cent to 16.8 per cent. There were also many important initiatives in place to reduce unsustainable fishing practices.

Big parks and big corridors in Alberta

The province released plans to establish more protected areas in Bighorn Country, and the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) unveiled the Jim Prentice Wildlife Corridor project. Both protect important areas and help maintain connectivity for wildlife. New and expanded parks were established around Wood Buffalo National Park. This includes the Birch River Wildland Provincial Park, with contributions by the Tallcree Tribal Government, NCC, the governments of Alberta and Canada and Syncrude Canada, creating the largest protected boreal forest in the world.

If you conserve and restore it, they will come

Many species will return if we protect and restore their habitats and reduce critical threats to their populations. In Canada, one of the greatest wildlife recovery stories (so far) is the return of the swift fox. In 2018, a den of swift foxes was discovered on an NCCproperty in Alberta.In Newfoundland and Labrador, World Wildlife Fund Canada restored a beach that allowed capelin to return and spawn.

Big hope in a small package

Fewer than 100 Poweshiek skipperling butterflies remain in Canada. This small butterfly is restricted to southeastern Manitoba and a site near Flint, Michigan. This precarious population got just a little larger when the Assiniboine Park Conservancy Conservation and Research Department successfully released six captive-reared butterflies at NCC’s Tall Grass Prairie Natural Area. The release marks the first-ever release of captive-reared Poweshiek skipperlings, both in Canada and the US. This program will be expanded in 2019.

Key Biodiversity Areas to guide conservation

Many conflicts between resource development and conservation occur because important areas for nature have not been identified early in the planning process. Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) is a global effort to map these places around the world. In Canada, Important Bird Areas and some freshwater KBAs were announced, with more to be identified by the Wildlife Conservation Society Canada and partners.

Technology for nature

Technology can certainly distract us from nature, but it can also inform and inspire action. A great example is Canada’s new online marine atlas written by Oceans North Conservation Society, WWF Canada and Ducks Unlimited Canada.

Technology can also allow everyone to participate in conservation and contribute to our collective knowledge. iNaturalist reached over one million users. With over 500 million eBird observations, we are learning more about birds and creating amazing maps that show the abundance of and migration for many species.

Nature for all

The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s new publication: Connecting with Nature to Care for Ourselves and the Earth is a useful guide to linking nature with our own well-being.

(Dan Kraus is senior conservation biologist with the Nature Conservancy of Canada)