By Dan Kraus
At the end of this summer, on August 30 2017, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) will mark exactly 20,000 days of conservation. This milestone provides an opportunity to celebrate and reflect on the work done by NCC and our partners each day, and the conservation we need to accomplish in the 20,000 days to come.
Since then our work began in 1962, much has changed at NCC and the world we live in. Originally launched by a small band of determined naturalists, and now a national organization with reach and supporters across the country, NCC has made critical contributions to the conservation of Canada’s wild species and spaces. With our partners and supporters, we’ve helped to protect over 2.8 million acres (1.1 million hectares) of some of the most important natural habitats in Canada.
These are private lands that government alone cannot protect. The conservation of these lands contributes to Canada’s efforts to secure critical habitat for species at risk, conserve ecosystems that represent the biodiversity of all Canadian landscapes, and protect lands and waters that buffer and connect parks and other protected areas.
NCC’s first project in British Columbia was the 1974 acquisition of Mud Bay, a biodiverse intertidal property on Boundary Bay, in the Lower Mainland. Over the following four decades, NCC has conserved and, in some cases restored, many incredible natural areas in this province. Significant tracts of restored Garry oak meadows, inland temperate rainforests, endangered Coastal Douglas-fir forests, nutrient-rich estuaries and rare native grasslands are forever protected from development thanks to the dedicated efforts and vision of many volunteers, staff and donors.
NCC’s first 20,000 days have watched a shift in our attitudes and approaches to conservation. Since NCC was founded, over 7,800 new parks and protected areas have been created in Canada by federal and provincial governments.
There is reason for optimism. From some of the world’s first national parks in the late 1800s, to species recovery efforts 100 years ago that we benefit from today, Canadians have a tradition of nature conservation. Today, we have science and information that can focus our conservation efforts on the most important areas, we have corporations that are embracing sustainability, and we have a federal government that can match private donations through the Natural Areas Conservation Program, which has resulted in the conservation of more than 430,000 hectares (1,062,553 acres) of significant habitat across Canada.
But here is our challenge today: despite these many conservation successes, nature is still losing ground. We are continuing to add wildlife to our list of endangered species and continuing to witness the loss and fragmentation of important habitats. Our natural spaces are also facing new threats, such as invasive species and climate change that were unknown 20,000 days ago.
We have made important progress, but our work must continue. We need to create a future where key areas for nature are clearly identified and protected. This includes completing our systems of national and provincial parks, creating large-scale wildlife corridors and developing local natural heritage networks. Canada must also lead the world in Indigenous and community conserved areas, particularly in our north where we have an opportunity to protect some of the planet’s last true wilderness.
Our cities, farms and working forests can all provide habitat for wildlife and are key to reducing impacts to water, land and air. Many of our most endangered species and habitats occur in these places. They are also where most Canadians live, work and play. Our economy and well-being needs a foundation of healthy ecosystems. Perhaps most importantly, we need to engage and support all Canadians in valuing nature. This includes helping Canadians to connect with nature in their communities.
As we start on the next 20,000 days of nature conservation in Canada, we chose the world we leave for future generations. Canadians living today have the opportunity to be the restoration generation that recovers our wildlife, protects critical areas and heals our lands and waters. The generation that embraces and reinforces our Canadian relationship with nature, and shares our conservation solutions with the world.
Dan Kraus is National Conservation Scientist with the Nature Conservancy of Canada