Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Park Ecosystems over Economics

This is a column I submitted and had published in the January 10, 2012 edition of the Kings County Record.  I was prompted to write this as I continually hear people talking about the need to generate revenue from our National Parks.  While I think Parks don't need to cost us money, I also don't think they need to make us money.  In my mind the purpose of a National Park is to protect in perpetuity the natural ecosystems within the Park borders.  I feel that if we don't stand up now that the economic and ecological line will be so muddy it will be to late.  Let me know what you think.
This photo was taken near the east entrance to Fundy National Park.


Sometime ago I attended a stakeholder engagement session for Fundy National Park.  I left the session feeling concerned about some of the discussion and the direction that was being indicated by the Park staff present.  Now, sometime later, I received a package in the mail about the success of our National Parks program and the celebration of the Parks centennial birthday.  A sentence in the cover letter that accompanied the package, again, made me nervous with its referral to the economic factors of Parks Canada. 
The natural environment is what National Parks were established to maintain, now and into the future.  On the Parks Canada website it states "To protect, as a first priority, the natural and cultural heritage of our special places and ensure that they remain healthy and whole."    Many people seem to think that our National Parks should be operated like a corporate industry and rake in tons of economic resources and this frustrates me.  The discussion about Fundy was about increasing the amount of infrastructure so that the public could be better served and would pay more to come to the Parks.  This infrastructure comes at a cost though, and not just a financial cost.  Typically when you increase the human foot print you have an impact on the natural environment that they "as a first priority" are supposed to protect. 
It was stated at the engagement session that Parks Canada visitor numbers are down and managers are suggesting that the improved and increased infrastructure will increase visitation rates.  I question the validity of this claim though and feel that in reality that Parks Canada is alienating the customers that originally provided the bulk of the support.  Those people who crave true wilderness adventures are not going to appreciate larger parking lots, more buildings and picnic shelters, and more accessible trails and will likely look elsewhere for their wilderness adventures.  This means that increased infrastructure will actually reduce visitor numbers while increasing management and maintenance costs.
To me our Parks should be managed to protect the natural environments within their boundaries for many generations to come.  By natural, I mean undisturbed with minimal human footprints.  With an increasing population that supports ecological conservation those truly seeking a wilderness experience will pay sufficiently to protect the natural environments with little to no infrastructure.  Minimal linear corridors should be developed and any interpretive, recreational, and large scale accommodation should be done outside Fundy National Park boundaries.  With proper planning and communication between Park staff and the bordering municipalities this could provide great resources to the community while maintaining the natural integrity of the Parks ecosystem. 
I realize that managing a Park such as Fundy is difficult and maintaining a natural balance more so.  I applaud the staff of Fundy for the great work they do and for the services they currently provide.  My concern is simply that some managers within Parks Canada may be considering tipping the scale more to the economic side during these supposedly hard economic times.  This would be a costly mistake that once made could not be easily corrected.  I would support increasing the size of Fundy before I could support more buildings and facilities as this would only further enhance the ecosystem connectivity and thus the visitor experience.
Looking from the golf course in Fundy National Park towards Alma.
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