Thursday, July 15, 2010

How will you connect to nature this Parks Day?


Do you remember your first experience of true wilderness? The first time you really grasped the panoplies of form, function and wonder that embody E.O. Wilson's now ubiquitous term "biodiversity"?

The first time you felt a connection to nature?

The first time you heard nothing but nature's chorus all around you?

There's something very special in each of these experiences. Something sublime. Maybe a sense that you were in just the right place at just the right time, and that you experienced something truly unique. But how do you get to that place at just that time?

I was lucky during my youth and grew up with an expansive wilderness literally in my backyard. I recall experiencing new aspects of nature on a regular basis, connecting to nature, exploring nature from dawn to dusk. But mine is not everyone's experience. Despite Canada being a 'wilderness nation', most of our population resides in urban areas.

So if you're one of the roughly 27 million Canadians living in an urban area, how do you connect to nature? First, you find the right place. Second, you find the right time. Nature Canada's suggestions?

Where: Canada's national parks, national marine conservation areas or any other protected natural area in your province or territory.

When: Canada's Parks Day, Saturday July 17th, 2010.

Canada's parks and other protected areas are an ever-expanding showcase of this country's natural splendour from sea to sea to sea. And they're yours to enjoy whenever you want to connect to nature! But given where you live and the fact that parks tend to be wild, you'll probably have to travel. Ah, but road-trips are always fun - why not create a nature-themed playlist for the drive! Parks Day is our chance to celebrate parks and other protected areas every year, and it helps us remember why conserving and connecting to nature is so vital.

Canada's national parks system, as one example of a protected areas network, aims to protect a representative portion of each of 39 terrestrial natural regions across the country. The national parks system is complemented by the federal marine protected areas strategy, which aims to protect a portion of each of 29 marine natural regions in Canada's territorial waters. So you've got a great chance to see for yourself some representative examples¹ of Canada's wild species, their habitats and the broader land- or seascapes that support them - protected forever.

Ideally, parks and other protected areas should be large enough to protect a full suite of ecosystem processes, such as water and nutrient cycling. Areas should be well-connected across land- and seascapes, encompassing multiple ecosystem types and adequate habitat for populations of wide-ranging species - especially those requiring several ecosystem types throughout their life cycles. A recent report by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society looks at how well Canada's existing protected areas meet these and other conservation objectives.

In addition to protecting wildlife and ecosystem processes, parks and other protected areas provide good baselines against which scientists can assess the impacts of human activities and other disturbances on non-protected landscapes over time. In fact, my own M.Sc. (Biology) research used this approach.

I've had some of my most memorable natural experiences in Canada's parks and protected areas: witnessing Common Loons and Red-breasted Mergansers drift silently across the lakes of Kejimkujik National Park & National Historic Site in Nova Scotia; standing mere feet away from an adult bull moose in Ontario's Algonquin Provincial Park; observing the eerie yet peaceful silence of the Rockies in winter at Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta. I hope for more experiences like these as I continue to visit protected areas with my family over time.

What memorable natural experiences have you had in parks or other protected areas? Comment below or connect to our Nature Explorers on-line community to share your experience with others.

Don't forget that Parks Day 2010 is also a celebration of Banff National Park's 125th anniversary and the International Year of Biodiversity. Make 2010 your personal year of biodiversity. Give yourself a biodiversity challenge or take our biodiversity pledge. Why not learn ten new things about nature in your region and share what you know with ten other people? Or participate in an outdoor expedition this summer, such as a bird watching trip, to connect with nature? And why not do these things in a park or other protected area...?

Happy Parks Day 2010!
-Alex

Photo 1: La Mauricie National Park, Qu├ębec (A. MacDonald)
Photo 2: White-tailed deer, Kejimkujik National Park, Nova Scotia (A. MacDonald)
Figure 1: Map of Canada's parks and other protected areas (Data from the Atlas of Canada and the World Database on Protected Areas)



¹National Parks have been officially established in over 70% of the terrestrial natural regions to date, with new parks in the planning stages in all but 5 of the remaining regions. Progress on national marine conservation areas is improving over time, notably with the recent addition of the Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and we look forward to several other marine natural regions receiving official protection soon.

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