A Case for Eliminating All
Extractive Activities from Ontario's Parks
a time when the planet is losing its ecological diversity
at an unprecedented rate, Ontarians should re-evaluate the
role of their provincial parks in terms of future socio-economic
benefits. Better understanding and appreciation of our parks'
economic value to social, natural and human capital would
allow the concept of sustainable development to mean that
future generations are left with as many opportunities as
previous generations have had.
This concept, recently proposed by the World Bank, would be
applied to all of the values associated with wilderness areas,
including crown lands and provincial parks. Benefits derived
from extractive activities like mining, forestry, hunting,
fishing, trapping and development would be measured not only
in terms of their addition to economic wealth but also in
terms of revenues lost to future generations. We could start
applying this concept to Ontario's provincial parks now, as
they are well established and currently earning good profits
Ontarians and foreign tourists imagine provincial parks as
protected places, safe from the disturbances of logging, mining
and hunting. Parks are indicated on maps and roadside signs
as Crown Game Preserves, Conservation Areas, Nature Reserves,
Wilderness Parks and Forest Reserves. Such titles conjure
visions of serene waterways and majestic forests, untouched
by human activity. The truth is that many parks are in jeopardy
of losing their integrity as genuine protected areas.
anglers, trappers, loggers and mine operators have access
to pretty well all crown lands in Ontario. These are lands
set aside by the Queen for the enjoyment and benefit of all
Ontarians. However, with the continued expansion of multi-lateral
trade agreements and privatization, opportunities for non-consumptive
activities in wilderness areas are quickly diminishing. The
shrinking remains of true wilderness in Ontario are now within
the borders of our provincial parks. Unfortunately, we are
about to hand these over to business and special interest
groups in the form of Ontario's Living Legacy.
The most disturbing aspect of Ontario's Living Legacy is that
it opens the door to the possible exploitation of our parks
by business and special interest groups. One group with a
vested interest in our parks is the Ontario Federation of
Anglers and Hunters. With millions of hectares of crown land
already available for hunting in Ontario, the OFAH is lobbying
government to increase hunting opportunities by turning provincial
parks into playgrounds for hunters.
park management plans come due for renewal in upcoming months
and years, governments will be holding public meetings to
decide which activities will and will not be acceptable in
our parks. Hunters will attend these meetings by the bus load
to make their point of view heard. A possible reason for this
may lie in the fact that in 1996 just 3.5% of Ontarians hunted.
Hunting as a recreational activity is dying-down 14% between
1981 and 1991. Hunting clubs are now engaged in reaffirming
their so-called traditional rights to whomever will listen.
Ontario's Tory government, with millions of dollars at risk
from the sale of hunting licences, is listening carefully.
Proof of this lies in the OFAH's recent mailing of Hunting
Guides to schools and libraries without the knowledge of officials
at the Ministry of Education. When the Premier heard about
this, he shrugged off responsibility by leaving school boards
to decide whether to keep or return the publication on gun
handling. The Premier, however, does have an interest in hunting,
and anyone with a few hundred dollars can hear about it at
the upcoming Premier's Symposium on North America's Hunting
Ontario Parks web site is now promoting the Ottawa symposium
to be held August 23rd to 27th. The symposium is the sixth
in a series of Governors' Symposia, and is being held for
the first time outside the U.S. at the personal invitation
of Premier Harris. The promotion reads, "Here hunters, wildlife
managers, scientists and academics will celebrate our rich
heritage as hunters." What follows sounds almost desperate:
"Nothing can alter evolutionary history but, for the present,
society faces tremendous upheaval as we disconnect from the
land and stray from our heritage of hunting." This is the
sales pitch for Ontario Parks in the year 2000, as hunters
and hunting revenues continue to decline.
In an effort to reverse this trend, the Tories have launched
a campaign to keep this "tradition" alive. It has passed a
regulation permitting 12-year-old children to hunt. In March,
Tory MPP Jerry Ouellette (Oshawa) appeared in a National Rifle
Association television infomercial to denounce Canada's gun
control legislation, warning Americans that these controls
could soon happen to them. This same MPP was a special guest
at a gun-lobby fund raiser called "Stick to Your Guns," held
in Toronto this year. While ignoring trends in society and
our parks, Ontario's elected representatives are doggedly
sticking to their guns in an effort to save revenues from
the small but powerful hunting group.
are what businesses use to forecast sales and profits. Large
corporations pay big bucks to measure trends. These are then
incorporated into long-term management and production plans.
Despite our government's efforts to conduct its affairs in
a business-like manner, it has overlooked emerging trends
surrounding the public's growing appreciation of nature and
wildlife. Although in 1996 43% of Ontarians participated in
non-consumptive wilderness activities, the government continues
to bow to the 3.5% who hunted. Unimaginative civil servants
have yet to devise ways of making non-consumptive wilderness
activities profitable, thus they rely on tried and true methods
of revenue generation from extractive activities.
long as we continue to equate our connection to the land with
the hook and bullet or the chain saw and skidder, we will
be cheated of the long-term economic values these areas can
offer. While we may have lost many wilderness values on crown
lands, there is hope for parks. Keeping hunters out of our
parks is a first and important step to ensuring that the integrity
of Ontario's parks remains intact. Dealing with development
on the fringes of our park borders should also be a priority.
A park surrounded by clearcuts, golf courses and mining activities
compromises habitat for wildlife. Such scenarios also devaluate
the wilderness experience for tourists.
1998, Canada was the ninth most popular tourist destination
in the world, attracting over 18 million foreign visitors,
up by 7.9% over 1997. Ontario accounts for 37 per cent of
national tourism revenue and 44 per cent of the country's
visitors. In 1999, when Ontario Parks first started its telephone
reservation system, roughly 400 reservations were booked hourly.
Lines were jammed for weeks because parks managers underestimated
the importance of provincial parks to Ontarians.
By researching trends, and applying imagination and socio-economic
foresight, Ontario could establish its parks as sanctuaries
truly devoted to the protection of nature. Ontario Parks should
now be in a position to take advantage of the world's growing
eco-tourism market. Any business that ignores a growing market
segment does so at its own peril. We have enough crown lands
to support extractive resource activities to ensure continued
wealth for our communities. While the rest of the planet faces
degradation from resource extraction and accompanying pollution,
the tourism opportunities of our parks becomes more attractive.
On a global scale, each passing environmental disaster, toxic
spill, clearcut, new logging road, species extinction and
golf course development increases the value of lands which
have not suffered at human hands. Our investment in wilderness
protection grows steadily as lands around the planet suffer
daily losses. Consider these events of the past few months,
usually delegated to the back pages of newspapers.
Mexico last year, the worst drought in living memory left
cows rotting in parched fields. Vacation homes with powerboats
now stand like modern day ghost towns overlooking dry lakes.
In March, a train derailment near Temagami dumped 45 thousand
litres of acid into pristine Hornet Lake. Recently, in Romania,
currents carrying cyanide from a mine lagoon killed every
living organism in the Tiza and Danube rivers. Each summer,
tanker trucks spray herbicides, pesticides and toxic dust
suppressants with wild abandon through our neighbourhoods.
Last year over 630 scientists wrote our Prime Minister asking
him to protect the places where endangered species live. They
said that 80% of Canada's more than 300 identified endangered
species are at risk because habitats they use are threatened.
Extra nitrogen from acid rain and ozone is ruining the health
of trees in northeast Canada and the U.S. Studies of the effect
of chronic pollution on mature trees reveal that near-constant
exposure to nitrogen rich chemicals reduces the vigour and
rate of growth of evergreen trees.
It is obvious that the planet will soon reach a point where
only small pockets of the natural world will remain. Doomsday
rhetoric aside, for an entrepreneur this spells growing profits
for Ontario's parks and any business involved in tourism.
We can start by seeking imaginative solutions that measure
all of the socio-economic benefits to be derived from our
parks. The federal government recently showed leadership by
announcing that no new development will take place in Canada's
National Parks. This was in response to a federal task force
report which said our National Parks need an overhaul or may
face collapse. If we wait until our parks do face a collapse,
we will have lost our opportunity to fully benefit from these
This is an original story,
first published in The Country Connection Magazine,
Issue 35, Summer/Autumn 2000. Copyright Dan Boileau.
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