Back in September of 2020, the Governments of Canada, EU, and Britain pledged to protect 30% of their territories by 2030 to help mitigate impacts of catastrophic climate change and widespread species loss.
For many of the countries who signed the pledge it wasn’t that big of a deal. For example, Britain is already close to meeting the 30% target (though much of its so-called protected land wouldn’t be considered protected in Canada, as agricultural land that is actively being farmed or grazed). But it was a very big deal for Canada, the second largest nation on Earth, to make the 30% by 2030 pledge.
For Canada to meet the 2030 deadline, a great deal of wild country is going to need to be granted protected area status. The Prime Minister says that the way forward is to work with Indigenous people to designate new protected areas – and he is right in that – but only half right.
Because of how powers are divided up in Canada, the provinces swing a lot of weight – especially in land-use issues. In British Columbia, which is Canada’s most biodiverse region, provincial government representatives have been slow to show much enthusiasm for meeting the 2030 deadline.
Currently about 15% of BC is in a protected area. To meet the 2030 deadline this province needs to double park lands by 2030, which is no small task.
To be fair, BC has shown support for some Indigenous land use visions. One example is the proposed Qat’muk Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) being designed right now by the Ktunaxa Nation. The IPA is expected to cover about 70,000 hectares in southeast BC north of the existing Purcell Wilderness Conservancy Provincial Park. It is very helpful to see BC in support.
But other IPA proposals have so far been met with the provincial cold shoulder – and that is shameful.
The Tŝilhqot’in Nation’s Dasiqox Tribal Park, located in the shared caretaker areas of the communities of Xeni Gwet’in and Yuneŝit’in, encompasses about 300,000 hectares. This spectacular IPA has been waiting far too long for provincial recognition, legislation, and proper funding. And it’s not the only one. There are currently enough Indigenous protected area proposals and land use visions to well and truly launch BC on a path to doubling protected areas by 2030 – if only Victoria would act on them.
BC is going to need to legislate preservation and funding for every IPA, grove of endangered old-growth forest, favourite fishing lake, hiking trail, wilderness gem, watershed that supplies drinking water, and species-at-risk habitat. In parts of the province there just isn’t enough old-growth or wilderness left – the province is going to need to include industrially damaged watersheds and begin the long task of restoring them to former glory.
Mr. Trudeau made his promise on the world stage. Its biggest benefits will be felt right here in BC – but we are all going to have to work real hard to ensure the promise is kept.
Joe Foy is the protected areas campaigner for the Wilderness Committee.