August 24, 2012 (Ottawa) - Golf courses and ski lodges should not be given a green light inside Canada’s national parks without an automatic environmental assessment, says national conservation group Nature Canada. Under the new Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012, developments like these in federal protected areas would no longer require environmental assessments or be subject to public scrutiny.
“Canada’s national parks, national wildlife areas and migratory bird sanctuaries may be more vulnerable than ever before to development inside their borders with these new regulations,” said Alex MacDonald, Nature Canada’s manager of protected areas. “Our federal protected areas deserve the highest level of protection by law, and there needs to be careful, legally binding scrutiny of developments inside our most precious and vulnerable protected spaces.”
Nature Canada submitted formal recommendations Friday to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, proposing amendments to regulations in the new Act passed by Parliament this spring. These new regulations would allow a number of so-called “physical activities” inside national parks and other federal protected areas to proceed without triggering an independent environmental review. These activities include, among others:
- Building a ski resort
- Building a golf course
- Constructing bridges and roads other than public highways
- Conducting military field exercises
- Offshore drilling
- Conducting underwater seismic testing
- Expansion of a mine, dam or oil and gas pipeline
Under the new law, only activities designated as “projects” would legally require an environmental assessment to ensure that the activity does not cause lasting environmental damage. The list of activities considered “projects” has been reduced under the new legislation.
When it comes to whether an activity triggers a review, the new law does not currently treat federal protected areas, such as national parks or national wildlife areas, any differently than other federal lands, like military bases, or even downtown federal office buildings.
“It should not be harder to build a golf course at an office park in downtown Ottawa without a formal review than it would be at Point Pelee National Park,” said MacDonald.
Fewer than 10 percent of Canada’s lands and seas are legally protected through designations like parks and reserves. About one third of all protected areas fall on lands held by the federal government. As a result, one third of Canada’s exceptionally important protected areas are put at risk by changes in federal environmental assessment rules announced in CEAA 2012.
“We see that nearly 3,000 environmental reviews have already been tossed out since the law was put in place last month,” said MacDonald. “It appears that not even our federally protected areas will escape the government’s so-called streamlining.”
Nature Canada published a report earlier this year, The Underlying Threat, which highlights the types of developments that currently threaten some of our federal protected areas, most of which provide crucial habitat for Canada’s species at risk. Addressing these threats requires stronger environmental regulations, not weaker ones that open up our protected spaces for irresponsible resource development.
“Our parks and wildlife areas were established to leave our natural spaces unimpaired for future generations and to preserve Canada’s wild species and their habitat,” said MacDonald. “We must ensure that we don’t remove the safety net that Canadians have come to expect from our environmental laws, at the expense of our communities, ecosystems and long-term economic prosperity.”
Nature Canada’s full recommendations are online at Nature Canada’s web site.
(613) 562-3447 ext. 248
Protected Areas Campaign Manager
(613) 562-3447 ext. 300
About Nature Canada
Nature Canada is a national charitable organization that works for a vision of Canada as a place where threatened species are protected, wildlife habitat is preserved, and people embrace a culture of conservation in their everyday lives. Go online to read Nature Canada’s report, The Underlying Threat: Addressing Subsurface Threats in Environment Canada's Protected Areas.