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Connect with Nature: Go Stargazing
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Connect with Nature: Go Stargazing

[caption id="attachment_22916" align="alignleft" width="150"]Samantha Nurse, Web and Social Media Coordinator Samantha Nurse, Web and Social Media Coordinator[/caption] There are few things that can compare to the beautiful sight of a starry night. Stargazing is a great way to soak up Mother Nature and unwind from the hustle and bustle of our busy lives. Here are a few tips to help make the most out of your stargazing experience.

Where to go:

Pick a location that will give you minimal glare from artificial light and a maximum view of the sky. Consider visiting a local park or, if you’re able, head to a Dark Sky Preserve for a truly unique stargazing experience. In Canada, we’re lucky to be home to seventeen of these designated sites, which are natural spaces kept free of artificial light in order to promote astronomy and minimize light pollution. Some of these preserves, including Fathom Five National Marine Park, host guided night hikes where you can experience the breathtaking beauty of the night sky with fellow nature lovers. Image of a person looking at a starry night

What to bring:

The great thing about stargazing is that you don’t need any special gear or information to get started. Stars, constellations and meteor showers are all visible to the naked eye. If you’d like to get a closer look, bring along a pair of binoculars or a telescope if you have one.  A guide to the sky can be easily downloaded online or picked up at a local book store. Most smart phones also have apps that can help you navigate the sky once your location has been determined.

When to go:

Keep an eye on the weather forecast and wait for an evening with a clear, moonless sky. Before you head out, check out these simple tips to make sure you get the most of your viewing experience. Don’t forget to pack a thermos of hot liquid, like tea or hot chocolate to keep you warm. Bundle up and enjoy your evening under the stars!
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Nature or Bust! How to Get Out of Town & Enjoy Nature With No Car
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Nature or Bust! How to Get Out of Town & Enjoy Nature With No Car

[caption id="attachment_23392" align="alignleft" width="150"]Laura Strachan, Guest Blogger Laura Strachan,
Guest Blogger[/caption] This blog is written by guest blogger, Laura Strachan. Urban living without a car does not mean you are stuck in the concrete jungle. Sometimes you need to get out of town to ground yourself, get fresh air and enjoy the peace of the natural world. As Canadians we are fortunately never very far from a country hike or an impromptu camping trip. But how do you get there and back? With your gear? Luckily there are ways to get out of the hustle and bustle that don’t require a personal vehicle. For day trips or longer excursions there are options for everyone. [caption id="attachment_23400" align="alignright" width="270"]algonquin outlook_shutterstock_2016779 Algonquin Park[/caption] Parkbus: A non-profit Ontario shuttle service that will take you from Ottawa or Toronto to popular outdoor destinations and parks such as Elora or Algonquin. Day trips start around $25, park admission included! Greyhound: There are many stops along Greyhound routes that are not major destinations and pass through remote communities. These stops might be along “milk run” routes or just a stop on a highway. But these stops can be close to Provincial Parks or conservation areas and with a little legwork you can explore the area. The Trans Canada Trail: This trail will literally take you across the country. So far over 18,000 kms have been developed and are available for recreational use. Different areas are suited for a variety of uses such as biking, snowmobiling, horseback riding or X-country skiing and run through many communities. Ride Boards, Meetups and Nature Groups: Join a local hiking or naturalist group that meets regularly and inquire about ride sharing. Check out the message board at your local MEC or outfitter. Chances are a group of outdoor enthusiasts would be happy to carpool! Take the Train: Via Rail has a schedule of routes that are specially equipped with bike racks on a baggage car. For $25 your assembled bike is loaded into the car by baggage handlers and retrieved upon arrival. Make arrangements beforehand to ensure there is space for your ride! Public Transit: Check out you local transit system and see just how far you can get on it. Some services may allow you to bring your bike on board. Pack a lunch and see where you end up! Don’t let the upcoming winter weather keep you snowed in either. There are many winter shuttle services that will take you to local ski hills to enjoy the slopes, snowshoeing or tubing. Now go take a hike!

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Connect with Nature: Enjoy a Winter Activity
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Connect with Nature: Enjoy a Winter Activity

[caption id="attachment_22916" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Samantha Nurse Samantha Nurse, Web and Social Media Coordinator[/caption] Whether we like it or not, winter weather has arrived! Snow and sub zero temperatures have ushered in a brand new season of fun outdoor activities, not to mention some stunning winter landscapes. Here are a few of the outdoor activities you can look forward to enjoying over the next few months: 1) Outdoor skating: In Canada, we’re lucky to be home to some of the best outdoor skating rinks in the world, like the Rideau Canal and Riviere L’Assomption. Many municipalities maintain outdoor rinks that are free and fun to enjoy. Don’t have your skates of your own? Lots of outdoor rinks will rent skates for a small fee! 2) Snowshoeing or Cross-Country Skiing: Many of our most beautiful parks transform their walking trails into cross country ski or snowshoe trails during the winter months. These activities are a great way to explore the wilderness and enjoy some outdoor exercise. Before you head out, make sure to check the weather forecast and pack some water and snacks to help sustain you on your journey. If you're keen to try either activity but don’t have equipment of your own, check with your local outdoor outfitter to see if they have equipment available to rent. Check out this list of a few of the parks in Ontario that offer snowshoeing! 3) Sleeping in a yurt: A yurt is a semi-permanent tent-like structure traditionally used by nomads in Central Asia. Many parks including Algonquin Park, Fundy National Park and Gatineau Park rent modern yurts that blend the comforts of home with the adventure of sleeping in a natural setting. While they are classified as a tent, yurts are much stronger and offer better shelter from the weather, which makes them the perfect for winter camping. 4) Nature walk: This is a great way to observe the natural signs of winter. Bundle up and explore your favorite walking trail to see how it’s changed since you last visited. Keep an eye out for animal tracks in the snow and bring along a field guide to help you identify any species you encounter along the way. 5) Snow activities: Never underestimate how fun it can be to play in the freshly fallen snow. Whether it be sledding, building a snowman or making a snow angel, there are lots of creative ways to have fun outdoors this winter. Just make sure to wear warm clothes and beware of rocks and ice. Do you have other winter activities you like to do? Share them with us!

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What’s threatening Alberta’s protected areas? The law, actually…
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What’s threatening Alberta’s protected areas? The law, actually…

[separator headline="h2" title="Update:"]
Since posting this story just hours ago, we've learned that Bill 29, the proposed "Alberta Parks Act", has been officially withdrawn from debate. Cindy Ady, Alberta's Minister of Tourism, Parks and Recreation, has also agreed to conduct a public consultation on the proposed legislation, responding to urgent requests from concerned citizens and conservation organizations, alike. You can read more in the Edmonton Journal and in the Sierra Club of Canada's related press release. We thank all Canadians - particularly Albertans - who spoke out in favour of the province's iconic protected areas system! We look forward to results of upcoming public consultations and hope that conservation remains the number one priority in Alberta's protected spaces!
Image of a ramOn Tuesday, Nature Canada, the Sierra Club of Canada (SCC) and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) submitted a joint letter to Alberta Premier, Ed Stelmach, asking him to immediately withdraw Bill 29, the proposed "Alberta Parks Act". This Bill threatens to redefine the management priorities in Alberta's parks and will reclassify the province's existing Wilderness Areas, Ecological Reserves and Wildland Parks. These and other changes could threaten the ecological integrity of 1 existing and 1 nominated World Heritage Site in Alberta, in addition to risking new external pressures on 2 other World Heritage Sites in the province. In a substantial step backward for the province's protected areas system, Bill 29 proposes to "balance" conservation objectives with recreation and tourism. In our view, conservation should be prioritized over other activities in a system that effectively "...conserves unique and representative land within Alberta’s natural regions for present and future generations..." (cited from s.2(1) of the Bill). Astonishingly, there was no public consultation on Bill 29 prior to members of Alberta's Legislative Assembly debating and voting on it. As detailed in a joint press release issued November 23rd by Nature Canada, the Sierra Club of Canada and CPAWS,
The [Bill] removes prescriptive laws specifying what can and cannot happen inside parks, opens all parks to tourism development and off-road motorized recreation, and leaves all decisions between development and protection inside parks to Ministerial opinion. That includes Dinosaur [Provincial Park], Áísínai'pi [Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park], and the parks contiguous with Wood Buffalo, Banff and Jasper [National Parks].
Image of flowers in a fieldWhat's more, if Bill 29 passes into law it could affect the ecological integrity of numerous Important Bird Areas (IBAs) that coincide with provincially protected areas throughout Alberta. As BirdLife International's Canadian co-partner in implementing the IBA program, alongside Bird Studies Canada, we're concerned about what this could mean for birds and their habitats - especially Alberta's grassland birds. Nature Canada estimates that the proposed changes to Alberta's protected areas system would affect 5 nationally significant IBAs, 4 continentally significant IBAs and 35 globally significant IBAs. Visit the IBA Canada website to learn more about these and other IBAs across Canada. Bill 29 has already passed its second reading by members of Alberta's Legislative Assembly (MLAs) and could rapidly become law after its third reading. But the government of Alberta needs to hear what Albertans and Canadians think of this draft Law before it's too late! Our colleagues at CPAWS and the Sierra Club have organized letter-writing campaigns to help the public voice concerns over Bill 29 and the way it has proceeded. You can find them here: Alberta's new Parks Act puts parks at risk and Alberta's Parks Need You Help to safeguard Alberta's protected areas - for current and future generations of all Canadians. Photo 1: Bighorn Sheep, Alberta's provincial mammal Photo 2: Suffield National Wildlife Area, SE Alberta (A. Teucher)

How will you connect to nature this Parks Day?
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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, Québec (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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