07/12/2012 07:33 EDT | Updated 09/11/2012 05:12 EDT

Parks Canada Report: Canadian Parks And Wilderness Society Slams Ottawa's Cuts

WINNIPEG - A report by an environmental group says budget cuts and government policy choices are driving bad management practices of Canada’s national parks.

The Winnipeg Free Press says from Ottawa that the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society's annual report raises alarm bells about the long-term viability of parks.

Among the report's concerns are planned $30 million cuts to the Parks Canada budget that will result in the elimination of 600 jobs nationwide.

Parks Canada’s own reviews suggest for every dollar of government money invested in parks, $5 is generated towards the gross domestic product, including tourism dollars and taxes.

The report says in 2009, Canada’s 14 park agencies spent $800 million, and generated $4.6 billion in economic activity, and supported the equivalent of 64,000 full-time jobs.

Federal Environment Minister Peter Kent dismissed the CPAWS report.

“After reading the report and release, I think that while CPAWS and our government have shared interests in our parks and protected spaces, CPAWS see a glass half empty while we see it half full, and filling,” he said via email.

Andrew Campbell, vice-president of external relations for Parks Canada, said most of the budget cuts and job losses are for backroom staff and said Canadians can still be proud of their national parks.

“We’ve had to find more effective and efficient means but they are raising alarm bells more than perhaps are needed,” said Campbell of the CPAWS report.

The report specifically takes issue with plans to redevelop the Mount Agassiz ski resort in Riding Mountain National Park in Manitoba.

The ski resort went bankrupt and hasn’t operated since 2000. Parks Canada rejigged the management plan for Riding Mountain just a month ago to allow for proposals to redevelop the ski area.

The Canada National Parks Act doesn’t allow new ski resorts to be built in national parks because of the impact downhill ski equipment has on ecosystems, Mount Agassiz may get around those rules because the resort’s infrastructure still exists.

“With most of the equipment and buildings at the Mount Agassiz hill in need of replacement, and after a decade of ecosystem regeneration at the abandoned hill, redeveloping this site would essentially mean developing a new ski area and losing an ecologically important area,” reads the report.

Kent’s spokesman, Adam Sweet, added that national parks are a cornerstone of the government’s conservation strategy. He said since 2006, 133,000 square kilometres of additional park land have been added to Parks Canada lands, the equivalent to adding a country the size of Greece to protected areas.

“Our record speaks for itself and it is one that we feel Canadians can be proud of,” said Sweet. “No other country has come close to Canada in recent years to increasing the amount of protected areas, and we have every intention to build on this record.

The CPAWS report does acknowledge the additional lands added to the protected areas but says the threats to protection overshadow any such progress.

(Winnipeg Free Press)

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