If you’ve glanced at the news recently, chances are you’ve noticed that there is a lot of buzz around the state of the natural environment. With students going on climate strikes, headlines warning of ecological disaster, and decision-makers grappling with how to balance social, economic, and environmental interests, it can all feel a bit overwhelming sometimes.
The moments in which I’m personally able to find the most energy and solace are when I am surrounded by concerned and passionate individuals who are doing something to address environmental issues. The 2019 Canadian Parks Conference was the perfect setting for just that.
The conference brought together hundreds of scientists, managers, activists, academics, and others to share best practices and plan for the future of parks in Canada. And if you haven’t heard yet, when it comes to saving the world, parks are one of our greatest not-so-secret weapons. Largescale parks and protected areas are one of the best tools we have to protect biodiversity, sequester carbon, and sustain healthy, intact ecosystems. Smaller greenspaces and local parks are equally important tools used to foster a love for the natural environment, to increase human health and wellbeing, and to connect people with nature.
In the midst of a full schedule of sessions at the Canadian Parks Conference discussing all these benefits of parks and more, I was able to work with a small group of passionate young nature enthusiasts to share our perspectives on youth engagement in parks and protected areas. As the Students on Ice delegate in the group, I led the section of the workshop on meaningful ambassadorship.
In 2015 I was able to participate in the Students on Ice Arctic Expedition as part of the Parks Canada Northern Engagement and Outreach Team, where I visited Sirmilik National Park and fell even more in love with our protected spaces here in Canada. Drawing on my personal experiences with ambassadorship during and after my SOI expedition, I presented about the increasing importance of lasting engagement of young people with parks and conservation projects and led a brainstorm of ways to engage youth as life-long champions for nature.
There was a lot of positive momentum at the Canadian Parks Conference and many reasons to be optimistic moving forward. Like with any natural resources project though, it is important that we carefully consider where, when, why, and how parks are created in the future. Parks may be powerful tools, but they have a long history of displacement, inequality, and injustice that we have to actively continue working toward reconciling. Likewise, getting together and discussing the future of parks can be productive but we need to ensure that we are taking action on actually protecting nature, in partnership with local indigenous people, in a timely manner.
Moving forward, Canada is well positioned to prioritize parks and nature conservation now and into the future. Along the way, we can all work together to help inspire people, both young and old, to meaningfully engage with the natural world and to stand as ambassadors for Canada’s parks and protected areas.