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Parks group says challenges getting greater, governments failing parks

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OTTAWA - An environmental group says its annual review of the state of Canada's parks has left it worried.

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society says most parks and proposed protected areas are facing greater challenges than they were a year ago.

Spokewoman Alison Woodley says the society is most worried about the growing trend by governments to give priority to industrial and commercial interests in parks.

She says many decisions are being made that "ignore scientific evidence and public opinion."

CPAWS points to the decision by the B.C. government in March to amend its Parks Act to facilitate boundary adjustments for pipeline and other industrial developments, saying it happened with little public notice or debate.

The organization also criticizes an agreement signed in March between the New Brunswick government and forestry company J.D. Irving Ltd. to open up previous wildlife and water conservation zones to increased logging.

B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak has labelled environmentalists' claims about industrial development as incorrect, saying that while development is allowed, there is "no drilling, no mining, no forestry, no transmission lines, no gas wells."

The CPAWS review also raises concern about a proposed hotel development being considered at Maligne Lake in Alberta's Jasper National Park in Alberta; a plan in the Yukon to open up the Peel watershed to mineral, oil and gas staking; and the stalling of protected area plans in Newfoundland, Quebec and Alberta.

“An obvious question that arises from this year’s review is, why is protecting Canada’s amazing nature within parks and other forms of protected areas so difficult to achieve when their benefits to nature, human health and the economy are so strong?" says Woodley.

“Canadians love their parks and there is strong evidence that they are overwhelmingly beneficial for people and nature. We’re urging Canada’s governments to better recognize the true value of parks in their decision-making."

In addition to the criticism, the review also handed out praise for several projects, including the halting of a drilling proposal for Newfoundland’s Gros Morne National Park; Manitoba's moves toward creating a huge new park to protect polar bears and other species on the Hudson’s Bay coast; and the progress made in the Yukon toward creating Kusawa Territorial Park.

In response to the findings in this year’s report, CPAWS is calling on governments to better recognize the environmental, economic and social benefits of parks, and to commit to significant expansions and better management of parks systems across the country.

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