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Conservation group praises new provincial park to protect polar bears

A male polar bear walks along the shore of Hudson Bay near Churchill.

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A male polar bear walks along the shore of Hudson Bay near Churchill. (CP)

Canada’s parks are under even more threat, but Manitoba at least gets higher marks for launching a process to create a huge new park to protect polar bears and other species on the Hudson Bay coastline.

The findings are in the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) sixth annual review of the state of Canada’s parks released today.

The annual review also says Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh’s recent announcement that consultations will soon begin for protection of the massive Seal River ecosystem are also a bright note for the province.

"Manitoba’s north presents an opportunity that most places in the world have lost," Ron Thiessen, executive director of the Manitoba chapter of CPAWS, said in a news release. "The chance to create a plan for a healthy balance of environmental protection and economic prosperity before development proposals are made,"

CPAWS says the province’s proposed Polar Bear Provincial Park could be as large as 29,000 square kilometers, comparable to the size of Vancouver Island.

The Seal River ecosystem is 50,000 square kilometers, close to the size of Nova Scotia, and is one of the few large intact watersheds in the world. The Seal is also northern Manitoba’s largest free-flowing, river, CPAWS says. Manitoba Hydro has recently said it has no development plans for the Seal River.

CPAWS says in many parts of Canada, there’s a growing trend by governments to prioritize industrial and commercial interests over ecological, social and economic benefits.

For example, CRAWS says with little public notice or debate, the B.C. government amended its Park Act in March to allow boundary adjustments for pipeline and other industrial developments.

In Jasper National Park, CPAWS says the federal government is considering a proposal for a hotel at Maligne Lake that would violate a park policy designed specifically to limit commercial development, and could put a highly endangered caribou herd in the park at greater risk.

In the Yukon, First Nations and conservation groups including CPAWS were in court earlier this month challenging the territory’s plan to open up over 70 per centof the spectacular Peel watershed to mineral, oil and gas staking, in direct contravention of a government-supported commission’s recommendation after six years of study to protect 80 per cent of the area in parks and other conservation zones.

A report released this year by the Canadian Parks Council shows protecting nature in parks provides strong health and economic benefits. And a 2011 report found that Canada’s parks support more than 64,000 fulltime jobs, generate nearly $3 billion in labour income, and $337 million in government tax revenues.

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Updated on Monday, July 14, 2014 at 12:43 PM CDT:
Adds report as PDF

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