Sunday August 27, 2017

Half the world must be set aside for nature, says Canadian conservationist

According to Harvey Locke, Canada is a “laggard” when compared to other countries around the world in terms of ecosystem protection and conservation.

According to Harvey Locke, Canada is a “laggard” when compared to other countries around the world in terms of ecosystem protection and conservation. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

Listen 44:31

Harvey Locke is a self-described "free range conservationist".

His ancestors lived in the mountains of the Bow Valley before Banff became a national park, and he still lives in the town of Banff.  

He happily shares his property with wildlife. It's not rare for a grizzly bear, or a wolf, or a 700-pound elk to wander through his backyard.

Locke helped lead the charge in the 1990s to link together parks and protected areas along what he calls the spinal column of North America — the Rocky Mountains. He first discovered his passion for conserving the Canadian wilderness when he was attending college and living in a mountain town in the Swiss Alps. 

Harvey Locke

Locke first discovered his passion for conserving the Canadian wilderness when he was attending college and living in a mountain town in the Swiss Alps. (Marie-Eve Marchand)

"I was astonished over time that we didn't see anything else that was alive there — how regulated the forests were, how the rivers were polluted, [how] the streams had all been dammed," he tells The Sunday Edition's guest host David Gray.

"As lovely as it was visually, it was biologically terribly impoverished. To my great personal surprise, I kind of made a vow to myself: I am not going to let that happen to the Canadian Rockies," he recalls. 

'To my great personal surprise, I kind of made a vow to myself: I am not going to let that happen to the Canadian Rockies.' - Harvey Locke

The result is still a work in progress, but the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, which he helped spearhead, has led to wildlife overpasses on highways and connects habitats from the U.S. to Canada. 

"It was just the new scale at which we needed to practise conservation," he explains. 

close up grizzly eating dandelions

The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, which Harvey Locked helped to spearhead, has led to wildlife overpasses on highways, connecting habitats from the U.S. to Canada to protect animals. (Rick Price Photography)

Ranchers and rangers and conservationists and politicians work together to create protected corridors for wide-ranging wildlife that don't recognize our human borders. Twenty-five years since its inception, the initiative is now a "global icon" in protecting threatened areas around the world.

"People come from all over the world to study it. It turns out that the Yellowstone to Yukon region has the most of these kind of crossing structures on a landscape scale on Earth," he says.

"These ideas start moving into society, and people start thinking about how we can contribute to them."

Several years ago, Gray joined Locke on a backpacking trip through the Castle Mountain ranges of Southern Alberta. There were no trails or campsites — or other people, for that matter. 

It's a sprawling wilderness area near the Canada-U.S. border where mountain goats perch on high cliffs and watch warily for passing golden eagles, and nights are spent nervously listening for bears and cougars. 

Harvey Locke

These days, Harvey Locke travels the world to encourage people to think about the needs of the Earth and not just our needs as a species — an idea that he refers to as "nature needs half." (Marie-Eve Marchand)

It was there that David Gray first became familiar with Locke's passion for protecting natural areas, and linking together ecosystems. The Castle region has since been protected by the Alberta government; it was named a new provincial park in February 2017. An adjoining area in B.C., home to the headwaters of the Flathead River system, remains unprotected and largely ignored by the British Columbia government. 

According to Locke, Canada is a "laggard" when compared to other countries around the world in terms of ecosystem protection. We are far short of meeting the global target — 17 per cent of the land and 10 per cent of the oceans — which was set under the Convention of Biological Diversity. 

'These countries that we think of being less prosperous have a much greater commitment to nature conservation than we've demonstrated.' - Harvey Locke

"These countries that we think of as being less prosperous have a much greater commitment to nature conservation than we've demonstrated … It's embarrassing and we need to fix it," he says.

These days, Locke travels the world to encourage people to think about the needs of the Earth and not just our needs as a species —  an idea that he refers to as "nature needs half." 

He says environmentalists and scientists have been tracking the trends and patterns of climate change and the impact of human activity for years — and the results are dismal. 

Castle Mountain area Alberta Victoria Peak

Several years ago, The Sunday Edition's guest host David Gray joined Harvey Locke on a backpacking trip through the Castle Mountain ranges of Southern Alberta. (Left, CBC; right, Government of Alberta)

"If you look objectively at the trends, the news is far worse than the media would let you know," he says.

Locke says people are aware that "something is very wrong with our relationship with Planet Earth." So now, he says, no less than half the world should be set aside for nature. 

"I think that the idea of protecting half the world gives us all something to believe in, to participate in, to implement," he tells Gray.

"And that gives us a path forward that would solve our environmental problems."

Locke spoke to Gray in his backyard inside Banff, Canada's oldest national park. Click 'Listen' above to hear their interview.