Species at risk need big, linked parks: report

Ensuring Canada's woodland caribou, eastern wolf and other at-risk species survive will require larger, more interconnected parks, a new report says.

Ensuring Canada's woodland caribou, eastern wolf and other at-risk species survive will require bigger, more interconnected parks, a new report says.

Canada's parks are an uneven patchwork in terms of how much protection they offer endangered wildlife, concluded the third annual review of how wildlife are faring in Canada's parks released Friday by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

"There are quite a few [species] that in fact rely very heavily on parks as their main habitat," said Eric Hébert-Daly, the group's executive director. "Having really big parks, to keep large habitat in tact, having them connected to other protected areas is quite essential."

Animals tend to thrive in larger, well-managed parks, he said.

"The smaller ones that aren't connected tend to be the ones that have a hard time."

The report praised the government efforts to create more parks, including the recently announced Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area in B.C., Sable Island in Nova Scotia and the Mealy Mountains in Newfoundland and Labrador.

It noted that establishing a protective zone around Ontario's Algonquin Park and connecting parks in the Rocky Mountains have had a positive effect on species like the eastern wolf and grizzly bear.

But some species, such as woodland caribou, are still struggling.

In those cases, human activity is often to blame, Hébert-Daly said.

"The moment you start developing roads, the predator-prey relationship gets unbalanced," he said. Caribou may have a harder time fleeing and hiding from wolves, for example, and are very sensitive to development.

While Parks Canada has made ecological integrity — preserving the interconnection of large wildlife habitat areas — a priority in the past 10 years, that has been less of a priority in many provinces, Hébert-Daly said. He added that many provinces see parks as recreation areas, and therefore offer little protection from activities such as clearcut logging.