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Canada Must Protect ‘Near Urban’ Wild Spaces to Meet Conservation Goals

The federal government must prioritize the protection of “near-urban” nature—spaces rich in biodiversity but increasingly fragmented and fragile—if Canada is to make good on its promise to protect 30% of its land and waters by 2030.

Achieving such protection will require diverse and intersecting partnerships between provincial governments, local and national organizations, and especially, Indigenous communities, write three environmental protection experts in a recent op-ed for Policy Options. Edward McDonnell, CEO of the Greenbelt Foundation, Diego Creimer, Quebec climate solutions campaign lead at the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, and Marc-André Viau, political advocacy lead at Équiterre, add that success will require significant and dedicated funding. 

The authors say those partnerships should concentrate on vulnerable patches of forest and wetlands amid the densely populated and heavily industrialized Greater Golden Horseshoe region around Toronto, as well as those found within metropolitan Montreal, Ottawa-Gatineau, and Quebec City. Active stewardship of these areas could bring multiple benefits to city dwellers, including flood protection, heat wave mitigation, and the profound psychological and spiritual benefits that are now increasingly understood to come from time spent in nature.

“Near-urban nature across southern Canada contains some of the country’s highest levels of biodiversity, while it also faces some of the greatest threats,” the authors write. It is also a critical element of nature-based solutions, which “are emerging as cost-effective, practical options that address the twin biodiversity and climate crises.”

But there are plenty of barriers to protecting near-urban spaces, the writers add. In addition to the threat of seemingly inexorable urban sprawl, the spaces are typically both highly fragmented and privately owned—not to mention extremely expensive. But “it is less about the size of the parcel of land and more about the land’s ecological function within a bigger ecosystem,” the authors explain.

A key place to start is the protection of wildlife corridors which still thread through cities, connecting the remaining patches of inner city wilderness to larger spaces outside the concrete jungle. “By protecting these ecological corridors, we will conserve the pathways used by migrating species of plants and animals, allowing whole ecosystems to adapt and become more resilient to climate change,” they write.

Central to preserving and protecting that patchwork will be a “well-resourced strategy that supports private landowners in undertaking voluntary stewardship and protection measures,” and that is richly informed by (well-funded) Indigenous knowledge. 

As COVID-19 drives more and more North Americans to the suburbs, climate solutions specialists say those sprawling regions mustbe made more climate friendly through densification, CBC News writes

“We’re not going to turn suburbs into cities, and suburban development is going to continue,” said Hannah Teicher, a researcher at the University of Victoria’s Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions. “The question is how can you redevelop existing suburbs to some extent and how can you make new suburbs better.”