Parks Canada is offering free admissions to its national parks and historic sites. But environmentalists are concerned what the influx of visitors may pose to park wildlife.
Sara Edge, an environmental studies professor at Ryerson, said noise pollution, waste production and higher foot and vehicular traffic are some concerns she has regarding free admission.
According to Parks Canada, over two million visitors have obtained their free passes since Dec. 1. The regular cost for a family is $136 for a day pass.
Mhairi McFarlane, conservation science manager for the Ontario region of the Nature Conservancy Canada, said her staff monitors the infrastructure and key wildlife on a regular basis.
“(Monitoring infrastructure) allows us to document any problems and carry out any repairs as quickly as possible so we can keep our visitors safe, and the wildlife our properties support, protected,” said McFarlane.
Despite the concerns, Edge said this creates a great opportunity for those who will visit a national park for the first time.
“As Canada continues to diversify and with so much of our population growth stemming from international migration, it is important that our incoming citizens and residents have the opportunity to develop an attachment to ‘places’ that have ecological significance and reflect important parts of our country’s natural history,” she said.
Last December, Parks Canada released a report showing almost half of all national park ecosystems were in fair or poor condition.
“You have a situation where park ecosystems are struggling, budgets have been dramatically cut to deal with that and on top of that visitation is already high and has increased dramatically,” said.
Alison Woodley, national director of the parks program at the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. “So our concern is that there needs to be a plan in place, the government needs to reinvest in conservation capacity, education and interpretation capacity.”
However, Edge and Woodley said that promotions such as free admission can encourage people to care about the environment.
“In an increasingly urbanizing world, if we want people to care about the natural environment, prioritize it in decision-making, value it, and choose to preserve it over other options that could result in short-term economic gain, (then) we have to encourage experiences and opportunities that allow people to be exposed to or reconnect with nature,” said Edge.
“There was overwhelming support expressed on the public forum [following] a nationwide public consultation of the future of Parks Canada,” said Woodley. [They’re] focusing on nature conservations, ecological integrity and protecting these places so they can be passed along for future generations.”
If you’re planning on visiting a national park, Edge suggests to do some research in advance about the wildlife and habitats.
“This will help you get more out of your visit and also prepare and inform you about how to be sensitive and respectful to the surroundings and avoid causing adverse impacts,” she said. “If you truly take the opportunity to enjoy nature to its fullest (then) this is a great step forward in cultivating harmonious interrelationships with our natural surroundings.”