As humans stayed home and industries stilled during Covid-19 lockdowns, polluted skies cleared, and emboldened wildlife appeared on deserted streets and empty beaches.
Such incidents gave a glimpse into resilience in the natural world and can serve to inspire where we go from here. However, these glimpses are fleeting since wildlife faces renewed pressure as economies begin to reopen.
We need not go back to where we were. Canada has a major opportunity to create a path forward with nature. Canadians are well positioned to ensure that protection and restoration of nature is on the post-pandemic reset button.
We need to think on an ambitious scale, not just tackle one place at a time.
While the government examines an array of proposals for short-term stimulus projects in coming weeks, the pandemic pause also lends itself to preparing transformational long-term green recovery plans, with nature at the centre.
Plans should feature large-scale landscape restoration and reforestation, wildlife habitat renewal and investments in more sustainable and biodiversity friendly- agriculture and aquaculture. Now is also the time to reimagine tourism, especially to Canada’s north, as international travel is curtailed by coronavirus.
These investments in our lands and waters would create jobs, bolster the quality of our daily life, and contribute to Canada’s global commitments to safeguard biodiversity, conserve more territory, and reduce carbon emissions. They provide an opportunity to prioritize Indigenous-led stewardship.
Every aspect of our lives and wellbeing is underpinned by this country’s ecosystems – forests, wetlands, grasslands, ocean, lakes, and rivers – and the biodiversity they support.
Canadians need healthy ecosystems for clean air and water, nutritious food, sustainable economic goods and services, and opportunities for work, play, mental and physical wellbeing. These natural systems are also fundamental to the exercise of the rights of Indigenous peoples.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged that in restarting the economy, the government will provide continued investments in nature and the fight against climate change. Some of his ministers have advanced the idea of a green recovery. What better time will there be?
Millions of Canadians enjoy our country’s bountiful and beautiful natural world. Many are active in naturalist and bird societies, wilderness associations, fly fishing clubs and a climate action network, among other groups that defend nature.
They are members of more than 220 organizations whose representatives signed onto a joint letter to Trudeau urging him to make nature conservation central to Canada’s recovery from Covid-19. These organizations told the prime minister they stand ready to help where possible with advice, knowledge, and resources.
As the second largest country in the world, Canada has a major responsibility for the welfare of planetary diversity, the key to nature’s ability to bounce back.
Currently we have sufficient information to assess the health of about 30,000 of some 80,000 species in Canada. Of those assessed, 20 per cent are imperiled to some degree.
As we emerge from the pandemic, increased data collection must be a basic step to inform and redesign long-term policies.
Potential targets for large-scale habitat restoration plans include seismic lines and logging roads in boreal caribou ranges; creating new protected areas on land and in the ocean; restoring wetlands and coastal ecosystems degraded by industry and infrastructure; and protecting native grasslands that are rapidly disappearing. Restoring nature on private and public lands delivers services like flood control, storm protection, extreme heat reduction, and reduction of shoreline erosion.
Over time, biodiversity conservation will reverse trends in species decline. Benefits range from helping pollinators to improving food security to increasing nature’s ability to absorb greenhouse gas emissions.
On some days during the Covid-19 lockdowns, it seemed the Earth was taking a breath of relief from constant human pressure. Canadians must work to ensure the Earth will continue to breathe easy as we reset for a healthier future.
Sandra Schwartz, National Executive Director, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and Jay Ritchlin, Director General for Western Canada, David Suzuki Foundation.