National Newswatch

A year ago, there was much anticipation in the conservation community that 2020 would perhaps be the most important year ever for nature. Canada’s Nature Fund promised to accelerate the conservation of our wild spaces and species. There was a buzz about the new global initiatives to be shared at the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s World Congress. The World Economic Forum had just made a call to stop the loss of biodiversity.

And then everything changed.

Urgent and immediate crises have a way of laying bare the true values and character of individuals and societies. Basic needs become priority needs. We draw closer to what we love and blow off the dust of frivolity. Safety, essential supplies, family and friends were at the top of everyone’s list. And in a world that was suddenly slowed and silenced, many of us were drawn closer to nature.

Our parks and conservation areas filled with new visitors. There was traffic on the trails. Bird seed sold out. Urban foxes became celebrities. There was a global obsession about how nature had responded to our absence, and even thrived.

The hope for conservation from 2020 is not just that it moved many of us to a rediscovery of nature and rethinking what we value.  It is the fact that despite one of the most monumental crises of our generation, nature conservation has continued, and moved us closer to a more sustainable world for people and for nature. Here are trends from 2020 that should give us hope:

When nature thrives, we all thrive: There is growing recognition and funding for nature-based solutions to stabilize our climate, reduce the impacts of climate change and support our economy and well-being. There is also increasing evidence that wetlands, forests and grasslands are an essential part of our modern infrastructure and that physical contact with nature makes us healthier people.

The pandemic made it clear that our relationship with nature has a direct bearing on our well-being. Unmanaged and illegal wildlife trade and habitat destruction have found their way back to us. This stark realization resulted in quick calls to action to halt illegal wildlife trade and stop habitat loss.

Protected and conserved areas continue to grow:

Over 30 countries, including Canada, joined the “High Ambition Coalition” and pledged to protect 30 per cent of their lands and oceans by 2030.  This will increase Canada’s protected areas from about 1.2 million km2 to almost 3 million km2 – or the equivalent area of over 260 new Banff National Parks. This will need new conservation partnerships and Indigenous-led conservation. It will also require work in southern Canada, where most people live and where nature is most threatened by habitat loss. These efforts will be supported by the Natural Heritage Conservation Program, a $100-million investment in land conservation by the Government of Canada that will be matched through funds raised by the Nature Conservancy of Canada, Ducks Unlimited and the country’s land trusts.

Wildlife recovery: While the global trend of wildlife loss continues, there also continues to be promising stories of wildlife recovery. Evidence of hope that shows we can pull wildlife back from the brink of extinction. In Canada, two endangered butterflies, the Poweshiek skipperling and Taylor’s checkerspot, were released into the wild. And in Alberta, the new Banff bison herd had a baby boom, with 10 new calves born this year.

Trees, lots of trees: There is something about planting trees that holds a universal appeal, regardless of perspectives or politics. Planting trees and restoring forests offers an unparalleled opportunity in the growing suite of nature-based solutions that are needed to slow down climate change and speed up biodiversity conservation. Here in Canada, the federal government has committed to planting 2 billion trees over the next 10 years. Many forest regions in southern Canada have been heavily altered, and tree planting will help in their restoration.

Restoring wildlife populations, planting trees and establishing new protected areas are all essential for conservation. But the ultimate goal of conservation is this: to repair our broken relationship with nature.

When the sun rises in 2021 we will awaken to the International Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. The United National has declared 2021-2030 as a decade to repair our ecology. A decade to not just stop the loss of nature, but to rebuild and make it better than it is today. In the great pause of 2020, we have found a collective moment of reflection on who we are and what we want our world to be. We have an opportunity for a renewed ecological civility, where together we all value what nature provides, and we all protect the nature that the next generations will need.

Perhaps 2020 has been our big year for nature after all.

(Dan Kraus is senior conservation biologist with the Nature Conservancy of Canada)

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