Ecosystem Conservation Plan Executive Summary
"Charting a course to make ecosystem management a reality"
by: Frank Burrows, Resource Management Specialist, Pukaskwa National Park and Cathy Keddy, Geomatics International
When the Pukaskwa National Park (PNP) Management Plan was reviewed in the early 1990's, the park's stakeholders sought to prevent the park from becoming an "island of green in a sea of commercial development." As a new park, not overrun with resorts, roads or people, and as a park with many actively involved stakeholders, Pukaskwa had an opportunity to proactively tackle the question of commercial development as soon as it become an issue. Concerns about how to manage park resources led to the development of a comprehensive Ecosystem Conservation Plan designed to co-ordinate future research and management activities.
When discussions were in the works to establish PNP in the early seventies, the area had few of the concerns of many other national park sites. Pukaskwa had none of the crowd concerns of Banff, nor was the area a small isolated fragment of wilderness like Point Pelee or not so small but isolated fragment of Riding Mountain National Park. In its favour, Pukaskwa was a reasonable size (almost 2000 km²), it had the support of local people and a co-operative agreement with the local First Nations. Wilderness throughout the park was undisturbed by humans. Most of the 6000 km² around the park was also relatively pristine as very little modern human development had yet occurred even though the Trans-Canada Highway passed within 20 kilometres of the park boundary.
As the park was officially established in 1978, timber adjoining the park was allocated to a new sawmill in White River. Several years later one of the largest gold mines in North America appeared in the Hemlo Gold Field, 20 kilometres north of the park. Corporate interests in the region's natural resources had suddenly intensified. Fifteen years later found the mid-nineties and the park, the mill and the mine were operational leaving questions about the future of PNP. Although most of the natural resources had been allocated, creating the potential for conflict between local park stakeholders and large corporations, there were many opportunities for conservation in the light of such concepts as "sustainable development", "ecosystem management" and "Greater Park Ecosystems"(GPE).
Taking Positive Action
Our lessons were clear from many other isolated parks like Riding Mountain or Point Pelee; this was believed to be a major threat. The challenge was clear. What could be done before the park was entirely surrounded with incompatible activities? The answer was catalyze discussion, let our goals be known, advocate what we believe were threats and opportunities, establish institutional arrangements, and most importantly, work with our neighbors and strive to make the entire region sustainable for all stakeholders. A major ingredient in moving this vision forward would be the Ecosystem Conservation Plan (ECP). In 1995 Pukaskwa National Park retained a consultant to assist with the preparation of the ECP. The following summarizes the results of this effort.
An ECP is the major natural resource management planning document for a national park. Not to be confused with the Park Management Plan, the ECP is a more detailed planning document focusing on the natural resources. What the ECP strives for is known as ecological integrity defined by Parks Canada (1994) as "A condition where the structure and function of an ecosystem are unimpaired by stresses induced by human activity and are likely to persist". Noss (1990) stated "When a community is dominated by native species, is relatively stable and shows other attributes of 'health', it is often said to have integrity."
The ECP provides a frame of reference for co-ordinating natural resource management with various partners that consider economics, ecological and social concerns. It recognizes the need to develop clear goals and objectives with all stakeholders thereby providing a base for consistent, long-term planning. The ECP also identifies institutional arrangements to facilitate and serve as a guide to national park participation in conservation decisions related to park surroundings. It will also act as a catalyst for initiatives that will optimize the role of the Park as a major player in biodiversity conservation. Furthermore, the ECP identifies ecological indicators that will help assess our effectiveness and direct an adaptive approach to management.
Following Grumbine's (1994) definitions, the ECP focuses on three hierarchical scales: the Park; 1878 km², the Greater Park Ecosystem (GPE); 8,000-15,000 km² and the Greater Ecosystem (GE); 100,000+ km² (Figure 1). Problems, issues and concerns (PICs) that interfere with the goal of ecological integrity were identified for each scale. PICs were determined through:
- workshops with stakeholders such the regional forestry and mining industries, First Nations, researchers, and land management agencies;
- cross-agency review of current documentation such as forest management plans, the park management plan, resource management studies, and policy documents, and;
- review of the history of the park, principles of ecosystem management and conservation biology.
© Parks Canada/ PNP collection/ L.Parent
Three hierarchical scales used to define the ECP problems, issues and concerns, (a) the Greater Ecosystem (GE); 100,000+ km² , (b) the Greater Park Ecosystem (GPE); 8,000-15,000 km² and (c) the Park; 1878 km².
(Click on map to enlarge)
Many of the PICs resulted because, in the past, social, economic and ecological goals had been poorly integrated. They were grouped under seven topics. The topics with some examples are:
1. Integrated ecosystem management:
- many potentially conflicting resource management plans apply to the same or neighbouring jurisdictions
- a need for a uniform framework for describing and evaluating the landscape
- lack of natural forest disturbance (fire suppression),
- isolation of the park from GPE
- lack of integration of wildlife management plans with other resource management plans
- impacts of forestry and forest succession on wildlife distribution and abundance
4. Aquatic ecosystems:
- low productivity of inland lakes
5. Land use:
- isolation of the park and increased access to the park by forestry and mining activities in the GPE
- park is not gazetted
6. Data management:
- maintenance of digital databases require refined decision support systems
- development of ecosystem management messages linked to parks issues and needs
- expanding education and communication messages to audiences in the GPE, and GE.
Goals, Objectives and Tasks
The PICs were synthesized to formulated goals and objectives (quantitative targets) for each scale based on the overall goal of sustaining ecological integrity of the Boreal Forest and Lake Superior ecosystem. Priorities for addressing these objectives were established by stakeholder consensus. For example, for maintaining forest ecosystem sustainability the priorities were fire reintroduction in the park, co-operative management of the GPE focusing on forestry and mining activities surrounding the Park, and development of a regional communications plan.
To make the ECP operational, tasks essential for the achievement of each objective were identified and prioritized over the 5-year period it covered. Between 1996 and 2000, approximately 10.4 person years of labour and 1.4 million dollars was estimated to be required to implement the high priority tasks. Thus, the ECP provides a practical, short-term activity prescription although it is written with a vision of ecosystem sustainability spanning a century or more.
A self-assessment and monitoring component was built into the ECP using ecological indicators to allow Pukaskwa to chart its progress toward the established goals. Criteria for assessing individual indicators and a suite of indicators of ecological integrity were derived based on indicator characteristics and related initiatives. In addition to indicator characteristics, important considerations for actual indicator selection was dependent on park integrity and threats to integrity, broad ecological base, time scale, ties to current initiatives and indicator species. For the three geographic scales, measures were selected to represent 10 themes of indicators. These themes are:
- ecosystem protection
- natural disturbance
- human disturbance
- species diversity
A total of 108 indicators were suggested covering the individual, population, community, or landscape scales. These ranged from relatively simple indicators and measures such as the number of park visitors and length of roads to more complex, such as species structural and functional diversity measured by number of genera represented. For most of these measures covered, target values and lower and upper limits were provided. The remaining measures provided a focus for future research and inter-agency collaboration. Analysis of trends in these .indicators and their subsequent iterations will provide ongoing direction for adaptive management at all scales. A key aspect of indicators was that they had to become operational and actually used by the park. As a result the park has developed a specific project to implement the ecological indicators program over the next two years.
Many tasks identified in the ECP, such as co-operative research, improved database management/decision support, forest management plan input, and prescribed fire planning are already underway and are being encouraged. Partnership arrangements to initiate the others, such as landscape change analysis and fire behaviour models, are being pursued. These projects will be developed more fully to highlight the practical application of the ECP for integrating ecological integrity with social and economic planning at different geographic scales and within varied organizational structures. The future is still uncertain but Pukaskwa's ECP will help turn potential conflict into opportunity and ensure the social, economic and ecological sustainability of the Greater Pukaskwa Ecosystem into the 21st century.
Grumbine, R.E., 1994 What is ecosystem management? Cons. Biol. 8:27-38.
Noss, R.,1990. Can we maintain biological and ecological integrity ? Cons. Biol. 4:241-243.
Parks Canada, 1994. Guiding Principals and Operational Policies. Parks Canada, Ottawa.
The ECP was envisioned and supported by Bill Stephenson, Regional Conservation Biologist, Parks Canada, Cornwall, ON, written by Cathy Keddy of Geomatics International, Ottawa, ON and would not have been possible without the assistance of the stakeholders and various park staff. Figure 1 was prepared by Lynn Parent.