Canadians live in a land rich in natural beauty and diversity. For millions of years, natural forces and not human activities were the major influences on this landscape. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, Aboriginal peoples depended almost entirely on the natural environment. But more recently, with the advent of an agricultural and then an industrial society, human activities have been altering that environment at an accelerating pace.
National parks protect environments representative of Canada's natural heritage for the benefit of present and future generations. The challenge for Parks Canada is to maintain the ecological integrity of the parks while providing opportunities for public enjoyment and education. This requires the careful protection of the natural features and processes for which each park is established, a key component of which is the fostering of public awareness of the value of safeguarding representative natural landscapes in the national parks system.
National parks cannot sustain all the types of activities and development which a broad range of visitors might desire. Generally, access and services which relate directly to the objective for national parks will be provided within the parks, while a broader range of needs will be met in the surrounding region. The cooperation of tourism and other sectors will be essential to help establish the appropriate balance of services and facilities on a regional basis.
Throughout the last century, the growth in Canada's population and the exploitation of natural resources have decreased the areas available for national park establishment, and have heightened competition for potential park lands, particularly in southern Canada. Opportunities for Canadians to experience unspoiled natural areas have become more limited and thus the need for action is more urgent.
Representing each of Canada's 39 terrestrial natural regions in the national parks system will not be easy. Most lands have some kind of interest or commitment for uses such as oil and gas development, mining, hydro-electricity, forestry, agriculture and private recreation. Land-use conflicts and jurisdictional issues will have to be resolved in cooperation with the provinces, territories, Aboriginal peoples, and all interested parties including local residents. In spite of these challenges, Parks Canada remains committed to completing the system of national parks and, through the "Government of Canada Green Plan" has been given the opportunity to do so by the year 2000.
In the establishment and management of national parks, Parks Canada will strive to maintain ecological integrity. Achievement of this goal will require cooperation with individuals and other government agencies in ecosystem management beyond park boundaries, recognizing that there are legitimate but often different objectives for surrounding regions. Consequently, maintaining ecological integrity will be a major consideration in proposing park boundaries, in determining how the park's resources will be protected and interpreted, and in seeking effective regional integration through cooperative efforts with governments and landowners in the surrounding area.
In addition to their natural features, many national parks contain areas which have cultural and historic significance. These will be managed according to the "Cultural Resource Management Policy," found in Part III of this document.
In parks where there are existing Aboriginal or treaty rights, the exercise of these rights will be respected. As well, in some national parks, traditional activities by Aboriginal peoples will continue as a result of rights defined by land claim agreements and treaties, or by specific agreements negotiated during the process of park establishment. Given the legislative and constitutional basis of such agreements, they are expected to supersede Parks Canada policy and in some instances will consequently amend the National Parks Act. Continuation of traditional activities and related cooperative management will result in new national parks that recognize the importance of the natural environment in sustaining Aboriginal cultures. Traditional renewable resource harvesting for domestic purposes by other local people may also continue for finite periods on an exception basis, where no immediate alternative can be found.
In addition to the contribution which national parks make to achieving Government of Canada goals related to completing the parks system, protecting Canada's natural heritage, and setting aside 12 per cent of Canada as protected space, national parks can contribute directly and indirectly to the achievement of many other Government of Canada goals, such as:
- preserving the integrity, health, and biodiversity of Arctic ecosystems; strengthening and building environmental partnerships;
- providing timely, accurate and accessible information to enable Canadians to make environmentally sensitive decisions;
- helping to develop an environmentally literate society; strengthening environmental science with special emphasis on understanding regional ecosystems; and
- striving to ensure that all operations and procedures meet or exceed national targets for sustaining the environment.
Management plans provide the framework for decision-making within each park. The National Parks Act requires public consultations during the preparation of park management plans and stipulates that the maintenance of ecological integrity through the protection of natural resources will be the first priority when considering park zoning and visitor use.