9 Things to Consider When Creating A Protected Area
From the lush forested hills of Algonquin Park to the Thousands Islands National Park which many species at risk call home, the Ottawa Valley is overflowing with beautiful biodiversity. CPAWS Ottawa Valley has successfully advocated for the protection of our rich natural heritage through protected areas. This tool is the keystone to wilderness protection, advancing ecological integrity while maintaining natural connectivity and wilderness protection.
But what is a protected area? According to IUCN, a protected area is “a clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.”
We are often asked if there is a step-by-step guide to establishing a protected area on public land. Unfortunately, there is no single formula that can be applied to every potential site, but here are nine suggestions to consider if you would like to see an area set aside for conservation.
Do your homework
Gather as much information as you can about the site you would like to see protected to help build a strong case for conservation. Who owns the land? Are there any current land-uses, leases or other permitted activities? Be respectful of current users. Your local municipality, county or provincial government office will be able to advise. Be prepared to articulate what makes the area special and worthy of protection. Are there rare or endangered species, old-growth forests, wetlands or other features of a natural or scientific interest? Engage local field naturalist clubs to help collect data. Would the protection of the site support local conservation and environmental goals, such as protecting wetlands, mitigating flooding or protecting the tree canopy? Get your local community excited by organizing a bioblitz and ask those using the land to share observations with you. Create a page on Inaturalist for people to submit observations or make use of social media.
Don’t work alone
Ask for help, create a working group or establish a committee. Recruit local residents from a variety of backgrounds. You will need people who are comfortable attending municipal or city council meetings, drafting documents, engaging with the media, managing your social media and website, and assisting with fundraising and events.
Consult with Indigenous groups
Once you know more about the land in question, we strongly recommend engaging with nearby Indigenous communities. This collaboration enables you to share your ideas, garner feedback from Indigenous people, learn their perspective, and integrate their suggestions. Much of our region is considered un-surrendered by the Algonquin people and a land claim is actively being negotiated in Ontario which may impact future land uses. Dialogue with Indigenous communities or groups should be planned for at the beginning of your project, with on-going dialogue and consultations throughout the life of the work.
Talk to the opposition
While it may seem counterintuitive to meet with those you feel may be opposed to your project, you should still attempt to work with them. There may be ways to relocate or modify certain activities to make them compatible. At the very least, you need to ensure that everyone’s perspective is recorded, considered and that everyone is treated fairly and with respect.
Build the economic and social case
While the ecological values are important, decision-makers are confronted with a range of issues. Given the impacts of the ongoing pandemic, they will be looking for opportunities which can create jobs and spur investment. How will the community benefit from the protected area? Will it lead to improved living conditions for local residents? Will it make your community more attractive to prospective residents and visitors? Is there potential for job creation through nature-based tourism? Will there be an impact on other industries like forestry? Keep a record of meetings held and positions articulated in a stakeholder analysis document.
Engage civic organizations, community groups, church groups and schools if possible. Offer to organize hikes or events if the conditions allow. Set up information tables at fairs and events. Be active on social media. The more people who know about your initiative, the better. Look for influencers in your community and beyond who can help spread the word. Build an email list and/or social media group.
Build a government relations strategy
What are the levers and decision points with respect to this area? Who needs to say “yes” in order for this land to be protected? Ask for meetings with key decision-makers and their staff. Be persistent. If at first they refuse to meet, keep asking, but keep the tone respectful. Prepare your pitch, keep it concise and be prepared for tough questions. Bring solutions to the table.
Demonstrate public support for your initiative
Create a petition or social media campaign to show decision-makers that people in your region care about the issue. Invite decision-makers to your events. Keep the messaging positive and frame your project as an opportunity for the decision-maker.
It can take several years before a protected area is established and there are many steps involved. There may be public consultations and other events to attend, so be prepared to maintain your campaign through good times and bad. You will also need to keep your supporters engaged, keep reaching out to decision-makers, and keep engaging the media. You will have to be mindful of changes in local, regional, provincial and federal governments. It never hurts to keep other parties apprised of your project should they eventually form government. We have found that nature is a common issue of interest across party lines and one that is broadly supported by the general public.
Please contact us if there are sites in your region or community that you feel should be protected. We would be happy to be of assistance.