How Were Protected Areas Born?

Human experiences with nature had been sustainable over millennia, but with the unprecedented capacity for humans to use nature at an increasing rate, technological changes, agricultural development, and demands because of population growth, sustainability has slowly left the picture.

Public policy objectives of governments have changed and evolved over the years, from their interests mainly being towards the society and individuals’ pleasure grounds to understanding natural ecosystems, their dynamic/complex systems, and how to properly and sustainably protect these areas from further human development.

Sustainability has come and gone in public policy conversations, leading to changes and consequences for ecological conservation, policy objectives, and the participants involved.

Parks and protected areas began at the end of the 1800s, when new interests and concepts of the inherent values of nature and benefits to society slowly appeared. In Yosemite, California, after 8000 years of indigenous occupation, the first non-indigenous persons entered Yosemite Valley in 1851: the Mariposa Battalion under James Savage.

By 1864, President Abraham Lincoln passed the Yosemite Grant Act, which mentioned that the area would be used for public uses and recreation.

This lead to the world’s first “national park” by 1872, Yellowstone Park, which was supported by railroad companies and vowed to set apart this pleasuring ground for the benefit of the people. Aboriginal people lost their land and their rights to have a home on their own traditional territory.

BUT! Early conservation movements began when there was a shift from the personal recreational uses of nature, to being aware and understanding of nature’s ecosystems.

In Canada, early conservation had no policy, legislation or regulation to deal with resource management, but by 1887, the Rocky Mountains Parks Act was founded, after a new policy framework was needed to deal with natural resources and with the land.

From 1896 to 1910, also known as the Laurier years, public attitudes towards the environment started to change once again, with new initiatives to protect wildlife and understanding that the earth has finite treasures that have to be treated with more respect, appeared.

An important policy objectives’ shift towards the environment was in the 1960s, when environmentalism emerged, understanding the role of humans in natural ecosystems as well as an emphasis on pollution (ex: acid rain) drove the idea that environmental health brought more benefits to human well-being; taking care of our ecosystems benefited us in the long-term.

This was really important because it made new policy objectives, like public policy on protected areas being driven by international obligations, indigenous interests, and resource management needs.

A shift in policy objectives for protected areas was towards the involvement and inclusion of Aboriginal’s. As powers of governments (ex: federal or provincial) increased, Aboriginal people began to be more respected and included in the conservation dialogues. At the beginning, it simply began by including in the Constitution to create more southern and northern territories.

Then, the creation of land claims agreements and governmental approaches to allow Aboriginal people to use their natural resources in traditional ways in traditional areas was settled. Bettering these treaties and agreements through the United Nation’s involvement, a duty to consult, and defining rights has allowed for Aboriginal people to protect and claim their land back, although there’s a long way to go.

Protected areas’ strategies, planning, and systems have created different approaches to represent bioregions and focus on areas, species, and ecosystem functions under threat, as well as setting aside natural areas as a by-product of development processes. A conservation dialogue has been blown out of the water. Science-based models and systems around the world have more inclusive stakeholders, perspectives, voluntary participation, indigenous peoples rights, and establish different features and approaches for specific areas. Whether they be on land or at sea, habitats, species, and ecosystems (with the use of integration, cross-jurisdictional cooperation and collaboration, prioritization), different types of parks and protected areas are being developed.

By evolving, monitoring, implementing, researching, and closing knowledge gaps, parks and protected areas’ policy objectives have been able to become more relevant and involved with the current needs of our ecosystems and human well-being.

Today’s activism, public involvement, movements, policy changes, government action, and individual drive have been able to shift our view from nature simply benefiting people for sport, to protecting the finite treasures of our blue planet through political, legal, governmental, and personal changes.

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