Conservation on the world stage: CPAWS at the World Conservation Congress

by Jessie Corey

Over the past week, I’ve heard so many people talking about the “Olympics of Conservation” – referring to the World Conservation Congress (WCC), organized by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) once every four years, this year taking place in Honolulu, Hawai’i.

I’ve thought a lot about what people mean by this, and have to say that I think it’s a confusing way to talk about what’s actually happening here. Unlike the Olympics, which are rooted in the spirit of friendly competition, the Congress has brought people together in the spirit of collaboration. Over 9000 people from nearly 200 countries around the world are here to support each other, build on each other’s successes, exchange knowledge and information, and to learn from each other about what’s working and what’s not in the world of conservation.

Along with several of my CPAWS colleagues from B.C. and elsewhere in Canada, I’ve been here at the WCC sharing and learning for what has felt like a very long, but very productive week. Many of the sessions I’ve participated in so far have been focused on the theme of connectivity and large landscape conservation, two things that go hand in hand and are particularly relevant to what we’re doing in the southern Rocky Mountains with the Flathead Wild coalition.

The CPAWS delegation, from left to right: Nikita (Nik) Lopoukhine (CPAWS National Trustee), me, Alison Woodley (CPAWS Parks Program Director), Sabine Jessen (CPAWS Oceans Program Director), and Marieve Marchand (former CPAWS National Trustee)

It was incredible to hear about efforts from countries around the world working to ensure connectivity between protected areas – in legally enshrined “biological corridors” in Bhutan, for example – and always thinking about the bigger picture of protected area networks and conserving large-scale landscapes.

I sat in on a session with wildlife biologist Michael Proctor, one of the top grizzly bear researchers in B.C., about the Trans-border Grizzly Bear Project. It was inspiring to hear about the success they’ve experienced in restoring linkages within grizzly bear habitat in the South Selkirks – efforts we’re hoping to duplicate in south-western B.C. where grizzly bear populations are at risk of disappearing from the landscape forever.

Aside from the many presentations and workshops I’ve been participating in, I also delivered a session with my colleague Liv French about international best practices for modifying protected area boundaries, an issue which has been particularly relevant in B.C. since the last round of amendments to our provincial Parks Act. We heard from a broad array of people facing similar challenges around the world, from South Africa to Poland to Panama, and had an insightful discussion on the topic of establishing best practices, and identifying solutions on the question of how and when to change protected area boundaries.

On a personal note, one of the highlights of being here at the congress has been the opportunity to hear from some of the world’s greatest thinkers and doers in the world of conservation. On one of the first days of the congress, I was in a room listening to E.O. Wilson (THE E.O. Wilson!) speaking about the need to protect half of our planet’s resources in order to give wildlife a fighting chance of survival. Later that same day, I was in another room listening to Jane Goodall speak to another packed crowd, eager to listen to and learn from one of the most well-known conservation heroes in the world.

That’s me on the right with Sabine Jessen, our National Oceans Program Director, and the incredibly inspiring E.O. Wilson, at the opening forum at the 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress

As the congress enters its final few days, I’m feeling overwhelmed with inspiration and also a little bit daunted at the enormity of the task ahead of us. Humans have left an enormous imprint on the planet and it’s going to take a concerted, sustained effort from all of us to work together to ensure a future for our wildlife and wild spaces. Large-landscape conservation and connectivity, a key underpinning for all of the work that CPAWS is doing across the country, has a huge role to play in securing this future. My conversations and interactions with others at the Congress have been truly invigorating, and have left me feeling we’re up for the task – I can only hope others feel the same!