The Regional Integration of Protected Areas: A Study of Canada's National Parks
McCleave, Julia Maggie
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The relationship between protected areas and their regions is complex, dynamic, and often based on social interactions. It is widely accepted that protected areas are not “islands” – rather they are connected to their regions through ecological interactions such as the movement of air, water, wildlife, or fire across boundaries; social interactions such as relationships between protected area agency staff and local people; and economic interactions such as the development of on-site and off-site goods and services for protected area visitors. Regional integration is a complex process by which protected area staff and regional actors engage in formal and informal social interactions in order to reach independent and shared goals related to the protected area. Regional integration is influenced by regional contextual factors such as the biophysical environment, the economy, demographics, history, and culture. In order to develop the theory and improve the practice of the regional integration of protected areas, a qualitative study of five national parks in Canada and their regions was undertaken. The case studies were Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site, Nova Scotia; Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland and Labrador; Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta; and Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks, British Columbia. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 112 regional actors including Parks Canada staff, provincial government agency staff, local business owners, First Nations, and resource users. Each case study had a unique regional context as well as formal and informal mechanisms in place for interaction and communication between park staff and regional actors. Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site was perceived by participants to have very strong links with the scientific community, a developing relationship with First Nations, but weak links with local communities. Gros Morne National Park was perceived by participants to have undergone a significant shift in the way that park staff interact with regional actors and has several unique mechanisms in place for interacting with regional actors. The regional integration of Waterton Lakes National Park was perceived by participants to be stronger due to numerous personal relationships between park staff and key regional actors. The park is also well known for its close working relationship with Glacier National Park, Montana. Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks were perceived by participants as somewhat “in the background” in a region undergoing significant change. There are several long-standing working relationships in place between park staff and regional actors but participants’ perceptions of the parks’ connections with the tourism industry and the local community were varied. Several characteristics of strong regional integration were identified including park staff being aware of the park’s effects on the park region; principles in place for park involvement in regional issues; and regular informal interactions occurring between park staff and regional actors. An assessment was made of the strength of regional integration of the case studies based on the formal and informal mechanisms for communication and interaction in place in the case study regions, their regional contexts, and the presence or absence of the characteristics of strong regional integration. It was found that GMNP has the strongest regional integration of all of the case studies while the regional integration of the three other case studies was strong in some areas and weaker in others. Several suggestions are made for improving the regional integration of national parks in Canada including decreasing the turnover of key park staff; effectively communicating the park mandate to regional actors; improving relationships with First Nations; obtaining political and managerial “buy-in” for regional integration; and increasing informal interactions with regional actors.