Grasslands, the First Frontier; The Contributions of Strategic Zoning to Sustainable Land-use Planning

by Sky Jarvis & Tricia Bacon

Sky Jarvis is part of a team of CPCIL Research and Knowledge Gatherers producing content and compiling resources on themes such as inclusion, ecosocial justice, partnerships, conservation, organizational sustainability, climate change and biodiversity, connection to nature, conservation financing, and ecotourism, to support effective and equitable leadership and inclusion in parks and protected areas across Canada.

Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park (SLPP) is a 5,535 hectare protected area located in Southwestern Saskatchewan near Swift Current (est. pop 18,000). This Park is located in the Mixed-Grass Prairie (Brown Soil Zone) ecoregion which has a characteristically warm, dry climate and a climate moisture index between -325mm to – 225mm (Thorpe 2007). This ecoregion has few intact patches remaining and is considered to be highly disturbed. In fact, it is generally accepted that only 20% of Saskatchewan’s native grassland remains (Hammermeister et al. 2001) and more recent estimates indicate there could be less than 14% (Sawatzky 2018). 

SSLP was established in 1973 and is one of the largest protected areas for native prairies in the province of Saskatchewan. It is an area rich in history as it is located in lands within Treaty 4 and Treaty 6 and the traditional territories of the Blackfoot/Niitsítapi, Cree, and Ĩyãħé Nakoda (Stoney) First Nations and of the Métis Nation, was used as a historical crossing site on the South Saskatchewan River, and in modern days, supports high levels of land and water-based recreation (Park Management Services 2018). This Park has a long history of cattle grazing practices within park boundaries through an annual permitting process. Located in the South Saskatchewan River Valley, the park and surrounding area serves as an important terrestrial and aquatic wildlife corridor (Guo et al. 2020). It also hosts some of the only known occurrences and critical habitat for the endangered sand-verbena (Tripterocalyx micranthus; Figure 1; COSEWIC 2002)

Figure 1– A photo of the endangered sand-verbena (Tripterocalyx micranthus), a flowering annual plant native to North America and found only in two Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan as well as several states in the US. It’s found in dry habitats and associated with sand dunes and sandhill areas (COSEWIC 2002)

Cattle grazing has occurred in the areas of SLPP since before that park was created and forage production is a valued benefit generated by the park for local ranchers. However, overgrazing has been associated with increased soil erosion, reduced above ground biomass, riparian degradation, and disturbance to native plant and animal habitats. In the Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park Grassland Management Plan 2020-2030 (Guo et al. 2020), it was recommended to test the ability to use rotational-grazing approaches to provide rest periods for grasslands to recover. There seems to be a need to Investigate rest-rotation grazing, native range deferrals, riparian exclosures, and other measures to ensure long term sustainability of a limited resource.

Invasive species, namely herbaceous plants and non-native grasses like Kentucky bluegrass and Crested wheatgrass have affected large portions of SLPP and have led to wide expanses of semi-native plant communities. Smaller patches of noxious weeds, leafy spurge, and Russian knapweed, if left unchecked, could spread rapidly as seen in similar landscapes. There seems to be a desire to test the efficacy of targeted grazing by sheep or goats in spring and early summer AND/OR prescribed burning with limited application of selective herbicide to meet the management goal of increasing native diversity and supporting invasive species objectives.

Recreation can also have wide-ranging impacts on landscapes and the goods and services they provide. Parks and protected areas have the complex mandate of providing visitor experiences to connect people with nature and to generate revenue to offset operating costs while simultaneously protecting a representative combination of habitats and species in the name of conservation. Human activities, when concentrated, can be associated with increased erosion (Farrell and Marion 2001), trampling (Pickering and Hill 2007; Pickering and Growcock 2009), and accidental introduction/ spread of invasive species (Potito, 2000). There seems to be increased demand for access to recreational spaces following the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic (Geng et al. 2021). As such there may be an increased need for public outreach and education regarding the impacts of human activities (invasives, wildfire), promotion of opportunities for local stewardship, and recognition of the need to share spaces with plants and animals.

Figure 2– A map of South Saskatchewan Landing Park as well as its current zones. Zonation at the moment is quite limited and broadly distributed between four main categories including Development (recreational facilities), Natural (relatively undeveloped and supporting low-impact activities such as trails and horseback riding), Protected (disturbed areas in need of restoration), and Resource Management (associated with cattle grazing). Image from: (Park Management Services, 2018).

Regular monitoring of park landscape features, especially plants, soil, water bodies and wildlife, assist park management to make decisions to prevent damage and keep park ecosystems healthy. These features act as indicators, or signs, to those able to read them.

Planning, consulting, and more planning

Land use planning and zonation are complex approaches to resource management. Different people have different values and interests in the land whether it be conservation, recreation, or supporting their livelihood; all values should be considered when making these complex decisions regarding use and access. Three levels of hierarchical land-use planning may be required to better understand the problem, site characteristics, and identify solutions, resources, and stakeholders that can help with decision-making and implementing actions that help achieve management goals. These three types of planning should be considered essential when attempting to design and implement a zoning scheme for a terrestrial or marine protected area (Figure 3).

Figure 3. An image showing the hierarchy of the different levels of planning. It is recommended that SLCC management and stakeholders work on discussing future park scenarios and setting targets associated with tactical planning in order to identify feasible approaches to zoning and threat management.  Image created by Tricia.

The first level of planning is strategic planning. This would include the identification of management objectives, threats, and potential opportunities through informed consultation with stakeholders, first nations, and members of the public (social aspect of planning). Consultation can be used to identify values (social, cultural, political, economic, and environmental). This step also includes the collection of a broad range of data from a variety of sources to inform stakeholder discussions around threats, priorities, and trade-offs.

Current stakeholders at South Saskatchewan Landing Park

  • Park Staff
  • Park Commercial Lessees
    • Marina
    • Store
    • Cactus Blume Private Campground
    • Glamping Resorts
  • Omache Bay Cottage Subdivision Cottagers Association
  • Prairie Sky Running
  • Tourism Swift Current
  • Town of Kyle
  • Park Grazing Permit Holders
  • SW Naturalists
  • The Prairie Dog Metis Local 123
  • University of Saskatchewan
  • Parks Culture and Sport Park Planning Unit
  • Landing View resort
  • Golf & Country Club
  • Parks Culture and Sport Landscape Protection Unit
  • Parks Culture and Sport Visitor Experience Branch
  • PCS Heritage Branch
  • Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment
  • Area Residents
    • Matador Hutterite Colony
    • Matador Community Pasture
  • Lake Diefenbaker Task Force against Zebra Mussels
  • Sask Water Security Agency


The second level of planning is tactical planning. This level of planning helps translate broad government objectives into clear, tangible management targets that can be implemented at the operational level. These semi-broad plans apply to sub-landscape levels and can focus on scales associated with hydrological processes and wildlife habitats, while still being broad enough to account for cumulative impacts. So far SLPP has listed management goals and objectives (Table 1) within Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park Grassland Management Plan 2020-2030 (Guo et al. 2020) but has yet to set quantitative management targets that would help with the evaluation of these management approaches.

Table 1 Management goals and objectives stated within the Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park Grassland Management Plan 2020-2030 (Guo et al. 2020). This plan acknowledges that this ecoregion supports a high level of native diversity and continues to be impacted by a number of threats. These goals and objectives aim to prioritize management actions to address urgent threats and sustain the natural landscapes and the species they support within SLPP through an ecosystem-based management approach.

Modeling and scenario planning can be useful tactical tools that can incorporate public values into management plans in order to help identify a range of feasible approaches to meeting broader objectives and goals (technical aspect of planning). Models can help study the potential effects of management and policy outcomes over space and time as well as highlight synergies that can help with optimization of approaches (more winning and less losing). The Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park Grassland Management Plan 2020-2030 (Guo et al. 2020) and Saskatchewan Landing Sub-zoning Report (Saskatchewan Parks 2012) have identified key areas for restoration and generated several maps displaying the various land uses and threats occurring within the park (Figure 4)- these datasets and analysis would be beneficial in the creation of zones to support management goals and objectives within the park.

Figure 4: Two images showing the current grazing leasees and the occurrences of species at risk in South Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park. Grazing permit holders represent of one the SSLP stakeholder groups, the input and relationship with this group should be an important consideration while developing zoning plans as ranchers have widespread knowledge and use of the park. They can be beneficial partners in developing sustainable grazing practices. Due to their widespread use, cattle grazing is one of the primary land uses that can affect native biodiversity and species at risk within the park boundaries. Both are interrelated and important aspects relating to the aforementioned management objectives. Retrieved from: Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park Grassland Management Plan 2020-2030

The final level of planning occurs at the operational level. This level takes into account site-specific characteristics such as soil characteristics, plant community composition, critical wildlife habitat structures, cultural features, and ecosystem structure/ function. This level can also consider the availability of topographical or other natural/ artificial barriers that can help with zone delineation as well as considering areas that have been highly impacted and/ or degraded. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Protected Area (GBRMPA; Australia Government 2004) and the Gwaii Haanas Gina ‘Waadluxan KilGuhlGa Land-Sea-People Management Plan (GHMPA; Council of the Haida Nation 2018) are useful and relevant examples of effective zonation of protected areas to accommodate multiple user groups and land uses. Lessons learned by other park agencies both internationally and within Canada can provide valuable insights into the development of a zonation plan for SSLP (Table 2).

Table 2– These are some of the zone categories used in the GBRMP and a short description of the intended uses of the zone and how this could be modified to SLPP (GBRMP zoning plan 2003).

Operational plans should also highlight the methods and responsibilities for ecological monitoring. Essentially what indicators should be used, who will collect field data, and how this data will be analyzed and incorporated into successional management planning at the tactical level. Monitoring and evaluation are critical to determining if management objectives and targets can be met as well as helping to identify perverse and unintended outcomes that arise. This process enables managers to learn more about the responses of the systems they manage and can ensure the sustenance of ecological function and social values within landscapes. 

This process might sound familiar to adaptive management in its ability to shape learning and provide flexibility within resource management.  Indigenous guardian programs are emerging tools for parks and protected areas to engage and learn from local First Nations in ecological monitoring. These programs can be complemented by including members of the public such as seniors, families, and youth through opportunities to contribute to education and stewardship. Citizen science is another effective tool in engaging the public in monitoring and data collection. SLPP could investigate forming partnerships with local first nations and/or create its own project on iNaturalist and encourage visitors to log the species they find while recreating at this park.

Figure 5: An image showing the adaptive cycle to conservation which could be adapted and applied to the creation of a zoning plan. It’s important to include stakeholders, park staff, and user groups whose values can be incorporated into governance, planning, management, and evaluation. In doing so this will likely help with the success of implementing, enforcing, and monitoring the ability of the zoning plan to support broader management objectives. Retrieved from: Conservation Standards (2022).

The creation of zones takes specific effort and requires productive and open consultation with stakeholders, including local communities and First Nations. Proposed zones should incorporate local values and consider existing land uses, and natural topographical barriers to increase support for and effectiveness of guidelines on acceptable and unacceptable land-uses within certain areas of the park. Further, there will need to be a public education component where visitors are informed of the new zonation process and why it was necessary to move to this approach. 

As an example of proactive education, the GBRMPA created a park-specific app that can be downloaded onto a smartphone and contains a detailed map with zones and acceptable land-uses to help visitors with planning and navigation while in the park. GPS tracking can allow users to know what zone they are in and when they are approaching new zones, furthermore, there could be an “off-trail alert” which could notify the person when they are off walking/ hiking/ horse trail or when they enter a zone with more restricted uses (eg. started in a general use zone and traveled into a habitat protection zone). An app like this could help strengthen both the public education and enforcement aspects of a zonation approach to park management.

Building on Connections to Place

“If you were raised in southern Saskatchewan, the word “prairie” comes naturally, and you use it often to describe where you come from. For me growing up the word evoked images of yellow fields, canola dancing in the wind; the kind of landscape where your gaze is drawn upward, not towards mountains, but to the open sky. Saskatchewan is a Prairie province. I am from the prairies. I live on the prairies. Over the course of the past year, I have learned this ritual of description, so often repeated with pride, is a deception and delusion—crops, however beautiful, are not “prairie.” The time has come for prairie people to acknowledge that the landscape by which they describe themselves is almost gone and that the value of what remains is threatened.” 

 –Katie Doke Sawatzky 2018

Out of the historical 60 million acres of native grasslands, only 8.2 million acres (or 13.7%) remain as of 2015 (Sawatzky and Piwowar 2019). These trends in the loss of native temperate grass lights not only highlight the need for conservation efforts such as the creation of Provincial and/or National Parks, private land conservancies, and restoration, but can also point towards the need for zoning plans to be developed and implemented within existing and proposed parks in order to balance competing objectives such as recreation, conservation, and development in order to prioritize the maintenance of healthy functioning ecosystems. Zoning plans have been successfully implemented in protected areas both within Canada (Gwaii Haanas) as well as internationally (Great Barrier Reef). Ongoing consultation and consideration of current/future threats, pre-existing uses, and carrying capacity will be essential in delineating potential zones and the types of activities that they can support. The work done in the Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park Grassland Management Plan 2020-2030 (Guo et al. 2020), Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park Management & Development Plan (Park Management Services, 2018), and Saskatchewan Landing Sub-Zoning Report (Saskatchewan Parks 2012) have started the necessary strategic and tactical planning required for the development of a zonation plan. Further work beyond these reports to (1) identify quantitative management targets and (2) develop monitoring and operational plans would aid with the implementation and evaluation of proposed zones to meet broader management objectives and targets.

South Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park has a shared responsibility to (1) ensure opportunities for sustainable livelihood from grazing, (2) create opportunities for visitors to connect to nature and (3) protection of unique species and habitats found within park boundaries. These responsibilities can generate land-use conflicts which will lead to the need for trade-offs between land uses to ensure ecological viability. SSLP could consider creating a Zoning Plan that considers the existing user groups within a multifunctional landscape while also acknowledging the biological constraints of the ecosystem in which these relationships exist. This type of plan would be enhanced by opportunities to engage in consultation with stakeholders and First Nations and could be informed by the implementation of Zoning plans seen in several Marine Protected Areas to accomplish broader management objectives centered around sustainable development and conservation.


Please reach out to us to share other examples on how zoning plans have been implemented in parks and protected areas in a way that supports multiple user groups in a new age approach to conserving biodiversity and promoting human use and enjoyment of natural areas in a sustainable and adaptive way.


Australia Government. 2004. Great Barrier Reef Marine Protected Area zoning plan 2003. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

BC Forest Practices Board. 2019. Tactical forest planning: The missing link between strategic planning and operational planning in BC. Special Report 58. Retrieved from

Conservation Standards. 2022. Open standards for the practice of conservation.

COSEWIC. 2002. COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the small-flowered sand-verbena Tripterocalyx micranthus in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

Council of the Haida Nation. 2018. Gwaii Haanas Gina ‘Waadluxan KilGuhlGa Land-Sea-People Management Plan 2018. Archipelago Management Board Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site. Queen Charlotte, BC, Canada.

Doke Sawatzky, K. 2018. The state of native prairie in Saskatchewan. Prairie Commons, Regina, SK. Retrieved from

Doke Sawatzky, K., and J.M. Piwowar. 2019. Changes in prairie grassland extent in Saskatchewan from 1990-2015. Prairie Perspectives: Geographical Essays, 21: 1-8

Farrell, T.A. and J.L. Marion. 2001. Trail impacts and trail impact management related to visitation at Torres del Paine National Park, Chile. Leisure/Loisir, 26(1-2): 31-59.

Geng, D.C., J. Innes, W. Wu, and G. Wang. 2021. Impacts of COVID-19 pandemic on urban park visitation: a global analysis. Journal of forestry research, 32(2): 553-567.

Guo, X., T. Doan, D. Gross, and T. Chu. 2020. Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park Grassland Management Plan 2020-2030. Saskatchewan Ministry of Parks, Culture, and Sport.

Hammermeister, A., D. Gauthier, and K. McGovern. 2001. Saskatchewan’s native prairie: statistics of a vanishing ecosystem and dwindling resource. Native Plant Society of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK. Retrieved from:

Park Management Services. 2018. Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park Management & Development Plan.

Pickering, C.M. and A.J. Growcock. 2009. Impacts of experimental trampling on tall alpine herbfields and subalpine grasslands in the Australian Alps. Journal of Environmental Management, 91(2): 532-540.

Pickering, C. M., and W. Hill. 2007. Impacts of recreation and tourism on plant biodiversity and vegetation in protected areas in Australia. Journal of environmental management 85: 791-800.

Potito, A. 2000. Impacts of recreation trails on exotic and invasive species distribution in grassland areas along the Colorado front range (Master’s thesis, University of Colorado).

Saskatchewan Parks. 2012. Saskatchewan Landing Sub-zoning Report. Phase I: Literature review, gap analysis, and field investigations.

Thorpe, J. 2007. Saskatchewan rangeland ecosystems: Ecoregions and ecosites. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Government of Saskatchewan.

Parks for All: The Power of Partnerships

by Stanley Omotor

Stanley Omotor is part of a team of CPCIL Research and Knowledge Gatherers producing content and compiling resources on themes such as inclusion, ecosocial justice, partnerships, conservation, organizational sustainability, climate change and biodiversity, connection to nature, conservation financing, and ecotourism, to support effective and equitable leadership and inclusion in parks and protected areas across Canada.

Pascale Salah is a social scientist and currently a national urban parks project manager at Parks Canada, where her work involves planning and research. Pascale is involved with initiatives, such as IUCN #NatureForALL, aimed at making parks more accessible and welcoming to all. 

More than ever before, the benefits of parks and Nature to all Canadians, and the need to access good quality green space close to or in our neighborhood are becoming more generally appreciated and agreed upon as the Covid-19 pandemic drags on. Park leaders and members of the public are developing a greater appreciation for parks and green spaces across Canada leading to increased park use during the pandemic. With this growing realization comes the need to create and enable parks that inspire and invite all people – Parks for All. 

“Parks for All means to bring together parks professionals, their many partners, and engaged citizens under the shared goal of Healthy Nature and healthy people, so that we can align our efforts and achieve more together”

But how do we define “Parks for All” or when can we say that parks are for all? Despite comprising only three words, the term “Parks for All” encompasses much more than can be imagined – from increasing accessibility to Nature and all its benefits, to building collaborations with Nature, partners, and host communities, to unleashing the potential of all types of parks for people and the planet. In 2017, the Canadian Parks Council and the Canadian Parks and Recreation Association released Parks for All: An Action Plan for Canada’s Parks Community, noting the importance of collaboration and partnership for achieving this vision: Parks for All means to bring together parks professionals, their many partners, and engaged citizens under the shared goal of healthy Nature and healthy people, so that we can align our efforts and achieve more together.  


Implementing the Parks for All Action Plan: Partnership

Image by: DuPreez (2019)

The implementation of Parks for All necessitates partnerships – partnerships that ensure that everyone is given the opportunity to benefit from park services and the diverse benefits that come from time spent connecting with Nature. In Canada, partnerships that hear Indigenous voices, support Indigenous stewardship of the land, and strengthen relationships with Indigenous peoples are especially important in achieving Parks for All. The CPC/CPRA Action Plan identifies four strategic directions towards Parks for All: 


  • Collaboration – This involves giving priority to nurturing partnerships between Indigenous organizations and the broader parks community, collaborating with new and diverse sectors, and strategizing beyond park boundaries with a goal of creating more opportunities to work together. 


  • Connection – This involves giving priority to raising public awareness of our parks, facilitating experiences which connect visitors with Nature, and sharing stories and successes to inspire more engagement. 


  • Conservation – This involves working together to expand Canada’s park system, enhancing parks planning and management, and enhancing ecosystem service benefits from parks; and 


  • Leadership – This involves setting ambitious examples that can pave the way for others, in Canada and internationally, building the capability of current and future leaders, and developing and maintaining systems, tools, and resources to support leaders. 

Working Together to Create a Network of National Urban Parks for All

Parks Canada launched an ambitious new program in 2021 to create a network of national urban parks, which encompasses many of the Parks for All priorities outlined above. National urban parks are devised to achieve the best in park practices including protecting biodiversity, supporting climate resilience, connecting people to nature, improving mental health and wellness, promoting cultural heritage, and increasing social inclusion. They will also provide opportunities to support reconciliation with Indigenous populations in urban centres. From the outset, the new program has placed a strong emphasis on the importance of partnership and collaboration, presenting an exciting opportunity for collaboration across all levels of government, including Indigenous governments, as well as with a diverse range of stakeholders. Working collectively, the national urban parks program offers a national platform to expand Canada’s network of urban parks, with the aim of enabling “Parks for All”.  

Parks can do better when all members of the park community (including park leaders) work amongst themselves and together. Achieving Parks for All involves all members of the parks community, and this includes recreationists, young leaders, health and medical practitioners, media, activists, planners, park staff, educators, entrepreneurs, government authorities, Indigenous Peoples, non-governmental organizations, all professionals and all engaged Canadians. Despite perceived challenges, by working in collaboration, creating stronger connections, and displaying good leadership, we can achieve the goal – Parks for All. 


 What do you think of the two chairs in the first image above? Are they comfortable to sit on? Could a better item, other than the sharp wooden stake, have helped in better connecting the chairs to allow for more comfortable communication, collaboration and enjoyment? In engaging in partnerships in Parks for All, are you using proper partnership tools or a sharp wooden stake? 


Park people: Covid-19 and parks: Highlights from our national surveys. Park People COVID19 and Parks Highlights from our national surveys Comments. (n.d.). Retrieved July 19, 2022, from  

Parks Canada Agency, G. of C (2021, August 4). Government of Canada invests $130 million to work with partners to create a network of National Urban parks. Retrieved July 19, 2022, from 

Parks Canada Agency, G. of C. (2022, May 17). National urban parks. Parks Canada. Retrieved July 19, 2022, from  

Parks for all. Canadian Parks and Recreation Association. (2021, June 16). Retrieved July 19, 2022, from 

Unsplash images:  


Secondments and Acting Assignments: The Benefits and Challenges of Temporary Placements

by Sky Jarvis

Sky Jarvis is part of a team of CPCIL Research and Knowledge Gatherers producing content and compiling resources on themes such as inclusion, ecosocial justice, partnerships, conservation, organizational sustainability, climate change and biodiversity, connection to nature, conservation financing, and ecotourism, to support effective and equitable leadership and inclusion in parks and protected areas across Canada.

As a youth knowledge gatherer with CPCIL, I have had the pleasure of getting to interview several park Leaders from across Canada. One of the common questions I would ask these leaders is what they enjoy most about working in their positions within in a federal, provincial, or territorial park agency and what sort of advice they would give to younger people. All five of them talked about how much they like the diversity in tasks throughout their careers. I heard how it was always important to let your boss know about the areas you would like to develop and what interested you so that when opportunities became available, they would keep you in mind. Secondly, most of the park leaders said that the advice they would most want to share was an encouraging message to youth and young professionals to not be afraid of trying new things. To not be afraid of failure or feeling like you are “falling behind” when you take new and unexpected opportunities; these side experiences can be amazing opportunities for personal and professional growth. 

Secondment (noun): the detachment of a person from their regular organization for a temporary assignment elsewhere. 

Acting Assignment (noun): a situation where an employee is required to temporarily perform the duties of a higher classification level for a specified period of time. 

Value of Collaboration for Individuals, Teams, and Agencies

Temporary positions such as acting assignments and secondments, allow individuals to gain new experiences. By leaving a familiar role to join a new team, participants are exposed to a whole new set of experiences, tasks, and responsibilities, allowing for the development of new skills. These opportunities can stimulate personal growth and facilitate professional development at the individual level. Professional growth can be observed through enhanced confidence, empowerment, and an improved sense of capability, understanding, and effectiveness. These benefits not only stay with the individual(s) who participate in these opportunities but also have the ability to influence the team and agency through the permeation of new skills and perspectives once they return to their substantive role.  

“It’s very much top of mind for me to think about how people can take these opportunities and then bring back what they’ve gained to their actual jobs, to influence things and create spaces to collaborate” – Jared, 2022 

Temporary positions can build capacity by making space for knowledge acquisition and translation amongst team members and departments through two-way learning experiences. Secondments can be applied to a team setting  to develop knowledge and skills through the inclusion of an expert from a separate agency (Gerrish and Piercy 2014). The Chartered Institute of Professional Development (2021) highlights the role of secondments as a tool for talent development in organizations with flatter management structures by expanding the capabilities, skills, and knowledge of team members within an organization. 

“From a management perspective, it’s good for your team because it encourages them to try new things and explore their strengths.” – Jared, 2022 

Temporary positions can also be employed to assist with the creation of bridging relationships between agencies and organizations that may otherwise be disconnected. This approach is common to several sectors, such as healthcare (Hamilton and Wilkie 2001; Bullock et al. 2013) and education (Loads and Campbell 2015). O’Donoughue Jenkins and Anstey (2017) emphasize the importance of building these inter-agency relationships in meaningful ways that enable them to last into the future. They recommend regular communication and collaboration through annual secondments as one such tool for driving changes in the long run. By developing a reciprocal form of collaboration, such as secondments, both organizations will benefit at the individual and team levels (Hamilton and Wilkie 2001; Bullock et al. 2013; Gerrish and Piercy 2014). 

“For example, I have a colleague who works for Parks Canada, they took a year and a half secondment with Health Canada. These organizations are not related by any means, but she left for a year and a half to gain this new experience. During that time, her role in Parks Canada still exists, and eventually, she’ll come back and can share her experiences with a different organization.” – Jared, 2022 

PROS of temp positions 

In a paper written by Dryden and Rice (2008) they highlight a range of advantages that secondees are perceived to receive from participating in temporary positions with a host organization. These advantages ranged from improved sense of motivation and education to increased job security and career development, to experiential therapy associated with getting to “try new things” and “taking a break from the day-to-day tasks”. Furthermore, personal participation in temporary placements can help agencies with succession planning by enabling members to gain the skills and knowledge that will benefit their career position in the long run even when promotional opportunities in the short run may be limited. 

CONS of temp positions 

Interviews are a great way of getting and documenting individual perspectives on a temporary position including challenges that they faced. Debriefing interviews create an opportunity for managers to understand how to better support their staff on this pathway to personal and professional development by better understanding the personal experiences of their team members. Some interviewed secondees have identified the need to balance two workloads, most commonly associated with part-time positions, as a major issue that leads to increased stress and burnout (Gerrish and Piercy 2014; O’Donoughue Jenkins and Anstey 2017). Other potential barriers to the successful implementation of secondments as an effective learning tool can include a lack of planning, limited consensus on defining desirable outcomes amongst stakeholders, and limited metrics for evaluating whether the placement was actually successful in achieving its intended outcomes (O’Donoughue Jenkins and Anstey 2017).  Based on the literature review I’ve done it seems like the barriers that have been identified could be mitigated through increased planning before the process, in order to provide structure and points of contact for people who may be participating in a temporary placement like an acting assignment or secondment.  

“It’s [like] moving water; sometimes it’s moving laterally and sometimes it moves vertically.” – Jared, 2022 

Recommendations to Support Temporary Staff 

1. Managerial involvement and support throughout temporary placements are beneficial. Management can support staff and help negotiate workload adjustments while the new worker(s) adjust to their new role (Gerrish and Piercy 2014). Training should be made available to managers so that they can identify and better support staff who may be showing signs of stress and/or burnout.  

2. Mentorships from experienced project leads and/or persons who previously held this position within the host organization or unit can assist with the acceptance and integration of temporary workers into existing teams (Gerrish and Piercy 2014). Persons in the host organization who are strong leaders or those who have held the position or a similar position should be identified prior to the temporary position starting in order to provide support and advice to the new worker. Diversity and inclusion training could be offered to department staff prior to the arrival of the temporary worker to build empathy around the feelings and stresses of starting a new role in a new job with a new team.  

3. Clear pre-defined metrics informed by participants, involved agencies, and stakeholders can be used to evaluate the success of temporary placements in achieving the intended results. This process of monitoring and evaluation allows for organizational reflection on the values, benefits, and challenges of such opportunities in a way that they can be adapted and improved using collected data and suggestions. This could greatly improve the uptake of secondments and acting assignments in agencies and businesses that may be skeptical of the ability of these approaches to create tangible and verifiable benefits.  

4. A well-planned de-briefing session, including an interview that involves management, team members, and individual participants, may be helpful in gaining insights, assisting with knowledge transfer, and providing closure to the participant(s) after the experience ends. This could help maximize any potential benefits associated with these types of opportunities.  

Evaluating Success

Gerrish and Piercy (2014) held focus groups and interviews with 19 individuals involved in secondment opportunities which consisted of secondees and managers from the participating agencies. This resulted in the identification of five criteria that were proposed for the evaluation of success at the individual, team, and organization levels (Table 1). Originally there were six metrics proposed, based on a secondment consisting of clinical and academic participants. Their impacts have been shortened and coupled under the “enhanced service delivery” instead of “healthcare service delivery” and “education service delivery” so that it could be more easily adapted and applied to a parks and protected areas agency context. Secondments taking place across agencies will likely reflect the aforementioned swap of persons from drastically different government agencies or departments and are intended to generate benefits and improvements for all individuals, teams, and agencies involved. 

Table 1- Six metrics for evaluating the success of a temporary position from Gerrish and Piercy (2014), described and critically assessed to determine potential ways in which these outcomes can be applied to similar positions within the context of a parks or protected areas agency in Canada.  

In most of the literature assessed it has been common to use interviews as a form of individual and organization reflection (Dryden and Rice 2008; Gerrish and Piercy 2014; O’Donoughue Jenkins and Anstey 2017). Such opportunities open up space for discussions and cording of personal experiences, highlighting benefits, skills, and insights gained from the experience and a chance to learn more about the challenges faced from both sides- to better support the individuals who participate in temporary placements. If not already doing so it would be beneficial to have persons who participated in a temporary position undergo a short interview consisting of a mix of open- and close-ended questions in order to learn more about the challenges and benefits of these experiences and what has been gained. 

Furthermore, interviews are beneficial in collecting qualitative data on whether the placement was successful in achieving its intended outcomes, and if it wasn’t how the participant(s) and their team(s) could be supported in achieving these goals and translating their newly-gained knowledge back into their original roles. It would be interesting and potentially beneficial to see agency-to-agency relationships being formed between park agencies, indigenous agencies, and academic institutions in a way that is respectful. This could help with relationship- and capacity-building, but also allow for the dissemination of knowledge between agencies that have seemingly limited avenues for communication and collaboration. 

I encourage anyone who has read this post and wondered about how they could do a secondment or what that may be like- to try this experience and let it be known that you would be open to trying something new and sharing your experiences perspectives with a new team. I think you will find it to be a rewarding experience! 

If you have participated in a secondment or temporary assignment, we invite you to share your advice in the comments below. 


Bullock, A., Z.S. Morris, and C. Atwell. 2013. Exchanging knowledge through healthcare manager placements in research teams. The Service Industries Journal 33 (13-14): 1363-1380. 

Chartered Institute of Professional Development. 2021. Talent Management Factsheet. 

Dryden, H., and A.M. Rice. 2008. Using guidelines to support secondment: A personal experience. Journal of Nursing Management 16 (1): 65-71. 

Gerrish, K., and H. Piercy. 2014. Capacity development for knowledge translation: evaluation of an experiential approach through secondment opportunities. Worldviews on Evidence‐Based Nursing 11 (3): 209-216. 

Hamilton, J., and C. Wilkie. 2001. An appraisal of the use of secondment within a large teaching hospital. Journal of Nursing Management 9 (6): 315-320. 

Loads, D., and F. Campbell. 2015. Fresh thinking about academic development: Authentic, transformative, disruptive? International Journal for Academic Development 20 (4): 355-369.  

O’Donoughue Jenkins, L., and K. Anstey. 2017. The use of secondments as a tool to increase knowledge translation. 


How the History of Segregation Impacts Recreation

Colorized photo of the pool at Cave and Basin in the 1920s. Parks Canada. Photo courtesy of Niche Canada.

Ebany Carratt is part of a team of CPCIL Research and Knowledge Gatherers producing content and compiling resources on themes such as inclusion, ecosocial justice, partnerships, conservation, organizational sustainability, climate change and biodiversity, and connection to nature to support effective and equitable leadership and inclusion in parks and protected areas across Canada. 

Today I want to talk about stereotypes. I am sure we have all heard of them, or maybe have even believed one at some point in our lives. Stereotypes are a constant thing in society, but perhaps there is something more insidious hiding beneath the surface. Growing up, I had very few chances to visit a national park unless it was during my family summer tradition to experience the Rockies once a year. Of course, we would go to the small municipal parks around my neighbourhood, whether for birthday celebrations or to feed ducks, but overall partaking in the typical forms of recreation that I think of when talking about the “great outdoors” were few and far between. So in those rare opportunities to go camping or take a hike, I noticed something I found strange at a young age: my brothers and I were usually the only non-white, or even, the only Black people on the trails. When I would ask why this was to my white family members, I never got any significant answers. Maybe there were more people of colour visiting on the days that I was not there? Maybe hiking in the mountains just was not their thing? After receiving answers like this, I just stopped asking these questions and moved on. However, the stereotypes did not end at hiking or going to national parks. By the time I was in university, I had heard it all. Stereotypes like “Black people can’t swim”, “people of colour do not play hockey”, “people of colour don’t like the wilderness” and so on, are just some to name a few. 

Thinking of these stereotypes at first, they might seem relatively harmless or even played off as a joke at times, but this hides the fact that they might have real implications. The first time I went camping in a remote area with a few of my friends who are also POCs, I noticed that we were treated differently than how I am treated when I go camping with my white family members. One morning, we talked with an older couple while collecting firewood, and they told us that they had never seen people like us camping before in the area. So they were pleasantly surprised to meet us there and thought others in the area would be just as equally shocked as they were. I don’t blame the couple for their reaction in any way. Like myself, many of my POC friends have also joked about how the great outdoors is not really “our thing” and have struggled to convince others in our communities to do more than just shop in national parks. Yet, letting this stereotype go and not thinking about it on a deeper level does not feel right. The fact remains that I still rarely see people who look like me participating in or being represented in nature recreation, let alone working in parks. So, where do these stereotypes come from

The Roots in Oppression

Nature and recreation are wonderful things. It often shapes who we are as human beings and should be for everyone, so why would a stereotype or a narrative like this exist? Well, as I have learnt through time, there is always a historical explanation. Anti-Black racism and other forms of racial discrimination towards ethnic minorities in recreation have been growing in discussion over the last few years in the United States. For example, the common stereotype that “Black people can’t swim” is linked to segregation and the sometimes violent exclusion of Black people from pools and beaches.[1] However, just like the U.S., Canada also supported segregation against Black, Asian, and Indigenous peoples at places like beaches, hockey rinks, swimming pools, and theatres.[2] Yet, the issue of racism and segregation plays a central role in the history of parks too. According to historians, there have been plenty of instances where Canadian parks would bar people of colour from enjoying recreational facilities,[3] refer to Jewish people and other POCs as “restricted clientele”,[4] or even remove a Black church wanting to enjoy a picnic in nature from park premises entirely.[5] Even worse, one of the most important and internationally revered figures for championing civil rights, Martin Luther King Jr., was also turned away from spending a holiday with his wife and their friends at Fundy National Park in 1960.[6] When MLK looked to Canada as a more welcoming country to take a short respite in, our parks turned him away and lost the chance to host one of the greatest icons of the 20th century

Letter to L. Harold DeWolf, Friend Martin Luther King Jr., declining MLK’s entry into Fundy National Park
Letter to L. Harold DeWolf, Friend Martin Luther King Jr., declining MLK’s entry into Fundy National Park. Photo Courtesy of Canadiana Heritage.

Today, despite all these horrific occurrences in our history, some might wonder why Black people and other POCs do not just go out and take advantage of these recreational activities or enjoy parks now that segregation has long been over. Although I understand where questions like this are coming from to an extent, the issue of this lack of representation or participation is far more difficult than it seems. According to research, there is a generational effect from segregation, even when it comes to recreation or enjoying parks.[7] So, think of it this way — if you grew up during segregation and were not allowed to enjoy nature recreation and access to parks was non-existent in your community, you would not participate in those activities and would find other things to do that were available to you. From there on, you would likely pass on the activities you did enjoy to your children and that cycle of exclusion would continue throughout the next couple of generations. Importantly, even after laws were put in place to make segregation illegal, it technically has continued for years after, as many racialized communities still have less access to parks, are often subject to overt and casual racism within outdoor spaces, and have had to adjust to the generational trauma left behind or the general distrust towards recreational activities that have been traditionally barred to them for so long. 

Another systemic barrier of what makes outdoor spaces inaccessible to BIPOC communities is within the very nature of white-washing the history of parks. The National Health Foundation notes that “in history books and even in the naming of outdoor spaces, there has been a deliberate and intentional erasure of Indigenous history and ownership of outdoor lands”.[8] This rhetoric has often led to the conceptualization that park spaces are reserved for and owned by European/Christian communities to preserve what we consider as “wilderness” in western society. At this time, we have yet to acknowledge that this thinking, which is still embedded in many environmental movements, was executed at the expense of Indigenous and other POC communities. All of this, combined with a general lack of BIPOC representation in media or at decision making tables, continues to feed these harmful stereotypes and perpetuates the exclusion of many BIPOC communities to this day. 

What Can Parks Do to Address Racism in Outdoor Spaces?

Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Given this idea that BIPOC individuals do not enjoy outdoor recreation, it is especially important to note that many communities of colour do engage in plenty of outdoor activities. For example, activities like barbecues or picnics in city parks are something that many communities of colour participate in and are represented in. However, while outdoor recreation in municipal parks is used where it is accessible, the experience from visiting a national park and being surrounded by nature holds immeasurable value for our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health and should be accessible for anyone, regardless of race or economic background. So, while many may say that “the outdoors do not discriminate” or that “parks are for everyone”, it is apparent that this sentiment does not apply to everyone at this time, no matter how well-intentioned this belief is. Currently, our parks and outdoor recreational systems are built upon the same underlying structures of oppression that have historically governed our society. Knowing this fact means that parks agencies also have a moral responsibility to help dismantle these systems and to encourage true diversity throughout every aspect of parks. Now is the time to push for policies and practices that prioritize racial justice or inclusion and spreads awareness of the many subtle barriers, like stereotypes, that have historical ties to systems of discrimination.

So if you are reading this, I hope next time you hear some strange stereotypes that you will also want to dig a little deeper to figure out where they come from. I know for me as a park leader and as a Biracial Black Woman, I want to make sure that others who look like me or who can relate to my story know that being in nature has always been “our thing”.


  1. Wiltse, Jeff. “The Black–White Swimming Disparity in America: A Deadly Legacy of Swimming Pool Discrimination.” Journal of Sport and Social Issues 38, no. 4 (August 2014): 366–89.
  2. Cheryl Thompson. “Viola Desmond’s Canada: A History of Blacks and Racial Segregation in the Promised Land.” Canadian Journal of History 52, no. 1 (April 1, 2017).
  3.  Loo, Meg Stanley and Tina. “Getting into Hot WATER: Racism and Exclusion at Banff National Park,”.
  4. MacEachern, Alan. “Restricted Clientele! Everyday Racism in Canadian National Parks.” 
  5. “Racial Segregation of Black People in Canada.” The Canadian Encyclopedia.,particularly%20where%20there%20were%20high
  6. MacEachern, Alan  
  7. Wiltse, Jeff. “The Black–White Swimming Disparity in America: A Deadly Legacy of Swimming Pool Discrimination.”
  8. “Breaking Down the Lack of Diversity in Outdoor Spaces.” National Health Foundation, July 20, 2020.


by Sky Jarvis

Sky Jarvis is part of a team of CPCIL Research and Knowledge Gatherers producing content and compiling resources on themes such as inclusion, ecosocial justice, partnerships, conservation, organizational sustainability, climate change and biodiversity, connection to nature, conservation financing, and ecotourism, to support effective and equitable leadership and inclusion in parks and protected areas across Canada.

Adap·​tive (adjective): arising as the result of adaptation

Ad·​ap·​ta·​tion (noun): the process of changing to fit some purpose or situation; the process of adapting


There is an inherent need for urgency when dealing with the challenges facing my generation namely the biodiversity crisis, the climate crisis, plastic pollution, and extreme poverty. Right now, British Columbia is an example for the rest of  Canada on the far-reaching impacts which climate change and seemingly more frequent weather events have on parks and societies from never-before-seen wildfire seasons to atmospheric rivers and polar vortexes. The impacts of climate change are staring residents right in the face: from declining pacific salmon numbers to the heatwaves, fires, and landslides. And who else can forget, the global COVID-19 pandemic? The leaders of today don’t only need to come up with new and creative solutions to these complex and wicked problems, but they also need to start implementing actions and approaches to mitigate the potential negative effects of these complex socio-ecological dilemmas.

Salafsky and Margoulis (1998; 2003) have defined adaptive management as an approach where managers can systematically test assumptions and take the knowledge gained from this experimental process to adapt future designs and management actions based on the information gained through monitoring to guide learning. This may be very beneficial when considering field conservation which is situated within a complex socio-ecological system (Figure 1) containing many different interactions, feedback loops, and tipping points; all of which occur across an array of different spatial and temporal scales. Adaptive management frameworks can assist with creating a flexible approach to dealing with the complex environmental problems seen today.

Image from Virapongse et al. 2016: Depiction of an SES (adapted from SNRE, University of Florida, (2015)).

Figure 1: Multidisciplinary approaches that integrate social and ecological sciences could be one such way to address some of the pressing environmental issues faced by today’s generations (Virapongse et al. 2016). Socio-Ecological systems are a product of human economies, culture, and policies as well as larger-scale biogeochemical processes which have shaped not only Earth’s physical environment but also the evolution of species for billions of years.

The World is Changing - So Must We

For much of the past 100-200 years, dominant worldviews have considered natural resources to be limitless, the bounty of the new world. However, 200 years of utilitarian management paradigms, coupled with overexploitation, have finally begun to reveal the scarcity of many of these resources. The need to sustainably manage resources such as biodiversity, old-growth forests, clean air, and fresh water has become more apparent than ever. This desire for sustainable management which not only provides for today’s society but also for future generations and the needs of other species has led to increasing conflict and social pressures for politicians and practitioners. New theoretical perspectives and approaches are now starting to view ecosystems as complex and highly dynamic systems and have begun to acknowledge that we may have to start shifting towards more holistic and flexible management tactics (Virapongse et al. 2016).

There may be inherent risks when implementing management actions without a full comprehension of the system and how it may react. However, this uncertainty shouldn’t be a reason not to implement actions when we know that something must be done. We need to act now, and adaptive management frameworks (Figure 2) may provide one way for resource managers, park leaders, and decision-makers to proceed with taking actions in the face of complexity and uncertainty. Through the experimental implementation of an array of alternative approaches, each with its own consequences and potential effects, we can begin to build knowledge of the system, its components, and its behavior. At first, we may not truly understand how the system may respond, but hopefully over time and with monitoring and re-evaluation resource managers can reassess their assumptions and incorporate local knowledge sources to develop site-specific approaches that are reflective of the uniqueness of that system and the human communities who interact and rely on it.

Figures sourced from Salafsky & Margoulis (2003). (Click figures to enlarge)

Figure 2: The adaptive management framework can be broken down into 5 basic steps where resource managers, stakeholders, and decision-makers can work together to design, develop, and implement experimental approaches to addressing social and environmental issues (Salafsky & Margoulis, 2003). This is a cycle, so iteration is part of the process- if at first you don’t succeed take that information, make some changes and try again.

Holistic and Flexible Approaches may be Better Suited for Adaptation

Although project design, management, and monitoring are high-cost activities it is believed that current investments can save resources in the future through increased effectiveness of projects (Salafsky and Margoulis, 1998). It has recently been thought that inadequate monitoring and evaluation is one of the main challenges associated with adaptive management of complex systems and that it’s a hindrance to the successful implementation of this type of approach (Waylen et al. 2019). According to Virapongse et al. (2016), robust and clearly defined monitoring plans can address other known challenges to adaptive management, such as the need to manage at broader landscape-level scales, accommodating abrupt changes/shocks, and addressing empirical data needs. I personally also feel that another main hindrance is the lack of including the perspectives and values of local and indigenous communities within the design phase. Local communities should be consulted before a main objective and goal are established so that their values are considered and hopefully reflected in the project before different alternatives are selected for implementation. This may help with public acceptance and support of the project as important stakeholders. Furthermore, local peoples have invaluable sources of knowledge about the system with which they and their ancestors have interacted with for generations and can assist with evaluation as different approaches are implemented. One example of how local and indigenous communities have been engaged within park planning and resource management can be seen in the Land-Sea-People Plan for Gwaii Haanas National Park, where Indigenous knowledge systems and Haida Laws have been acknowledged and incorporated with scientific principles (Figure 3) to generate a zoning plan that attempts to accommodate recreation, economic, and cultural land-uses.


Table sourced from: Parks Canada; Gwaii Haanas (Click photo to enlarge)

Figure 3: Together traditional knowledge and scientific information can intertwine to provide placed-based responses to the drivers of social and environmental change. Gwaii Haanas also known as the Islands of Beauty, is in an oceanic upwelling region in the North Pacific. This provides cold nutrient-rich waters that have supported high levels of biological productivity, endemic species, migratory birds, and the Haida people for thousands of years. This National Park has intrinsic conservation potential for an array of environmental and social values.

It is vital to the success of the project that design, management, and monitoring are not separated, but rather that a holistic approach is taken to integrate these components. Systematic use of the cycle and steps listed above can allow practitioners to learn more about the system they are working in and can lead to increased effectiveness and efficiency over time (Salafsky and Margoulis, 2003).

Image sourced from: Waylen et al 2019

Testing Assumptions: The process of experimentally implementing different actions in attempts to achieve a desirable outcome based on knowledge of the problem, the objectives, the operational environment, management alternatives, and potential consequences. This is not a random process and post-implementation monitoring will be needed to evaluate (1) the ability of the different approaches to meet the desired outcome and (2) how they compare to the assumptions. This will allow managers to see which actions worked as well as develop a better understanding of why some approaches performed better than others (Salafsky and Margoulis, 2003)

Adapting: The ability to incorporate newly gained knowledge, different perspectives, and values into the project. This may also involve critically assessing the validity of the results, the assumptions, and the implementation and monitoring of the project. This may include changing assumptions, tweaking the study design, and/or considering different approaches.

Learning: Documenting the planning, implementation, and evaluation of the project so that others may review the processes taken to achieve the outcomes. Knowledge sharing will allow for others to benefit from these experiences and build upon the successes or failures of the project (Salafsky and Margoulis, 2003).

The realist approach which acknowledges that many of our environmental issues are a result of an off-balance within the socio-ecological systems that we eat, breath, and sleep in, may in fact get us much closer to the actual problem. There is no simple solution. More than ever, we need to find ways to balance our social needs (livelihoods, culture, economics, equity) within the means of nature to provide these goods and services. As with many other organisms, we humans may have to adapt, evolve, or die as we continue further into the Anthropocene.

Adaptive management is only of several frameworks which attempt to provide leaders and managers with the ability to start implementing actions in the face of uncertainty. Together we can be the change we want to see. Together we can build a better planet for future generations by addressing some of the issues seen today and creating more diverse and equitable management approaches to conserving biodiversity and ecosystem services. I would love to hear and share any success stories where (1) adaptive management approaches have been implemented in parks and/or resource management or (2) examples on how local and indigenous ideas, values, and perspectives have been incorporated into strategic plans, policies, and projects.

Share your story with me at:


Salafsky, N. and R. Margoluis. 1998. Measures of Success: Designing, managing, and monitoring conservation and development projects. Island Press Washington DC.

Salafsky, N. & Margoluis, R. (2003). Adaptive management: An Approach for Evaluating Management Effectiveness. (PDF).

Virapongse, A., Brooks, S., Metcalf, E. C., Zedalis, M., Gosz, J., Kliskey, A., and L. Alessa. 2016. A social-ecological systems approach for environmental management. Journal of Environmental Management 178: 83-91.

Waylen, K. A., Blackstock, K. L., Van Hulst, F. J., Damian, C., Horváth, F., Johnson, R. K., … & J. Van Uytvanck. 2019. Policy-driven monitoring and evaluation: Does it support adaptive management of socio-ecological systems? Science of the Total Environment 662: 373-384.

Parks, Representation and Black History Leadership Primer – A Participant Review

by Nathaniel Rose

Nathaniel Rose is part of a team of CPCIL Research and Knowledge Gatherers producing content and compiling resources on themes such as inclusion, ecosocial justice, partnerships, conservation, organizational sustainability, climate change and biodiversity, connection to nature, conservation financing, and ecotourism, to support effective and equitable leadership and inclusion in parks and protected areas across Canada.

This past week I had the opportunity to participate in the online Leadership Primer, “Parks, Representation and Black History” created by Jaqueline L. Scott. The goal of this unique online course is to explore equity and diversity in Canadian Parks and find ways to make Black Canadians feel more welcome in natural places. You can find the course on the website for the Canadian Parks Collective for Innovation and Leadership (instructions are at the bottom of this article) and it is free!

As a Knowledge Gatherer for CPCIL, rather than a Parks Leader, I did not have a specific park or protected area that I was connecting to through the Primer, but I still was able to connect with the teachings the Primer had to offer.

            The Primer was mainly focused on Black Representation in Canadian Parks, and through a series of exercises, got me to think about how to make parks a more welcoming experience for Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour. The Primer also included a series of case studies outlining Black history in areas that you might not have known Black people played a role in. By the end of the primer I felt I was definitely in the process of questioning Black people’s representation in natural spaces, and the images and contexts used to promote them.

Here’s a bit of what I learned:

People of colour make up about 25% of Canada’s population, and in cities like Toronto and Vancouver, make up the majority of residents, but they don’t often travel to and spend time in natural areas (1). This is because there are barriers they come across, in the way parks are promoted and represented. Many of them are actually frustrated, as they feel the outdoor sector doesn’t include them (1).

            People interact with parks in a variety of ways: names of trails, social media, brochures, newsletters, maps and historical and informative plaques. But many times these ways of interacting become “white spaces” as Black people and people of colour are not shown in the images used, the history shown, or the names given to these places.

            For example: when you think about a park brochure, sometimes only white people are shown in the photos used, or if Black people are shown, they may not be doing the same thing that there white counterparts are. One of the exercises in the Primer asks you to question:

1) Whether Black people are the main subject of the photo, or if they remain in the background

2) Whether they are alone, pictured as a couple, or in a group

3) If it’s a couple or a group, are all the people Black?

4) What are the Black People doing in the photo?  


These questions help you to think and reflect on the way Black people are portrayed. Interestingly enough, people are less likely to try an activity if they don’t see people of their race or culture participating in that activity. So a lot of how you promote a place does a lot to determine who feels eager and welcome to go to it.

Image by Keira Burton

The end of each exercise in the primer, asks you to question what opportunities you can think of for changing the landscape of black representation in your park. For example, one question is: “ What opportunities are there to add new plaques in your park to reflect the multicultural history of the park or areas around it?” (Scott). Another question was: “Who could you reach out to find these stories?” (Scott). I found that this second question was a really helpful step, in getting you to actually start making change in your park.


The second section of the Primer focused on different case studies of Black people in history. Notably many of the examples were new to me, and not something I had been taught in school. Scott smartly notes that “Appealing to Black history is a way to get Black people to visit National and Provincial Parks”. It locates Black people in the space in the past, so they feel they can visit in the present. It sends the message that if they were there in the past, why not come now? Including Black history in plaques or park brochures would then be a good step in ensuring the Black population feels welcome in that space.

One interesting fact I learned was that Black people were involved in the Fur Trade. I learned this through a case study of George Bonga, who held a trading post at Leech Lake, which is now in Minnesota, and was an important cultural delegate between the Ojibwe and Europeans (2). He signed two treaties between them, one in 1820 and one in 1867 (2). Another fact that I learned was that Black people had a lot to do with the Ranching Industry and the Calgary Stampede in Western Canada (1).  I found it particularly interesting that a cowboy, named John Ware, was said to be gentle with horses, almost a “horse whisperer” (3). When I learned this, I remember thinking: “Huh, this is the first time I had thought of Black people being sensitive with animals”. Not that I didn’t think that was possible, but I had never learned about a specific person who was Black and who also worked closely and intuitively with animals.  This changed my perspective on the breadth of humans interacting with the animal kingdom.

Image by Peter Starcevic

 The Primer ended with a great question: Why are we not taught about these notable Black people in the school system?. In a video interview about John Ware, author and playwright Cheryl Fogo notes that she is hopeful and optimistic that we (Albertans) are getting there (3). Fogo notes that she has been involved in talks about updating Alberta’s school curriculum (this was back in 2017). I wonder what progress we have made so far…

I definitely recommend taking this Leadership Primer on Black Representation in Parks. I learned a lot about Black history and grew a lot in terms of my own awareness of how to transform parks to make them more welcoming to Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour. I also found I could apply this knowledge to other areas of my work – including my work in the theatre sector. 

You can find the Primer at or by going to the CPCIL Home Page and selecting “Leadership Programs” in the top menu banner and then selecting “Leadership Primers”. This Primer is called “Parks, Representation and Black History” and was created by Jaqueline L. Scott. There are a handful of other Leadership Primers to take there as well.

Works Cited

1) Scott, Jaqueline L. “Parks, Representation and Black History.” Canadian Parks Collective for Innovation and Leadership., Accessed 13 Dec. 2021.

2) TPT Originals. “Voyageur. Entrepreneu. Diplomat. Meet MN Black Pioneer George Bonga.” Youtube, 18 February, 2019. Accessed 14 Dec. 2021.

3) Breakfast Television. “Black History Month: The Story of John Ware.” Youtube, 15 February, 2017, Accessed 14 Dec. 2021.

Photos Sourced from:  

MPA 101: Freshwater Protected Areas

MPAs are increasingly receiving more coverage and recognition as an invaluable tool in the protection and rejuvenation of important marine species diversity. However, freshwater biodiversity still continues to decline in rivers, lakes and wetlands, threatened by irrigation, invasive species, changes in hydrology, pollution, and industrial and domestic overuse (1).

Continue reading

Resource Spotlight – SAR Autism Canada

Hyun Ho Cho is part of a team of CPCIL Research and Knowledge Gatherers producing content and compiling resources on themes such as inclusion, ecosocial justice, partnerships, conservation, organizational sustainability, climate change and biodiversity, connection to nature, conservation financing, and ecotourism, to support effective and equitable leadership and inclusion in parks and protected areas across Canada. These positions are funded by Canada’s Green Jobs Program and supported by Project Learning Tree.

Search and Rescue (SAR) situations are ones that no one wants to experience, yet these services are welcomed by those who find themselves in these unfortunate situations. But for some, SAR can add an additional level of distress that pushes them further from safety.

Recently I had the opportunity of interviewing Shanyn Silinski, the director of Search and Rescue Autism in Canada. SAR Autism is a program that plans and prepares resources for responders when it comes to people with autism in the context of search and rescue operations. According to Silinski, people with autism can present particular behaviours that may make search and rescue efforts uniquely challenging. Most agencies and organizations both in the private and public sectors may not consider neurodiverse people when it comes to planning infrastructure and services.

Having guided caving and backpacking trips in the mountain parks, I have experienced this capability gap firsthand. Neurodiverse people and how we respond to them is a perspective that I myself had never considered in regards to contingency planning and public safety. In order to make Parks more accessible and inclusive, it is important to have the necessary services and background resources to make the experience of these places safe for all. This means training public safety teams and responders on how to respond to members of our community who are neurodiverse and providing access to preventative education for people who are neurodiverse.

Normal Doesn't Exist

Going into the interview, I will admit my previous background knowledge on autism was somewhat limited. Unfortunately, this is quite common. The large majority of Canadians have a general idea of what autism is, without any actual knowledge of how autistic people perceive the world or how this might affect the way they respond to their environments. As a result, services that cater to neurodiverse people are less available across the board. Oftentimes in the context of parks, neurodiverse individuals and other minority groups are overlooked when it comes to policies and services. This includes public safety. However innocent this oversight may be, this affects many Canadians. When we look at the numbers this excludes quite a large segment of our population. According to Public Health Canada, an estimated 1 in 66 Canadian children have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and that’s just the kids. That means approximately 540,000 Canadian citizens may not have access to the services they need in our parks.

Neurodiversity: How Does it Work? Why Does it Matter?

Before my conversation with Shanyn, I didn’t really understand what the word “neurodiversity” meant. In preparation for the interview, like any good millennial, I googled it. Let’s start with a definition. Merriam Webster’s dictionary has 3 definitions of the term neurodiversity. They are as follows:

  1. Individual differences in brain functioning regarded as normal variations within the human population.
  2. The concept that differences in brain functioning within the human population are normal and that brain functioning that is not neurotypical should not be stigmatized.
  3. The inclusion in a group, organization, etc. of people with different types of brain functioning.

Because neurodiversity refers to the variations in brain functioning across the human population as a whole, it refers to a broad range of behaviours and responses that apply to us all at varying degrees – not just people with autism, or other behavioural conditions. Neurodiversity, then, is just as much a part of someone’s identity as their skin colour, gender identity, sexual orientation, and physical ability.

If we are to make Canadian parks a more inclusive environment for all, it is imperative then that we make an effort to include individuals who are more neurodiverse, just as we would someone with a physical disability or a minority group. Individuals who are more neurodiverse should have services and amenities available to them on par with the rest of park users; parks leaders should not expect individuals who are more neurodiverse to adapt to our current park’s infrastructure. That may not always be possible. It means our parks or parts of them must change to accept and welcome these individuals.

What About Autism?
Autism Spectrum Disorder, or autism, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that impacts brain development.  The result is that most individuals experience communication problems, difficulty with social interactions and a tendency to repeat specific patterns of behaviour. They may also have a markedly restricted range of activities and interests.
Autism Canada

In our interview, Silinski spoke to how people with autism may perceive the world differently from those of us who are more neurotypical. Specifically, she spoke to how people with autism may require extremely detailed descriptions and instructions in order to complete a task or recognize a situation. For example, individuals with autism may not recognize what being lost looks like without being told specific characteristics of what being lost feels like. Consequently, they may wander even further from where they were last seen. 

Photo courtesy of C Valdez /

Another example Silinski used was that of the “Hug a Tree” program for children, where individuals were instructed to hug a tree if they got lost. Where a neurotypical person might be able to read into the implied context of an instruction, an autistic person may not. Take, for example, the instruction “hug a tree if you’re lost.” Even without any further context, most people would be able to gather that the reason for this is so that they don’t wander, which makes it easier for responders to locate them. An autistic person, on the other hand, might instead fixate on what constitutes a huggable tree. In most situations, the implied meaning must be explicitly stated in order for them to fully understand the “why” of the instruction.

Additionally, individuals who have autism may bolt unexpectedly from unfamiliar situations or situations with too many stimuli. Oftentimes individuals with autism prefer familiar environments, objects, and people – in short, stimuli that they are accustomed to. This can be problematic in many rescue scenarios that have stimuli like flashing lights, bright colours, loud noises and hazards.

What Can Happen?

According to Silinski, because autistic individuals may respond differently to a crisis or an emergency situation, this can have a number of implications that responders may not be well trained to respond to. Oftentimes they retreat from rescuers or a safe location during a crisis, especially if it is unfamiliar or overstimulating. An example Silinski used was a building fire in the United States where everyone was evacuated safely from the building to a safe secondary holding area. However, one of the individuals who was rescued had autism. When transferred to the safe secondary holding area, they found it overwhelming and overstimulating and ran back to a familiar space, that space being the burning building.

Photo courtesy of Obi Onyeador /

Instances like these are called secondary incidents and are easily preventable with training on how to recognize and respond to signs of autism. Oftentimes people with autism will try to return to a place that makes them feel safe or that is familiar to them, even if that place is more dangerous than where they currently are. To an average responder, this may not be common knowledge and thus they may not be able to respond accordingly. Additionally, without understanding how an individual with autism perceives and recognizes safety we cannot make them feel safe in a crisis or emergency.

Inclusion As a Solution

That’s where SAR Autism comes in. SAR Autism aims to educate people with autism and give them back ownership of their own outdoor experiences so that they can recognize and prevent emergency situations. Additionally, they run courses for agencies, responders and volunteers on how to respond when an autistic person is lost or in an emergency situation. For example, having a “first aid kit” for neurodiverse individuals with items that they can stimulate themselves with to feel more at ease once they are found, or search methods that are less overwhelming for neurodiverse individuals and people with autism. By educating people with autism on how to be more proactive about their safety outside and teaching them how to recognize certain situations, like how to recognize when they are lost or what a rescue looks like, SAR Autism can help increase the chances of a successful recovery on both ends of the rescue.

By making spaces inclusive and safe for autistic people we can actually make parks a safer and more inclusive space for all. Silinski posits that by making spaces feel safe and inclusive for people with autism, we also make those spaces inclusive for a diverse range of individuals. Quiet safe spaces can help people healing from trauma, newcomers who want a more authentic experience of their surroundings, and Indigenous peoples who want to reconnect with their traditional lands. In sum, by making these spaces more accessible it does a service to all, with minimal impact to the existing visitor experience.  

What other safety resources do you know of that help achieve inclusivity in parks? Let us know in the comments below!