Recreation Ecology Around the World: Part 2 – Canada

A couple of years ago, when looking through proceedings from past Monitoring and Management of Visitor Flows in Recreational and Protected Areas (MMV) conferences, I came across an article about recreation ecology in Canada. The title of the proceedings paper was slightly perplexing so I tucked the article away in a folder on my desktop to read at a later date.  Today, I decided I was due for another installment of “Recreation Ecology Around the World” and pulled out the short proceedings paper from 2008; The future of recreation ecology in Canada: go big or go home? Since the paper is a few years old, I did a quick search to see if I could find any updates or new information but my search came up empty. So here is a short summary of the state of recreation ecology in Canada as described by Campbell and Walker from proceedings of the 4th MMV Conference (2008).

Macey hanging out on our Canada blanket.

Macey hanging out on our Canada blanket.

Wait, does “recreation ecology” even exist in Canada?

Basically, what I gathered from the proceedings paper is that, as a recognizable field of inquiry, recreation ecology does not really exist in Canada. There are Canadian researchers who do work in recreation but it’s usually a side project and usually done at the request of park or protected area managers.  As far as the authors were concerned there are very few people who would label themselves as “recreation ecologists” in Canada.  It also seems as if most of the recreation ecology work that has been done in Canada has focused on site-specific inventory and monitoring of recreation impacts (something that is very useful to managers and for establishing baselines but not super helpful in developing and testing new theories and methods).  Recently, there has been some attempts to centralize and disseminate information related to recreation ecology work in Canada including the development of the Parks and Protected Area Research Forum of Manitoba. 

Parks and Protected Areas in Canada:

Overall, visitation to parks and protected areas in the United States has been increasing over the past few years. On the other hand, Canada has seen a decline in visitation to park and protected areas across the country.  Recent articles indicate that this decline noted in 2008 is continuing into this decade.  As such, Parks Canada – which manages 43 national parks and 167 national historic sites – is preoccupied with trying to find new ways to make money and attract visitors. The funding of theoretical or experimental recreation ecology studies may not be a priority for an organization focused on trying to find new ways to fund itself.

Additionally, the Canadian concept of “wilderness” is a bit different from the United State concept of Wilderness.  Canada has very large tracts of land that, if found in the United States, would most likely be within the control of one federal agency or another. However, in Canada these large swaths of wilderness are actually worked landscapes that the authors refer to as “Crown lands”.  Recreation is allowed on these landscapes but it is not planned for and not managed by any land management agency.

Banff National Park in Alberta (photo by Florian Fuchs used under Creative Commons License from Wikimedia Commons)

Challenges facing the establishment of recreation ecology in Canada:

Canada is a BIG country and as such, the few researchers that do recreation ecology work (they probably are not labeling themselves as “recreation ecologists”) most likely live very far away from one another. Therefore there is little to no collaboration between parks and protected area researchers.  Related to this idea of the scale of Canada, the parks and protected areas are also huge and the authors speculate that the distance between researchers and the scale of potential recreation ecology study sites might make recreation ecology work too costly; especially when Parks Canada is dealing with diminishing funds.

Also, according to the authors – most of the recreation ecology work done by Canadian researchers and in Canada has been published in conference proceedings. The traditional monitoring and inventory approaches most often used in Canadian research does not lend itself to being published in journals that are accepting of recreation ecology work. The authors suggest that one way to remedy this problem would be to establish a recreation ecology specific publication as a way to increase the dissemination of all types of recreation ecology work across the globe.

Wapusk National Park, Manitoba. Photo by Dave Iles.

Wapusk National Park, Manitoba (photo by Dave Iles)


Overall, the authors seem to think that recreation ecology work in Canada is very important. However, the distance between researchers, the scale of the parks and protected areas, the presence of Crown lands, and decreasing visitation leads to an environment that is resistance to the establishment of recreation ecology as a field of inquiry. In my opinion, establishing a strong field of recreation ecology is dependent on support from federal land management agencies.  I imagine that until Parks Canada sees an increase in visitation, recreation ecology studies may be few and far between.  Fortunately, Parks Canada’s organization priorities for the coming years includes increasing Canadians’ connections with parks and protected areas and increasing visitation.


MMV4 Conference Proceedings (2008)

Campbell, J. M., & Walker, D. The future of recreation ecology in Canada: Go big or go home?

Parks Canada Agency, Report on Plans and Priorities, 2013-2014


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