Changing Ecologies

In Alan MacEachern’s article, “Changing Ecologies: Preservation in Four National Parks, 1935-1965,” MacEachern attempts to shed light on an important time in Canadian environmental history that is consistently overlooked and regarded as a time in which nothing happened. According to MacEachern, the notion of the years between 1935 and 1965 being of little consequence to Canadian Environmental history is factually inaccurate.

During the 1940’s the government division in charge of wildlife and national parks began to move away from its non-interventionist approach, that it had used up until this point, to become increasingly interventionist. The administrative bodies responsible for parks and wildlife also began to see wildlife as having a key role within national parks. This swing from a non-interventionist approach to more of an interventionist approach is what MacEachern clearly illustrates within his article.

MacEachern begins his illustration of some of the interventionist techniques that were employed starting in the early 1940’s and well through the 50’s and early 60’s, by showing how this approach was utilized in the Cape Breton Highlands and Prince Edward Island national parks. One example of the interventionist policies of the time was the attempted re-introduction of moose and beaver into the Cape Breton national park, which involved transplanting an existing colony of animals (sometimes from a different province), bringing them into the park and hoping they survive in their new environment. MacEachern points out that the term ‘ecology’ was often used to justify more interventionist policies, specifically how this term was interpreted. According to MacEachern, many ecologists would prefer to interpret the ecologically appropriate way of maintaining healthy prey and predator populations, as they must manage both populations rather than leave both populations alone.

MacEachern switches topics from land-based wildlife to the aquatic life that is found within the parks. This article shows how the Canadian Wildlife service began trying to market these national parks as tourist destinations. One way that it tried to achieve this goal was through fishing. The national parks were aggressively advertised as fishing havens, but there were problems with this approach. One of the key problems was maintaining adequate fish stocks to ensure that there would be fish for the tourists to catch when they arrived at the national park. This was a problem because many of the locals would set up nets to catch fish outside the parks or they would get there before the tourists arrived and catch all the good fish. Neither of those options were good for the profits of these parks, so the Canadian wildlife services had to find a way to ensure consistent fish stocks. They made many attempts to try and guarantee fishing for tourists, such as adjusting the opening day of fishing to coincide with when the tourists would likely be in the park. They also went to great lengths to stock the lakes and rivers with good quality sport fish that tourists might actually want to catch, such as trout or salmon, rather than species such as perch. By the 1950’s, the Canadian Wildlife services were growing increasingly frustrated with their attempts to fill the lakes with adequate fish, only to have those fish caught by locals, leaving the less desirable fish behind for the tourists, so eventually they turned to rotenone. Rotenone is a very poisonous chemical derived from plant roots that is capable of wiping out all species that it come into contact with in half an hour and leaves no long term effect in the water. The use of rotenone allowed for the wildlife service to control the environment to suit their needs, which in this case was to create a healthy sport fishing environment to attract tourists to the area to bring in profits.

MacEachern’s article also discusses one of the most commonly known examples of anthropogenic intervention policies with regards to nature: Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane (also known as DDT).

MacEachern’s article makes some very fascinating connections between National parks and human interventionist policies that existed between 1930 and 1960. It is interesting to show that Canada’s national parks were not always the perceived natural ideal that they are today, but at one point were nothing more than natural laboratories where some humans tried to play the role of a deity, by deciding what lives in the park and what does not. It is also disappointing to think that this time frame in history has, according to MacEachern, been overlooked, especially considering how crucial it is to learn about these events.

Links of interest

Here is an interesting link that describes the effects of DDT provided by the government of Canada –  http://www.science.gc.ca/default.asp?lang=en&n=730d78b4-1

Here is a scientific link that describes the properties of Rotenone – http://pmep.cce.cornell.edu/profiles/extoxnet/pyrethrins-ziram/rotenone-ext.html

Here is a link to Parks Canada’s national parks page where it is possible to find links to the governments’ commitment to ecology and ecosystem management – http://www.pc.gc.ca/progs/pn-np/index.aspx

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Posted on March 19, 2013, in Canadian Environmental History and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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