Restoring Canada’s Nature

Nature Canada is an organisation formed of naturalists and specialists who respect nature, appreciate its wonders and do everything they can to act in it’s defence. Their work supports individuals, organisations and the Canadian government in defending and restoring natural ecosystems. We spoke to their executive director, Graham Saul, about their cause.

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Supporting 40 Million People with a Huge Potential to Restore Nature

Canada Nature Facts

Canada has:

  • 20% of the world’s fresh water resources
  • 24% of the world’s wetlands
  • The longest coastline in the world, by far
  • 33% of the world’s remaining boreal forest, with twice as much carbon stored in it than all the world’s proven oil reserves combined 

All this is in a country with only 40 million people i.e. 0.5% of the world’s population. 

What does Nature Canada do?

Nature Canada is an organisation working to defend and restore nature. Our guest Graham Saul, executive director of the organisation, assures us “We’re not just trying to slow the rate of destruction of intact ecosystems. We’re trying to restore degraded ecosystems so that they can increasingly coexist and provide habitat to endangered species”. So how do they do this? 

Once called the Canadian Nature Federation, they support nature groups of all sorts across the whole of Canada to be a strong voice for the environment. On an individual level, they run programs for parents and schools to get kids out into nature. They also share information about natural spaces for people nearby them to explore. At a country level, they engage in conversation with the government about how to best promote positive solutions around nature. Graham explains ”It’s not just about getting into nature and enjoying it. It’s about demanding that decision makers make the decisions that will create the conditions for that, for citizens to do the right thing and move their cities and their countries in the right direction”.

The Canadian government has said they want to go from roughly 10% of Canada’s land and ocean being currently protected to 30% over the next decade. Nature Canada has even higher hopes and is committed to one of the biggest ideas out there: “Nature needs half”.

Listen to the full 21 minute episode to find out more about work being done for endangered  species and nature conservancy of Canada. You’ll also learn what the best things you can do for these causes are, wherever you are in the world; and visit Nature Canada to help you discover that sense of love and wonder that comes from connecting to nature and the other species we share this earth with.

Interview Transcript

[00:00:00] Every day you and I get bombarded with negative news. And just like our bodies become what we eat, our minds become the information that we consume. If you want to stay positive, it’s so important that you also listen to stories that inspire you and uplift you. 


In this podcast, we interview world leading experts dedicated to solving the world’s most pressing problems. And if you stick around, I promise you will not only learn as much as if you watch the news, you will feel uplifted, inspired, and have more positive energy in your life. 


Welcome to Talks With…. 



Today Talks With Nature Canada. And I am here with Graham Saul, who is the executive director of the organization. And you put a smile on my face when I went onto your website today and I read the following statement. “Nature Canada believes that when the heart is engaged, the mind and body will follow. That is why, since our founding in 1939, Nature Canada has been connecting Canadians to nature, trying to instill them in nature ethic, a respect for nature and appreciation for its wonders and the will to act in nature’s defense.” That really resonated with me. And I want to say welcome, Graham. Well, thank you very much for having me. My pleasure. So how would you explain Nature Canada and the work that you do to someone that might not be so familiar with your organization and the challenges that you might be facing? 


Now, Nature Canada is an organization that comes out of the Naturaliste tradition in Canada, so the birders, the botanists, the people with a fair amount of expertise and interest in the details of species who have cultivated a love of nature and species over decades. And there are just hundreds of these little clubs all over the country. And I think more recently, we’ve come to embrace a community of about a hundred thousand followers and another hundred thousand supporters, which I would define more broadly as the nature lover. Because, you know, there’s the naturalists, like the birders and the botanists who really get into the details. But then there’s also people like me who are hikers who just, you know, nature’s our coliseum and they’re the families who just like to go and to the local park. So we’re an organization that brings together nature lovers across Canada to discover, defend and restore nature. 


And then we’re also a voice for hundreds of local nature organizations across the country. So one of the nice things about the nature movement is no matter what size of a town or community you go into, there’s going to be a little ecosystem of nature groups. There’s going to be the local canoe or kayak club or hiking trail association. 


There’ll be a land trust trying to protect a particularly important area of land. There’ll be the birders and the other naturalist groups and


Nature Canada was at one stage called the Canadian Nature Federation, and that’s a reflection of the fact that our goal is to support all of these fabulous nature groups across the country and to also engage and mobilize them to be a strong voice for the environment in Canada. So we also have a A staff who are knowledgeable professionals regarding federal policy. And we’re actively engaged in a conversation with the federal government about how the federal government can best help promote positive solutions around nature in a country where many of the environmental decisions are often made at a provincial level as well.


I can just imagine the amount of passion of the people behind this organization, organizations that nature is what is the most important thing for a lot of the people in an organization like Nature Canada Now. Would you say that your organization is mostly focused towards creating an interest for nature itself, for people that might otherwise just sit home with their phones, or they say that more of your focus is towards trying to prevent the problems and help with the challenges that nature might be facing? 


Yeah, I think we try to accomplish a balance. And that’s where one of the ways I sometimes describe it is to discover, defend and restore nature. So discover that sense of wonder and love that people have in terms of getting out and communing with nature, appreciating the species that we share this Earth with. 


And I think really coming to terms with the fact that humanity benefits tremendously from our relationship to nature, both in a physical and emotional and psychological sense. And I think within the context of the current covid pandemic, we’re seeing that more than ever. So we really believe that one of our core goals is to help people enjoy and love nature and get into it and benefit from it directly. At the same time, it’s really important to acknowledge that nature is in crisis, even in a country the size of Canada. And we can’t just think of it from a personal perspective. We also have to think about it from an intergenerational and interspecies responsibility. And we have a responsibility to take action to defend intact ecosystems, help expand protected areas and protect more of what’s left. And we also have a responsibility to restore degraded ecosystems, wild areas going to places that we’ve already gone too far in terms of undermining those landscapes in nature and begin to think about how we can help build back better. 


I really like the order of your approach here that you first help people discover nature, then make them see that, OK, we cannot keep destroying nature. We need to protect it. And then finally to restore. So let’s say that I’m from Stockholm, Sweden. Let’s say that I have friends that live in the city. They rarely get out into nature. What would you say? How can I influence them? How can I outfluence them into nature? 


Yeah, I mean, that’s a great question. I mean, everyone has nature nearby, though, I think there’s some inequalities in terms of access that are increasingly being examined. And I think. We’ve also clearly seen that when people have nature experiences, when they’re young, it generates a lifelong connection with nature. So one of the things Nature Canada does is we have a program called Naturehood where we help connect families and children to nearby nature through work with schools and other groups to get kids into nature. We also try to share with people information about where are the natural spaces nearby them and how best to find and then explore. I think right now, Canadians at least have really within the context of the covid virus pandemic, have. 


generated a new appreciation for the importance of getting into natural spaces and a really connected in terms of what’s a broader kind of simplification of their life that is involved in many ways, rediscovering the local spaces around them. So I would encourage parents to really make an effort to get their kids into nature and help establish those bonds when they’re young. And I would also encourage friends and families to take the initiative to say, hey, let’s let’s go spend some time today rather than go to the restaurant, let’s go and sit in the local park or let’s discover that ravine or or or area that’s a little bit further further away but not too far. And to reflect, I think, on some of the mounting evidence that in so many ways, nature is really vitamin N. It is it’s it’s it’s it’s important to us from a physical perspective, exercise in nature is really exercise squared. All evidence suggests people do it longer and it’s better for them when they get outside and exercise in nature. And the mounting evidence of the emotional and psychological health benefits of immersion in nature is really increasingly overwhelming. And you increasingly actually have doctors prescribing basically immersion in nature as a way to deal with some physical and mental health challenges. And so I think that really it’s just a question of taking that first step and then the rest is we will benefit from. 


You inspire me not to go out and exercise more in nature. I feel a huge difference when I’m inside in the normal gym and when I go to the outdoor gym and just making my way there, getting the air. Yeah, it’s a huge difference. Not. If we can zoom in a little bit more on the work that you do, what are some big challenges you’re facing now when it comes to protection and what would be a great result for Nature Canada in the upcoming years? 


Yeah, I mean, I think most people know Canada is a big country. Not everyone fully appreciates how much responsibility we have in a global sense to Stewart nature. So Canada is a country with only 40 odd million people. Forty five. Forty seven million people. But we have 20 percent of the world’s fresh water resources. Wow. We have twenty four percent of the world’s wetlands. We have the longest coastline in the world. By far. By far. We also have 33 percent of the world’s remaining boreal forest. 


And our boreal forest has more carbon stored in it. It has twice as much carbon stored in Canada’s boreal forest than all the world’s proven oil reserves combined. 


Wow. Could you define a boreal forest for those who might not be native speakers? 


So the boreal forest is basically there is a ring, a boreal ring around the Arctic Circle, and it’s primarily evergreen forests that is a little bit further north of the of the of the sort of southern Canada and which is itself in terms of the fact that it it is it is really a nursery for billions of birds. 


So there’s about three to four billion birds that fly up the Americas into Canada’s boreal forest every year. And there’s about four or five billion that fly out. So on the one hand, Canada has this massive responsibility, I don’t think anywhere there’s forty seven million people with more responsibility for stewarding the world’s nature than Canada has. On the other hand, we also like the rest of the world, we are faced with challenges related to species collapse and mass extinction. So I talked about billions of birds a second ago, but there’s actually three billion fewer birds in North America than there were 50 years ago. We have lost three billion birds over the past 50 years. We are losing wetlands at a very rapid rate through development and agriculture. About half of Canada’s excess species and about half of the species that we’re keeping track of are in decline in Canada, about nine hundred or so that are tracked. And of that half, they’ve declined in the past 50 years by an astounding 82 percent. Wow. So we are witnessing in Canada, much like the rest of the world, a die off of epic proportions. And we have to make an effort to defend remaining intact ecosystems. Luckily, there is a move afoot globally to to basically expand protection by 2030 to 30 percent of the planet’s land, freshwater and ocean. 


And we have a federal government that is committed to that global goal that is increasingly being developed within the United Nations. So our federal government has said that they want to go from we’re currently at about 10 to 12 percent of our land and ocean is protected and we want to go from 10 to 12 percent to 30 percent over the next decade, ultimately, moving towards nature needs half. And that is one of the few truly big ideas out there. And it’s an idea that is sweeping the globe within the context of the UN negotiations. But when we think about the scale of species collapse globally, the United Nations has argued that as much as one million species are gravitating towards extinction right now. When we think about the scale of that potential loss and our responsibility to do something about it, one of the big ideas that we really need to act on is the idea that nature needs half and dramatically expanding protected areas. And that’s where defence comes in, because it’s about we need to defend remaining intact ecosystems so that this loss can be slowed and ultimately we can begin to reverse and restore. 


Oh, yeah, it’s. It’s a scary picture you’re painting, and at the same time, I feel a strong sense of gratefulness for the type of people like yourself that is working with this to help people discover, help protect and help restore the environment. I am also grateful it’s Canada that is owning this land now. So are you mostly focusing on. 


protecting for an hour is their work as well, going into restoring? 

Yeah, and that’s where the restore and that I mean, if you look at a at what you might call a heat map of where the worst species collapse is occurring in Canada, a map that kind of shows where the greatest concentration of vulnerable or endangered species is, you inevitably find that the greatest concentration of the greatest problem is in southern Canada, because while Canada is a very big country, about 80 percent of Canadians live within two hundred kilometers of the United States border. So we basically live primarily in southern Canada and there is a direct correlation between where humans settle and farm. 


and where species are most at risk. And in southern Canada, there are a bunch of little Biogem’s little pockets of intact ecosystems that we really have to defend. 


But where we’ve gone too far in terms of undermining those ecosystems, there are already those landscapes that are already too degraded that our goal as a whole in southern Canada can’t be to just defend. We have to restore. So that’s where we get to the point where we have to begin a conversation in southern Canada and in Canada in general, where we are talking about actually how do we reach wild areas, how do we take the margins of farmlands and the rivers that run beside farms and begin to repopulate those areas with trees and other shrubs and bring animals back to them? How do we imagine urban landscapes that are restorative in terms of bird populations rather than threats? How do we think about natural infrastructure in urban areas where nature can help both deal with severe weather and serve infrastructure needs, but also serve as a location that supports biodiversity and animals and species? And how do we think about taking certain areas and begin to reforest them and actually restore wetlands? And and and not just what we don’t want to do is we don’t want to get caught in a mindset where what we’re trying to do is slow the rate of destruction with the nature community must do now is we must get into a mindset where we’re not just trying to slow species collapse, we’re trying to reverse species collapse. And we’re not just trying to slow the rate of destruction of intact ecosystems. We’re trying to restore degraded ecosystems so that they can increasingly coexist and provide habitat to endangered species. And in the process, of course, we all get more by nature and we get more and more access to nature ourselves. So we benefit spiritually, physically and mentally from that restoration. 


So that’s a big part of it. And the one thing we haven’t talked about in terms of some of the key things, though, there’s obviously a lot to talk about is in the Canadian context, indigenous led conservation is increasingly emerging as the future of nature protection in the country. 


And that’s a really exciting trend. 


Right, there was a lot of stuff in the sentence, but the feeling in my body is I feel very inspired and I appreciate your passions and your skills to explain this as a communicator. We’re running towards the end of our podcast now. I had a really good time. And I can imagine that the one listening to this also feels inspired to somehow help nature take some kind of action. So what would be something a listener can do to help out you and your organization? 


Well, there’s organizations like Nature Canada in every country, and making a donation to those organizations is always going to help those organizations do their job. But the single most important thing is to organize, to get into the community, to to enjoy nature and to work with other people in your community who care about discovering, defending and restoring nature to join or support those little local groups that are making your neighborhood or your city better. And to be part of a conversation, because at the end of the day, nature can’t talk for itself. 


Humans need to stand up and say the direction we’re heading is not OK and we need to organize politically. So while Nature Canada is very much about the personal experience, we ultimately believe people. 


It’s not just about getting into nature and enjoying it. It’s about demanding that decision makers make the decisions that will create the conditions for that, for citizens to do the right thing and move their cities and their countries in the right direction. So we need to organize, organize, organize. 


So thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today. 


Thank you very much for having me. 


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