Planning and Management in Eastern Ontario’s Protected Spaces: How do science and public participation guide policy?

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Smith, Simon
Outdoor Recreation , Biodiversity Science , Environmental Planning , Park Management , Public Participation
Providing opportunities for outdoor recreation and maintaining ecological integrity are primary management objectives for protected spaces in the public domain, but as visitation and visitor expectations change, a balance must be maintained between environmental and visitor use that is consistent with management goals. There is an increasing dependence on public participation in protected area management to compensate for an increasing budgetary gap between desired and actual management states. The Investigator explores how science, public perception, and collaborative relationships with stakeholders influence management planning and what the effect has been on management action. How has that balance between visitor use and environmental preservation objectives been affected? Three case study sites were selected in eastern Ontario: a national park, a provincial park, and a municipal forest. For each site, semi-structured interviews with staff and stakeholders were conducted, guiding legislation and supporting documents were analysed, and site observational evidence was collected. The data was analyzed using methodological triangulation and McCracken’s (1988) four-part method of inquiry. The results identified each site’s management goals and the management planning and action utilized to achieve those goals. The integration of environmental science and the role of public perception and participation are described as well as the nature of the management response. The discussion identifies management trends across the three governmental levels, characterising how ecological integrity and visitor use are managed, the impact of funding on management action, and the role and influence stakeholders have achieved at each site. Findings revealed trends from federal to municipal governance, principally: i) operational funding decreases; ii) the influence and dependence on public participation and stakeholder collaboration increases; iii) the importance of environmental preservation objectives decrease while ‘use’ associated objectives increase. Critically however, it was observed that when funding levels are below the threshold required to comply with stated management goals, protected area management becomes more reactive and tends to favour ‘use’ related objectives over environmental preservation objectives despite land managers’ best intentions.
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