6 environmental wins from 2021 to uplift your spirits

6 environmental wins from 2021 to uplift your spirits

6 environmental wins from 2021 to uplift your spirits

By Emily Jerome

It’s safe to say that 2021 was a challenging year, but it wasn’t all bad. As we head into 2022, here are 6 environmental wins to uplift your spirits and give you hope for the coming year.

1. First river in Canada granted legal personhood

The Muteshekau Shipu (also known as the Magpie River) begins its life at the Labrador border, gaining strength as it travels through the rugged terrain of eastern Quebec before draining into the St. Lawrence River. To the Innu of Ekuanitshit, this remote river holds great cultural significance. It also draws white water paddlers and rafters worldwide. But, a proposed hydroelectric dam sparked a decade-long battle to protect this river. In February 2021, the Magpie River was granted legal personhood. The river now holds nine rights, including the right to live, exist and flow, the right to maintain its natural biodiversity and the right to be protected from pollution. This pivotal achievement reflects the Indigenous worldview that nature is sentient. As Chief Pie(accent)tacho told The Narwhal, “The vision of the Innu is that Nature is living. Everything is alive.”

2. Reintroduction of plains bison to historical ranges

Plains bison populations once overflowed throughout the prairies, but by 1888, this iconic species was decimated. Slowly but surely, plains bison are reclaiming their historical ranges. Earlier this year, six plains bison arrived in Waterton Lakes National Park to begin the reintroduction process following the 2017 Kenow Wildfire. In a private ceremony, Blackfoot Elders from Kainai Nation, Piikani Nation and Siksika Nation blessed the four female and two male plains bison. One week prior, the Blood Tribe welcomed back plains bison to form the foundation of the Kainai Herd. As Leroy Little Bear, a Blood Tribe member, University of Lethbridge professor and Order of Canada recipient told the Calgary Herald about the reintroductions, “it helps us revitalize our culture and for our young generation coming up it’s so important for them to see buffalo because of those cultural connections.”

Bison in the grasslands
Photo by Jillian Cooper from Getty Images/Canva

3. Discovery of underground powerhouses for carbon storage

Thick stands of boreal forest and ancient old-growth canopies often come to mind when thinking about carbon-rich ecosystems. Following new research, it turns out that a vast amount of carbon is buried in Canada’s soil. According to a report by WWF-Canada, in partnership with McMaster University, 95% of carbon is stored within the top metre of soil with the remaining amount found in plant material including trees. Manitoba and Ontario claim first and second place for soil carbon by a generous margin. This is thanks to the Hudson and James Bay Lowlands, the largest peatland system in Canada and second-largest in the world. Since carbon-rich areas have now been identified, this can help guide the creation of protected areas and Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs). “Knowing where carbon is stored in Canada allows us to strategically protect and manage the right places,” said Megan Leslie, WWF-Canada President and CEO.

Bog with open water and trees
Photo by 9parusnikov from Getty Images/Canva

4. Monumental investment into Indigenous-led conservation

With long-standing relationships with and ancient knowledge of the land, Indigenous peoples are championing conservation and gaining recognition within Canada. In August 2021, the Government of Canada announced the largest federal investment into Indigenous-led conservation to date. Over the next five years, $340 million will fund the Indigenous Guardians program and help establish more Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCA’s). Not only will this allow Indigenous communities to continue and expand their conservation efforts, but it will also push Canada forward in achieving its target of protecting 30 percent of water and land by 2030. Learn how you can become an ally of Indigenous-led conservation from the Land Needs Guardians.

5. River otters are on the rebound in P.E.I.

Since the early 1900s, river otters have been locally extinct, otherwise known as extirpated, from Prince Edward Island due to habitat loss, poaching and trapping. But, whisperings of the return of river otters to this east coast island have been confirmed. Throughout the summer, Kensington North Watersheds Association captured images of river otters frolicking waterside using their trail cameras. As provincial wildlife biologist Garry Gregory told CBC, “​​It will take, you know, multiple generations to establish itself to a kind of a viable, sustainable level.” Although the population is estimated to only be a few dozen and considered vulnerable, this is a positive first step in re-integrating this native species into the P.E.I. ecosystem after a century-long absence.

Three river otters on driftwood
Photo by mlharing from Getty Images/Canva

6. Átl’ka7tsem/Howe Sound becomes a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve

Extending from the City of Vancouver to the rock-climbing mecca of Squamish, Átl’ka7tsem/Howe Sound is a network of fjords abounding with biodiversity from its deep-sea channels to its lush mountain peaks. But, it hasn’t always been this way. Howe Sound has faced its fair share of industrial contamination and habitat degradation. In 2021, Howe Sound, the traditional territory of the Skwxwú7mesh and Coast Salish people, became Canada’s 19th UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. With the aim of nature and people thriving together, biosphere regions are “models for sustainable development, implementing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals through collaboration and engagement across communities and sectors.” Recognized as an ecologically significant region, the 218,723 hectares (84% terrestrial and 16% marine) of Howe Sound Biosphere Region will focus on (1) conservation and protection of biodiversity, (2) sustainable development and education and (3) research and monitoring.

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