UNESCO biosphere reserves celebrate ‘Day on the Hill’

UNESCO biosphere reserves celebrate ‘Day on the Hill’

“We felt tons of support.”

The Clayoquot Biosphere Trust is glowing with political shine after spending a day in Ottawa’s limelight.

Over 100 Members of Parliament recently joined representatives from Canada’s 18 UNESCO biosphere reserves on Parliament Hill to learn about, and celebrate, the contributions biosphere reserves have made and are making to the country.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has designated 669 biosphere reserves in roughly 130 countries and the designation marks an international recognition that clear steps are being taken to infuse conservation ideals into sustainable development.

“The UNESCO designation recognizes the unique nature of these ecosystems, and more importantly, the people who work tirelessly to find balance with the environment, social well-being, and economic resilience,” Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns said during the May 29 event.

Clayoquot Biosphere Trust executive director Rebecca Hurwitz said the event was “fantastic” and touted Johns as instrumental in putting it together with the Canadian Biosphere Reserve Association.

“This day was a first for Canada’s biosphere reserves and it was exciting to see that we can bring people together from every political party from coast to coast to coast to share our values and work,” Hurwitz said.

She told the Westerly News that the day gave biosphere representatives valuable opportunities to promote and discuss the grassroots initiatives the’ve supported in their regions.

“It’s long overdue for the opportunity that Canadian Biosphere Reserves represent to be recognized…Each of Canada’s biosphere reserves is very unique because they’re specific to their geography so the issues that are presented in each region are different. At the same time we’re all working on themes of sustainable development, biodiversity conservation and reconciliation,” she said.

“It was really exciting to be on [Parliament Hill] and to hear MP’s from all of the parties speak passionately and knowledgeably about the biosphere reserves in their communities and then to hear them be champions amongst the MP’s for the work that we are doing.”

She said Clayoquot Sound’s biosphere reserve is financially healthy because of a $12 million endowment fund the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust received from the federal government in 2000. Thanks to savvy investments and shrewd spending, that fund has actually grown to around $17 million despite 17 years of investing in local initiatives.

“We’re the only Canadian Biosphere Reserve with that endowment, so we really want other biosphere reserves to be recognized and have an ability to leverage their work further,” she said.

“There’s such an opportunity at each local level. There are projects that are ready to go and pressing needs with volunteers in place to deliver projects but often just the financial capacity isn’t there.”

She said the Canadian Biosphere Reserve Association is engaged in ongoing conversations with

Environment and Climate Change Canada around funding opportunities and that the Parliament Hill event was a solid step towards generating support.

“We felt tons of support,” she said. “Both from the MP’s who were familiar with biosphere reserves, and those MP’s who were not familiar, but were very interested in knowing more and appreciative of the work we’re doing.

Tofino mayor Josie Osborne was delighted to attend the event in person and watch the collaborations unfold.

“It was an honour to attend this event as the mayor of a community that lies in the heart of Canada’s westernmost biosphere reserve,” she said. “We are proud to be citizens of a biosphere reserve and to incorporate principles of biodiversity, reconciliation, and sustainable development into our daily lives.”

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