Climate change: Our Parks are Living Labs  



A child and an adult looking onto the water from the shore.
Gowlland Tod Provincial Park, Jen Grant

A new study in the Journal of Climate Change and Health revealed  – perhaps not surprisingly – that extreme weather events caused by climate change pose a risk to mental health. Illustrating this reality, the study estimated the impact of the 2021 North American heat dome (June 25th, 2021 – July 1st, 2021) on climate change anxiety and found that British Columbians had significantly higher climate change anxiety following the heat dome.  Ongoing monitoring is needed to understand this anxiety to climate risks over time.    

Even more recently, for the first time in Canada, doctors and licensed health-care professionals can prescribe “time in nature” to their patients complete with a Parks Canada park pass. Time in nature has long been associated with good mental and physical health. This new offering is part of a program launched just over a year ago in partnership with the BC Parks Foundation, whereby local physicians prescribe time outdoors to improve overall health.  This effort is attempting to remove barriers and promote park use.

Two people cross country skiing
Strathcona Provincial Park, Jen Grant

While we rely on parks and nature for our own well-being, it’s also critically important to consider the well-being of our parks and wild spaces in this time of change and uncertainty. One program that is shedding light on new climate information and research is the BC Parks Living Lab Program. The Living Lab Program has been providing seed funding to academic institutions for the past five years to “encourage climate change research in protected areas that documents changes in BC’s natural world, and that guides protected area management for an uncertain future.”   

In most cases, B.C.’s protected areas are less developed than much of the rest of the province, so parks can help us understand how natural ecosystems react to climate change relative to the rest of the province. Research in parks can also inform how land and water connectivity between parks will make a difference for species as the climate changes. This kind of information will help inform decision making on how to adapt to climate change both inside and outside parks.    

All Living Lab project summaries and final reporting are available on the BC Parks website. These projects have helped BC Parks gain new insights on a wealth of topics including park biodiversity, how future climates will impact protected area ecosystems, and how plants and pollinators are responding to change. BC Parks is grateful for the innovative ideas generated by research partners .We hope this work helps keep our parks healthy so we can all stay healthy too.    

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