Thinkers, writers, conservationists meet to discuss formalized land ethic for Canada at Speak to the Wild | Notes from the Panther Lounge | David Suzuki Foundation
Photo: Thinkers, writers, conservationists meet to discuss formalized land ethic for Canada at Speak to the Wild

By Faisal Moola, Director General, Ontario and Northern Canada

In early September, some of Canada's leading writers, conservationists and scientists, including some from the David Suzuki Foundation, met near Wells Gray Provincial Park two hours north of Kamloops, B.C., to discuss whether it's time for Canada to enshrine a land ethic in Canadian laws and policies.

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The conference, Speak to the Wild, was co-hosted by Thompson Rivers University and the Wells Gray World Heritage Committee. Those attending included notable writers Robert Bringhurst, Sharon Butala, Ted Chamberlin, Lorna Crozier, Trevor Herriot, Patrick Lane, Tim Lilburn, Candace Savage, and former Canadian Poet Laureate John Steffler, as well as ethnobotanist Nancy Turner and philosopher Jan Zwicky.

Participants considered two questions.

The first concerned the possibility of legal reform around the rights of wilderness: Is it time to move Canada's Constitution toward a formalized land ethic, and if so, what would that look like?

The second question pertained to our personal connection to wild places: How can we strengthen this connection in ourselves and encourage it in others? In particular, what is the role of narrative and the poetic experience in developing a meaningful relationship with wild Canada?

The decision to mount Speak to the Wild in B.C.'s Interior was prompted by the ongoing rapid decline of the mountain caribou, particularly in Wells Gray Provincial Park, which was established 74 years ago specifically to give these animals sanctuary.

Mountain caribou are the world's most southerly reindeer, inhabiting the high-elevation old-growth "snow forests" of B.C.'s Interior. They survive in winter by foraging on hair lichens that grow on tree branches. Virtually all mountain caribou — 1,400, down from 1,700 five years ago — are resident in British Columbia, so Canada has a global responsibility to protect them.

Destruction and fragmentation of caribou habitat in B.C.'s Interior from clearcut logging, roads and other development have led to precipitous declines in mountain caribou populations. Caribou are especially vulnerable to predators, such as wolves, that are taking advantage of the changed landscape to target the species.
The agenda for the Speak to the Wild Conference is available at

September 11, 2013

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Sep 11, 2013
8:02 PM

Very interesting and worthwhile discussion. Was their any discussion on framing the environmental ethic as an obligation of stewardship? Without trying to create some inalienable government right to order people to do things, rather framed as an obligation in government action or limitation of our current assumption of sovereign right over the land.

Sep 11, 2013
7:14 PM

I remember reading and learning about the tragic state of Woodland Caribou. It’s a sad state of affairs when we’re seeing the decline of the Westernly cousins. Considered keystone species, it worrisome that Canadians are so apathetic to these creatures for it reflects an apathy towards wilderness as well.

I agree that Canada needs to pursue a “Land Ethic”. But with formality comes compromise. With current government, doing this through a bill would likely halt progress and likely even take a step backwards.

Remind Canadians what Canada is all about. Not the oil sands, but the sand beneath it.

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