CALGARY, ALBERTA — Living in the world's second largest country by size, Canadians sometimes have a hard time imagining that they could ever run out of wild, free, uncontaminated spaces with lots of animals.
Canada is huge - 3.8 million square miles sprawled across seven time zones that are home to just 28 million people. That's 7.4 square miles per person compared with only a fraction of one square mile for each of 248 million Americans.
But Canada's abundance is a bit deceptive. The Bruntland commission, a United Nations environmental task force, recommended in 1987 that all nations set aside 12 percent of their land as protected areas for the purpose of preserving biodiversity.
Canada is one of only a few countries that has pledged to accomplish the Bruntland goal by the year 2000. So far, however, Canada has set aside only 4.8 percent. It now appears questionable whether Canada will make it by the turn of the century, environmentalists say.
Canada regards itself as a leader in parks and protected areas, though it is hardly at the top of the list, says Arlin Hackman, head of World Wildlife Fund Canada's (WWFC) endangered-spaces program.
In terms of percentage of land set aside by all nations of the world, Canada barely makes the top 20, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Indonesia, by contrast, has set aside 6.8 percent. The US had 4.6 percent in 1992, according to the World Conservation Union, based in Gland, Switzerland.
Canada boosted its reserves last year with the addition of the Vuntut National Park (1,692 square miles) in the Yukon. The Tatshenshini Wilderness Area in British Columbia - 3,700 square miles - was also added recently. But a lot of the land being added is in the North, and even these efforts aren't proceeding fast enough to reach Canada's stated goal - or to satisfy environmental groups. One of the key problems, environmentalists say, is that many of the areas set aside are in the far north and are not representative of Canada's biological diversity.
``We don't want just huge chunks rock, and ice, and snow up north,'' says WWFC spokeswoman Pegi Dover.
There are 434 ``natural regions'' - areas with unique ecological profiles - across Canada, but the WWFC says less than a quarter are fully protected from industrial uses like logging, mining, and hydroelectric development. ``The commitment of the provinces and the federal government has been made - but their progress has slowed,'' Ms. Dover says.