Capstone Team G: Applying the RAD Framework in Climate Informed Planning and Decision Making

This post was written to report the work of Capstone Team G, one of the teams of Park Leaders involved in the Winter 2021 Park Leaders Development Program

With the growing pressure of climate change, cultural and natural heritage sites in Canada’s parks and protected areas are facing continuously greater challenges. Parks leaders and stakeholders are having to problem solve on tight timelines, tighter budgets, and with the knowledge that many Canadians have a vested interest in the outcome of their decisions. Our capstone team was interested in understanding the challenges that come with making these decisions, and ways in which to simplify complex decision making processes.

Our interest began with wanting to explore both the natural and cultural impacts of climate change. Often, cultural landmarks are left out of the discussion when talking about the impacts of climate change on Canada’s landscape. However, valuable cultural sites, such as the centuries old Totem Pole stand at Haida Gwaii, are facing possible destruction as a direct result of rising sea levels. Important decisions are being made on whether or not to preserve these landmarks, and how to do so.

Our group was first inspired by the infographic created by Capstone Team A in the Fall 2020 CPCIL eResidency. Capstone Team A had created an infographic outlining climate-informed planning and decision making when responding to climate change in Canada’s parks and protected areas. Our goal was to further their study by focusing on one decision making tool to see how it would fare in climate-informed decision making. 


During the winter 2021 eResidency, we learned about the Resist-Accept-Direct (RAD) framework for decision making. Published in December 2020, the RAD framework is a decision making tool created by the National Park Service. The decision maker has three options when approaching a problem: resist change, accept change, or direct change. The RAD framework lays out clear avenues of thought when making climate change-related decisions. Throughout the months that followed the eResidency, our team researched many decision making tools, however the RAD framework continued to prove the most relevant when approaching natural and cultural heritage.


With this in mind, and the permission of Capstone Team A, we decided to update their infographic to integrate the RAD framework and include cultural resources as well as natural resources. We found the RAD framework could be tested using real conservation case studies. We also found in our exploration of decision making tools, that while many tools exist, few are tailored specifically to climate change, and even fewer address climate change as it relates to natural and cultural heritage sites. This is an area where little work has been done. We think that expanding upon this topic will not only be of interest in the future, but necessary to preserve, or accept the loss of, Canada’s natural and cultural heritage landmarks.

Open .pdf of Infographic

 Decision making in Canada’s parks and protected areas will only get more complex with the increasing pressure of climate change. The infographic that we have created can contribute to park leadership by laying out a simple, yet effective method of working through difficult decisions. It also shows that these decisions do not need to be made in isolation. Many leaders across Canada are facing similar issues, and coming together to discuss seemingly impossible decisions will help foster a dialogue in which ideas can be shared, problems can be solved, and ultimately, responsible and tough decisions can be made.


Moving forward, we believe next steps could include:

  1. Sharing the updated graphic across the parks network via the CPCIL website 
  2. Our team sharing the infographic internally within our park organizations, and offering our cohort to do the same
  3. Future CPCIL Capstone groups looking further into case studies, and put this theory into practice with the help of site managers and stakeholders. Examples our team explored to determine the usefulness of decision making tools include:
  • The declining Woodland Caribou herd in Jasper National Park due to altered predator-prey dynamics, human disturbance, and habitat loss.
  • Rising sea levels impacting the existence of the totem poles in Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve.
  • Other sensitive climate change impacted examples currently under review with various park agencies.

A Conversation About Marine Conservation in Canada Through the Use of Parks and Protected Areas

Hameet Singh is part of a team of CPCIL Research and Knowledge Gatherers producing content and compiling resources on themes such as inclusion, ecosocial justice, partnerships, conservation, organizational sustainability, climate change and biodiversity, connection to nature, conservation financing, and ecotourism, to support effective and equitable leadership and inclusion in parks and protected areas across Canada

The following is a series of Q and A with a Parks Canada representative concerning the various types of marine protected areas (MPAs) in a Canadian context. For more information on MPAs, please visit the “Federal Marine Protected Area Strategy”

 Q1: What is your professional background and what motivated you to pursue your career of choice?

A1: My undergraduate studies were in geography at Queen’s University, and then I moved into education and taught in the GIS realm for about 10 years. I went on to do my Master’s in Conservation Planning. My Master’s thesis examined zoning in the lower South Okanagan-Similkameen Region. At this time, I also became interested in modeling tools, and in particular, I worked with a tool that is used in systematic planning and zoning. From that, I was employed by an NGO called Living Oceans in British Columbia. Eventually, I ended up working with Parks Canada starting in 2007 and for the first 10 years of my career here, I largely focused on establishment projects, including zoning for subterrestrial national parks. I have also worked on the interim zoning plan for Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site, and zoning for the proposed Southern Strait of Georgia National Marine Conservation Area (NMCA). I have also started to work in the consultation realm and have managed a proposal to examine the potential to establish national park lands on Bowen Island. I am now based in Revelstoke, British Columbia, and my current role is in Investment Planning with a two-year assignment in the Marine Conservation Group, Protected Areas Establishment and Conservation Directorate of Parks Canada. My tasks include developing policy and regulations to support NMCAs.

Q2: Could you please define what an MPA is in a Canadian context?  

A2: There are a number of different MPAs in Canada and three government departments that can establish and manage an MPA: 

NMCAs are Parks Canada’s instrument.  NMCAs are established and managed for the purpose of protecting representative marine areas for the benefit, education and enjoyment of the people of Canada and the world. One of the themes that are unique about the NMCA program is the focus on representativity – we have a system plan similar to our National Parks in which we divide Canada into 29 national marine regions and our goal is to represent each one with an NMCA. We also have a strong emphasis on education, outreach and promoting memorable visitor experiences. There are seven management goals of NMCAs that address the three pillars of sustainability:

  1. Protect marine biodiversity and ecosystems 
  2. Advance effective collaboration for management 
  3. Manage use in an ecologically sustainable manner 
  4. Conserve cultural heritage 
  5. Foster long-term wellbeing of coastal and Indigenous communities 
  6. Facilitate opportunities for meaningful visitor experience 
  7. Enhance awareness and understand of NMCAs 

Q3: What is the process of establishing an NMCA? 

A3: There is a five-step process: 

  1. Identifying representative marine areas 
  2. Select candidate NMCA from among the representative marine areas
    • Examine a range of factors, including ecological representation, collaboration with Indigenous organizations, other governments (provincial, territorial, municipal) or departments, and complementarity with regional and national MPA planning processes 
  3. Assess feasibility/desirability of establishing a candidate NMCA  
    • Work with Indigenous groups, other governments, stakeholders, etc, to compile background information and explore the opportunities and challenges that are presented which is then summarized in a feasibility report 
  4. Negotiating agreements and developing an interim management plan 
    • Agreements can be made with First Nations or other governments/departments. The interim plan will guide the management of the area for the first five years before an actual management plan is developed. The interim management plan contains topics such as a vision for the area, management goals and objectives, zoning, and any restrictions or limitations that have been agreed to through the negotiation process 
  5. Establish NMCA 

Q4: How are NMCAs governed in Canada? What is the primary legislation used to establish and govern them? 

A4: The primary legislation is the Canada National Marine Conservation Areas Act. Under this act, we have the authority to establish and manage NMCAs to the extent that other federal government departments do not already have authority in the region. For example, if we developed a management plan, we would not be able to manage fisheries without DFO approval. We would work collaboratively with DFO who would have to sign off on any decisions made with respect to fisheries management. There is a wide suite of other legislation that would apply in an NMCA, which can make its governance very complex.

Q5: What are some of the tools that Parks Canada uses to monitor and manage NMCAs?

A5: We use various tools to achieve our goals with respect to NMCAs, such as zoning, special management areas voluntary measures, monitoring and research (to assess the state of the existing environment), management planning processes, legislation and regulations, permitting processes, education and awareness, temporary closures, etc. 

Q6: In September 2019, the government announced new goals of protecting 25% of Canada’s oceans by 2025. Canada surpassed its previous goal of attaining 10% protection by 2020 with the establishment of larger MPAs in the north. Could you please speak to the importance of ocean targets such as these and how the government goes about achieving them? 

A6: The goals are essentially our marching orders and are part of the departmental plan, our budget and the minister’s mandate. We are working towards achieving 25% by 2025 and 30% by 2030 and have commitments made towards the establishment of various parks across Canada. Parks Canada has contributed a significant portion to the achievement of these goals. There are five proposed NMCAs, namely: 

  1. Îles-de-la-Madeleine – Quebec 
  2. Southern Strait of Georgia – British Columbia 
  3. Eastern James Bay – Ontario 
  4. Tallurutiup Imanga – Nunavut 
  5. Labrador Coast – Newfoundland and Labrador 

Q7: What is the value of having a network of NMCAs?  

A7: We are seeing a decline in marine biodiversity, abundance of species and other threats to the oceans with respect to industrial development, climate change and other stressors. There are also concerns regarding the rate of extractive usage. Canada’s oceans are extremely valuable and they provide a multitude of ecological services, so their preservation is very important. 

Q8: What role do local communities play in the establishment of NMCAs? 

A8: Local community support is very important to Parks Canada. For example, we did a feasibility study that I was involved with on Bowen Island, and the community decided to conduct a public vote which resulted in a rejection of the proposal, so we walked away. This is a component that is extremely important to us and we want to have the support of local communities, and in particular, the support of Indigenous Peoples. 

Q9: What are some of the bigger challenges in achieving marine sustainability and how can they be overcome?

A9: For me, it’s working around the complexity of the overlapping authoritative bodies. I am currently working on developing regulations, and this can only be done in the areas that we have the authority to do so. If there is an area concerning fisheries, we must collaborate with Fisheries and Ocean’s Canada. There are usually two components when it comes to protected areas – their establishment and effective management. We currently do not have regulations under the NMCA Act, and these are in development so that we can manage these areas more effectively. The collaborative component can get complicated because it tends to take up a lot of time and resources to do so and reach a consensus. 

Q10: What advice would you give to someone who is starting out in their career and wants to work in marine conservation?

A10: Follow your passion and interest because a lot of people who go into this field are extremely passionate about the work that they do. Cater to the areas that you excel in (i.e. communications, social media, marketing, research and analysis, science, policy, planning, GIS etc) and leverage your area of expertise and background. It is sometimes difficult to obtain government positions, so if you are early in your career, environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOS) are a really great place to start (i.e. CPAWS, WWF-Canada, David Suzuki Foundation, etc).

Q11: What are some resources one could consult if they wanted to know more about this topic? 

A11: I would recommend and consult the resources and documents that the International Union on the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has published on this topic.