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.

Capstone Team H: Engaging Youth Through Parks

The Winter 2021 Cohort of the CPCIL Park Leaders Development Program presented a unique challenge to all participants: connecting entirely in an online space during the peak of a global pandemic. This program typically presents plenty of challenges even when operating as usual: connecting with other park leaders from different parks organizations, all at different points in their careers, and with different worldviews and experiences. This year, none of our cohort ever got to meet each other in person!

How does a Capstone Team of four different people from four different parks organizations unite and find common interests? Fortunately for the Winter 2021 Capstone Team H, we were able to overcome the distance, time zones, and occasional technological issues to focus on one topic that we all care about: youth engagement in our parks and protected spaces.

In March of 2021 during our two-week eResidency, our group was thrown together and had to decide, through nothing but a series of creative team building activities and conversations, what we thought our Capstone Project might focus on. Our Capstone Team has representation from four different agencies: Parks Canada, Sépaq (Québec), Ontario Parks, and Alberta Parks. We spoke a lot about themes that were important to all of us: reciprocity (giving to and receiving value from parks); connecting (and reconnecting) people with parks and protected spaces; youth; and the inspiration we took from some of the amazing guest speakers we saw during the eResidency.

One common theme we were all able to identify from our individual journeys in Parks is that of youth involvement (or lack thereof) in parks and protected spaces. We all agreed that young people – whether they work for our organizations, recreate in our spaces, or just care about nature and the environment – are critical to informing the future direction of our organizations. We know that Canadian youth have valuable opinions about issues related to our parks and protected spaces, such as inclusion, diversity, accessibility, resource management, and visitation. We also know that youth have a desire to be involved in our organizations and spaces, but sometimes encounter barriers that deter them from engaging to the fullest.

From these conversations we developed our Capstone Team idea: a Youth Council for Parks. We developed a “poster” that summarized our vision and what we hoped a Youth Council could achieve.

While the idea of a pan-Canadian Youth Council for Parks’ agencies was appealing, we realized very quickly that the scope of this idea was far too broad for us to tackle over a few months. Our team engaged in several thought-provoking discussions which led us to narrow our focus to a project that kept the core values and purpose of our initial idea but was much more manageable for our timeframe. We developed the following goal statement: Things would be better if parks agencies had a tool to keep youth more engaged with Parks’ goals and values, allowing current, former, and future/prospective youth workers to connect with one another and with mentors or other park agencies, share thoughts and ideas, and participate in meaningful projects and dialogue.

Our Capstone Team had a number of personal observations and theories as to why youth may or may not engage fully with parks’ agencies, as well as many ideas about how to connect and engage youth further, but we wanted to hear these thoughts directly from young people. We finally settled on developing a survey which could be administered to youth to assess youth values, concerns, and ideas surrounding parks and protected areas. With a limited timeline to prepare, launch, and evaluate survey results, our team created a short survey of 11 questions and distributed the survey within our networks. The survey was conducted from July 16 – July 26 and was intended to provide baseline results showing general trends.

When the survey period closed and we got a chance to look at the results, we were blown away by the quality and depth of responses. Respondents generally validated a lot of the initial observations and ideas that our Capstone Team had proposed, but also revealed deeper understanding of park issues and a greater passion for parks than we might have expected.

Despite respondents having self-identified as avid users of parks both personally and professionally, several barriers to their continued or increased enjoyment of parks and protected areas were identified. These included distance and accessibility, cost, time, overcrowding, and mistreatment by visitors. Many respondents are seeking improved job opportunities, career continuity, and improved accessibility to parks and protected area systems. Most respondents also clearly indicated an interest in having more opportunities to engage with other youth in parks and connect about jobs, training, and diverse work experiences.

Though the initial results are limited and not statistically representative, Capstone Team H believes that a survey of this nature could and should be developed further and would be an excellent tool for the CPC, CPCIL, or other parks’ agencies to employ. The data that can be gathered from our youth workers and Canadian youth in general will be invaluable to the future direction of parks’ agencies and ensuring that parks remain an accessible place for all. The youth we surveyed demonstrated thoughtfulness in their responses and proved that the next generation of park leaders are already out there. The survey and resulting data can be utilized to support the development of a community of practice for youth to engage in park leadership, by offering an open safe space for dialogue, collaboration, and to encourage youth continuity and growth.

Capstone F: Pathways to Cultural Competency

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

Team Members: Sarah Boyle, Brendan Buggeln, Megan Bull, Rachel Goldstein, Caroline Ipeelie-Qiatsuk, Tobi Kiesewalter

The federal and provincial governments of Canada have made commitments to advance reconciliation and renew relationships with Indigenous peoples based on rights, respect, cooperation and partnership. The road towards reconciliation is inevitably complex and difficult, and should involve the participation of all Canadians, on both a personal and professional level.

Every park, marine protected area, and heritage site administered by a parks organization in Canada is located within the traditional and ancestral territory of Indigenous peoples. This creates both an opportunity and a responsibility for parks leaders to advance reconciliation and foster respectful and positive relationships with Indigenous partners and communities.

Capstone Team F acknowledged that many non-Indigenous conservation staff, including at senior levels, have limited knowledge about how to develop cultural competency. While many staff want to learn more, they are often unsure where to start or become overwhelmed by the volume and complexity of resources, especially those designed for staff already experienced in working with Indigenous partners. As high-level discussions of reconciliation within parks continue to advance, there is a risk that the knowledge ‘ceiling’ may leave the ‘floor’ behind unless appropriate tools are available to help all parks employees develop baseline cultural competencies.

Capstone Team F’s goal was to create a collection of reconciliation-focused resources which allowed learners to proceed at their own pace. The resources were curated to allow for a natural progression from foundational learning on Indigenous communities and the impacts of colonialism toward constructive action to advance truth and reconciliation. To achieve this, the Team developed a user- friendly resource package, comprised of a thematically-organized database of resources and a suite of 12 learning pathways, all of which feature an organized set of resources centred around a particular theme. Most pathways are designed for learners with limited background of Canada-Indigenous relations, and each lists a Truth and Reconciliation Commission “Call to Action” which it aims to support.

The database and example pathways are by no means comprehensive, but provide a solid basis from which to begin a learning journey. The resource package may be used by supervisors to coordinate training sessions for staff (though it should never replace in-person training or the hiring of an Indigenous consultant), or it may be used by individual parks leaders for independent learning. The resource package is designed to develop cultural competency to help parks leaders advance reconciliation in their personal lives, in their professional relationships, and in their work. Above all, the resource package is intended to be a springboard for further learning, and to provide individual motivation for advancing reconciliation at a team, departmental or organizational level.

Recommendations for expanding the scope and increasing the impact of this work include:

Housing the database and learning pathways on a learning platform, such as the CPCIL website, where other users can continue to update the content

  • Testers, or site users, could provide feedback to help refine the tool, with the potential to add in a comment section or rating system so people can rate their experience with each resource as they use them.
  • The webpage would ideally be made publicly available, to make it accessible to a broader audience (e.g., teachers, municipal staff, health care workers).
  • Expansion of the database and pathways or the addition of other learning tools by future Capstone teams
  • A number of themes could continue to be explored and have pathways developed for them in the future, including but not limited to:
    • Northern cultural competency
    • Ethical Space
    • Environmental justice
    • Food sovereignty
    • Indigenous story and law
    • Status of women
    • Health
    • Language
    • Removing barriers to access
  • Some agencies, such as Parks Canada and the Federal Public Service, have invested significant resources towards creating in-depth learning websites and training resources, but these resources are not available publicly, even to other civil servants. Consideration should be given to options for providing access to these excellent resources to all civic servants, or the general public.

It is our hope that this Capstone project, and our recommendations for expanding the scope of the work, will contribute to existing efforts to advance understanding of Truth and Reconciliation in the public service. We have aimed to create a simple yet effective introduction to cultural competency, which may be useful to learners of all knowledge levels and spark motivation for a much deeper learning journey.

To Protect and Conserve – the Mission of Marine Protected Areas

The mangrove forests of the Ria Lagartos Biosphere Reserve have been cited by community members as important to wellbeing due to the protection from hurricane impacts. Photo by Hameet Singh.

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. These positions are funded by Canada’s Green Jobs Program and supported by Project Learning Tree.

Marine protected areas have long been heralded as an important area-based management tool to combat ecological change, conserve natural resources, biological diversity, and historical and cultural facets of the landscape. The purpose of an MPA is to provide protection for “any defined area within or adjacent to the marine environment, together with its overlying waters and associated flora, fauna and historical and cultural features.”[1] It strives to diminish the risk of degradation to marine and coastal ecosystems by reducing pressure on fisheries and other related marine activities. This is achieved by limiting interference from human activities to varying degrees, dependent on the IUCN categories.[2] MPAs may also sometimes be set up to safeguard unique ecosystems or species habitats such as sponge glass corals or mangrove forests.

The benefits of MPAs are vast and diverse. They are known to “protect delicate ecosystems so that they remain productive and healthy, maintain areas of biodiversity and genetic variation within the flora and fauna populations, ensure that endangered, threatened, or rare species are protected…”.[3] MPAs are used as a “well-established conservation strategy, employed around the world to protect important marine species and ecosystems and support the recovery of declining populations”.[4] Lesser known, but equally important benefits of MPA establishment are its economic and social facets. MPAs implemented with allowable sustainable use of human activity can help to bolster local economies through fisheries spillover effects and ecotourism ventures. In communities where MPAs have been established for a longer period, they have become embedded in the local culture and community identity.

Some of the avifauna present in the Ria Lagartos Biosphere Reserve - Great blue heron, roseate spoonbill and American white ibis. Photo by Hameet Singh.
Some of the avifauna present in the Ria Lagartos Biosphere Reserve - Great blue heron, roseate spoonbill and American white ibis. Photo by Hameet Singh.

Fostering Biodiversity

In the Ria Lagartos Biosphere Reserve, the MPA where I was based in while doing my graduate research, the local community members that I interviewed repeatedly advocated the significant value that the reserve has brought to their towns. The communities are situated in a lagoon ecosystem, which is host to mangrove forests, in addition to other vegetative biomes. In fact, mangroves surround the coasts of the entire peninsula with a total area of 423,751 ha.[5] Interviewees frequently described the MPA as conserving the mangroves, which in turn safeguards the inland communities from hurricane and storm surges. This is particularly significant for the area, as it is considered a high-risk hurricane zone and situated in the trajectory of hurricanes originating from the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico.[6] This shows that the existence of the MPA has added to the physical resilience of the communities.

The biosphere and mangroves also provide ecological protection to its myriad of species residing in its core and buffer zones, including hawksbill and green sea turtles, Morelett’s crocodile and American crocodile, jaguar, bare-throated tiger heron, Caribbean spiny lobster, and Atlantic horseshoe crab. Avifauna in particular are of special concern in the ecosystem. The reserve is known as an “Important Bird Area” an internationally recognized standard for the conservation of bird populations.[7] Its strategic location and varied vegetative environments make it a key migratory stop for wintering waterfowl.[8]

Protection of species and habitat has also stabilized some of the previously declining fisheries in the region, which is significant as over 60% of the communities’ population relies on small-scale fishing as its primary source of income.[9] Literature repeatedly indicates that well-managed MPAs build the resilience of coastal communities through the spillover of fish, leading to benefits via increased catch.[10] Fishing is a way of life and comprises self-identity for many living in the communities of the reserve. Increases in the health of local fisheries is embedded in and contributes to the community’s culture and identity.

Supporting Local Communities​

In addition, the implementation of the MPA has brought significant revenue generation through investments in ecotourism. In Ria Lagartos, locals have leveraged the presence of the reserve by promoting ecotourism ventures. It has been used increasingly as a mechanism for alternative income generation and diversification of livelihoods. This has allowed locals to benefit and improve their wellbeing and socio-economic conditions through new employment opportunities and increased revenue. Fishers are doubling as tour guides, escorting sightseers to the mangrove forests, beaches, sinkholes and birdwatching areas.[11] There is a tourist cooperative established in all the communities of Ría Lagartos by cooperative fishers and other community members, including the women’s cooperative. The main attraction of the reserve are the species that inhabit it, particularly the American flamingo and Morelet’s crocodile. Animals such as these attract a multitude of tourists annually, who come to see the species in their natural habitat via birdwatching tours or night excursions.

The American flamingo in the Ria Lagartos Biosphere Reserve. Photo by Hameet Singh.
The American flamingo in the Ria Lagartos Biosphere Reserve. Photo by Hameet Singh.

Finally, majority of the interviewees attributed the reserve as enhancing their community’s wellbeing, stating that its presence added to local pride and awareness of the marine environment. This in turn created a greater sense and encouragement to care and protect the local environment and a psychological feeling of comfort.

The establishment of an MPA can have a multitude of benefits for the local areas in which it exists, as well the overall global marine ecosystem as a whole. They are known as “biological successes” and safeguard marine species all throughout the food web, and also provide a slew of both economic and social benefits. When designed effectively, MPAs have the potential to conserve the marine environment and protect biodiversity, while simultaneously contributing positively to social and economic development.

What other benefits and success stories are supported by MPAs? Let us know in the comments below!


[2] IUCN (2020). Protected Area Categories. Retrieved from IUCN:

[3] Ginsburg, D. (2013). Effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas in Mexico – the Actam Chuleb Example. Retrieved from Scientific American Blog Network website:

[4] Jessen, S., Morgan, L. E., Bezaury-Creel, J. E., Barron, A., Govender, R., Pike, E. P., … Moffitt, R. A. (2017). Measuring MPAs in Continental North America: How Well Protected Are the Ocean Estates of Canada, Mexico, and the USA? Frontiers in Marine Science, 4.

[5] Adame, M. F., Zaldívar‐Jimenez, A., Teutli, C., Caamal, J. P., Andueza, M. T., López‐Adame, H., … Herrera‐Silveira, J. A. (2013). Drivers of Mangrove Litterfall within a Karstic Region Affected by Frequent Hurricanes. Biotropica, 45(2), 147–154.

[6] Audefroy, J. F., & Sánchez, B. N. C. (2017). Integrating local knowledge for climate change adaptation in Yucatán, Mexico. International Journal of Sustainable Built Environment, 6(1), 228–237.

[7] BirdLife International. (2019). BirdLife Data Zone. Retrieved from

[8] SEMARNAT. (2016). Humedales de Ría Lagartos de gran importancia internacional. Retrieved from website:

Unlock the Potential of MPAs – Understanding Lessons Learned

Some of the avifauna present in the Ria Lagartos Biosphere Reserve - Great blue heron, roseate spoonbill and American white ibis. Photo by Hameet Singh.

The ecological and economic wellbeing brought forth by marine protected areas (MPAs) have been extensively studied and supported by a multitude of case studies around the globe (1). MPAs have been known to boost fisheries’ populations, enhance tourism and job opportunities (2), and provide refuge for an array of marine life (3).

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Webinar Summary – Parks Day: Past, Present, Future

Parks Day CPCIL Webinar

The first Parks day, back in 1990, was based on a paper commissioned by the Canadian Parks council which provided an opportunity for all public parks to participate in the celebration of parks and their role in natural and cultural heritage conservation in Canada, and to increase public awareness and support for parks. From here, Parks day emerged, and has changed throughout the years and looks different for different jurisdictions. This webinar explores these different contexts and perspectives of these jurisdictions.


  • Nic DeGama-Blanchet, Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park, Alberta
  • Caroline Ipeelie-Qiatsuk, Nunavut Parks and Special Places, Qikiqtaaluk Region
  • Tobi Kiesewalter, Ontario Parks, Learning and Discovery Program
  • Michael Nadler, Parks Canada External Relations and Visitor Experience

5 Key Takeaways

  1. For Fish Creek Provincial Park, Parks Day is run by community volunteers so that it can involve a great number of people. Park isn’t merely a space, but rather becomes so because of the relationship people have with that place. 
  2. In Nunavut Parks, Parks Day is utilized as an opportunity to highlight the local cultures’ deep ties to the land and expand the outdoor classroom. For example, they showcase cultural activities like drum dancing, throat singing, tea and bannock, and fried fish.
  3. For Ontario Parks, the concept of Parks Day has melded with the Healthy Parks, Healthy People movement, however the spirit of Parks day is still present as a way to engage people with Parks who might have been otherwise uninterested
  4. Parks Days were collectively seen as an opportunity to host discussions about Reconciliation, equity, and how to keep these conversations and relationships going year round.
  5. All panelists connected with the element of human connection to the land. The future of Parks Day is seen as an opportunity for people to celebrate this connection and contribute to part of a broader national identity.

Queen of the Peaks – Pattie Gonia Brings Drag to the Outdoors

By Rachel Goldstein

Rachel Goldstein 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. These positions are funded by Canada’s Green Jobs Program and supported by Project Learning Tree

Deep in the heart of Oregon, USA, lives a 6’3” drag queen by the name of Pattie Gonia. Pattie can often be seen in her trademark leather platform boots climbing mountains, ascending peaks, or catching a wave. Recognizable by her signature flaming locks and the fact that she’s, well, a drag queen, Pattie crosses boundaries and sets new standards in the world of the outdoors, not unlike her namesake.

Popularized in the late 1800s by the Black Queer community, drag has developed from a fringe movement to a mainstream phenomenon. In essence, it is a way for members of the queer community to embrace and express an artform. Drag is a performance of gender that comments on the performativity of gender itself. In mainstream media, it is typically a queer man performing as a woman, though drag can encompass all gender identities and sexual orientations. If you are struggling to find the connection between drag and the Canadian Parks Collective for Innovation and Leadership, consider the queen who is branching out of the typical femme architecture of drag to embrace the outdoors in her art. Ms. Pattie Gonia is a self-described “lady in the streets but a freak on the peaks”. She is the intersectional, environmentalist drag queen that we all need. Pattie describes drag as “an artform that is most oftentimes performed by queer people that bends gender as a means of self-discovery and performance”. For Pattie, it is also a means of taking political action and drawing attention to the climate crisis and the need for environmental sustainability.

Category is: Environmental Sustainability

I recently spoke with Wyn Wiley (he/him/they), the man behind the queen, Pattie Gonia (she/her/they) about his experience bringing drag to the outdoors.* Wyn is relatively new to the drag scene, having started performing as Pattie just over two years ago. His unique take on drag, however, has amassed Pattie over 300,000 followers on Instagram and international attention in that short period of time. Wyn’s drag is unique for many reasons. For anyone familiar with mainstream drag, Wyn’s approach is a polar opposite. Drag in the media is presented as femme-passing, high-fashion, and runway ready. 

While Pattie Gonia can certainly encompass these traits, she often chooses to simply adorn herself in hiking gear and a pair of thigh-high platform boots, sometimes accompanied by a wig, makeup, or a gown, but never without the boots. When I asked her about the importance of her boots, she reminded me that drag is simply another artform. Painters will bring their easels and canvases into the outdoors to capture a scene, photographers will bring their cameras, and Pattie will bring her boots.

Pattie also brings her unique take to her performances. A typical drag performance is often in a bar or club setting. Pattie prefers to perform in the outdoors. She starts off by speaking to her audience about environmental concepts or diversity in the outdoors and ends on a performance. Any questions I had for her about feeling duty-bound to incorporate environmentalism into her drag were rendered irrelevant when she informed me that “there are many days I’ll just get in drag, or just get in heels and just perform outdoors and it’s not for anyone but Mother Nature herself.

“Every time I’m out there in heels is like a performance, no matter if even just a little squirrel on a tree sees it, or if it’s just for myself.”

When I first encountered Pattie’s drag, my first thought was simply, how? How does someone unite the artform of drag with the inherent ruggedness of the outdoors? This is what Wyn had to say: “I think for the longest time I loved the outdoors and for the longest time I really cherished my queer identity. And I felt like the two had to be so separate because I thought that the outdoors was this masculine story. I didn’t think that the outdoors would ever be a place for me as a queer person. But it turns out that queer people have kind of always been in the outdoors and nature is just incredibly queer. I think it very much happened by accident, but ever since, I’ve been intersecting two worlds that I never thought could be together.”

Nature As An Equalizer

The perceived masculinity of the outdoor world is a daunting obstacle many people are faced with. Working out our place in what should be a neutral ground is a challenging feat. Pattie has managed to carve out a space for herself on the trails despite these challenges. She described her reception in the outdoor world as polarizing; people either love Pattie or hate her. A point Wyn was intent on emphasizing, however, was his role as a straight-passing, white man. Though hiking in leather boots and a bold lip is certainly not the easiest way to blend in, he explained that “a lot of my life isn’t easy, but it’s easier than most”, referring to the unique experiences of visible minorities in the outdoor industry.

"For the longest time I loved the outdoors and for the longest time, I really cherished my queer identity. And I felt like the two had to be so separate because I thought that the outdoors was this masculine story.​"
Wyn Wiley

The ability to present as straight in his daily life has also contributed to Wyn’s love of drag. Starting out in the drag world, he said, “I think there was a lot of femininity that needed to release inside of me, and I think that there was a lot of life, coming from Nebraska, that kept me really closeted even though I was out as a gay man, and drag was that freedom to me.

“Drag is just a beautiful freedom that lets me keep on pursuing what it’s like to explore femininity and the outdoors and to do drag in a space that I love so much.”

The outdoors do not take notice of gender identity or sexual orientation and so nature, in an ideal world, should be an equalizer. The outdoor adventure industry need not be gendered, and yet it is. This is something I have been pondering in my role at CPCIL and was something I was eager to discuss with Wyn.

“I think it’s important to have drag and LGBTQ representation in the outdoor community because queer people have always been in the outdoors,” Wyn said. 

“People just haven’t been turning their eyes on them. I think we’ve spent so long in an outdoor industry, an outdoor community looking for really traditional hero stories, often in tune with masculinity and the hero’s quest, and a lot of this conquering mindset. I’m here and I think a lot of queer people are here to find the outdoors as a place for healing and for community and for joy. I think also there’s this narrative in queer culture to run to metropolitan cities for acceptance  — I want people to run into the woods for acceptance, to get lost a little bit and to find way more about who they are. I think there’s a lot of beauty to be found there.”

Wyn also emphasized the importance of increasing representation of LGBTQ+ people in the outdoors as an issue of safety. The outdoors should be a safe space for all, and increasing queer visibility is one way to show the LGBTQ+ community that there is a safe space for them in the outdoors. 

Wyn was first introduced to the outdoors through the Boy Scouts of America. The Boy Scouts have often been criticized for their role in promoting heteronormativity in the outdoors and excluding queer and gender non-conforming children and staff. When asked about his experience, Wyn replied that he was grateful for an avenue into the outdoors, but that children now are exposed to much healthier and safer ways to access the outdoors through organizations such as Unlikely Hikers and other queer-friendly organizations

Intersectional Environmentalism

Wyn’s commitment to activism is something that I think resonates with several Parks communities. Working in conservation is not simply a day job — for many, it becomes a lifestyle. We think about it every time we use single-use plastics or hop on an airplane. The same is true for Wyn. 

I asked him how he avoids burnout from the constant pressure from both the LGBTQ+ community and the environmental community, as well as the pressure he puts on himself to do his part. It turns out, the CPCIL community is not so different from the world of eco-drag. We all turn to the outdoors when we get overwhelmed. Wyn periodically escapes to the wilderness, unplugs, and unwinds with our closest mutual friend — Mother Nature. In his own words, “rest is a radical act of resistance”.

Pattie’s commitment to environmentalism does not stop at activism, however. She incorporates sustainability into her drag in the form of upcycled costuming. She sports wigs and gowns made out of sea debris, trash from quarantine, and old newspapers. In a documentary called Dear Mother Nature, created in collaboration with the outdoor company, REI, Pattie wears a gown made entirely of repurposed plastic bags. At her Sundance debut, where she presented the film, she wore a gown curated out of upcycled tutus, old sweatshirts, towels, and jeans. I asked Wyn how Pattie’s ecowarrior persona has affected his daily life. He first corrected me, saying he felt more like an “eco-muggle”, but went on to explain.

“I’m very much just trying to figure this out like everyone is, but I think realistic change happens when I can wake up and be one per cent more of an ally to the world than I was the day before,” he said. “And when I say the world, I mean to people and our planet because I think that environmentalism needs to be intersectional. We need to ally each other as diverse groups of people and we need to ally for all marginalized communities, and I think we need to ally for nature as well. I’m learning so much every day just how possible it is to wake up and be one percent better. It’s never going to look like these big flashy changes in my life. The work is the little one percent things in the cracks; all the nooks and crannies where I can bring kindness into the world or where I can use one less piece of plastic or where I can learn one more thing or unlearn one more thing. I count all of that as caring for our environment.”

It turns out we are not so different from the heel stomping drag queen that is Pattie Gonia. We are all just trying our best to reduce our environmental impact on this world and spread the word however we can. When I asked Wyn what Pattie’s next steps are, he told me he’s going to continue to fill the niche he currently occupies. Pattie has created a unique platform and will continue to speak out for the environment in the way that only she can. Wyn concluded our interview with this gentle reminder: “never forget that what you do is activism too, just behind the scenes”. So, I’ll task you, reader, with the same thing. Never forget that what you do is activism and is making a difference, whether it is writing policy to protect ecosystem services, interviewing a drag queen, or gluing on a lace front wig and taking it to the trails.


* A note about pronouns: In this piece, with permission from Wyn, I have used both male and female pronouns for Pattie/Wyn interchangeably. Wyn gave me the following explanation of the importance of using the correct pronouns, which I think is a useful introduction or refresher for anyone uncomfortable or unsure about the concept:

“Pronouns are a way that allies can show their love and respect for queer people. When we say pronouns, they’re not just our chosen pronouns, they are our pronouns. I think that there’s a connotation out there that these are our chosen pronouns when really, it’s not how we identify, it’s what our identity is. Pronouns are as easy as just using the kind of gender identifiers that people want to use. I think it’s a really safe bet if you don’t know someone’s pronouns to just assume they/them pronouns so as not to possibly misgender them. I think they/them pronouns is becoming an identity that a lot of queer people find home in. Merriam-Webster just updated the definition of they/them in the dictionary to mean nonbinary pronouns. Entering words into our normal vocabulary like queer, nonbinary, and they/them pronouns, can really help us create an inclusive space for all.”

If you would like to learn more about other people in the outdoor community doing excellent work to promote LGBTQ+ representation and other forms of intersectional environmentalism, please check out the following for a brief introduction.

Unearthing Restorative Justice in a Parks Setting

By Capstone Team E – Travis Halliday, Maria O’Hearn, Kelly Stein, Jennifer Szakacs

This project was completed as part of the CPCIL Park Leaders Development Program, an applied leadership program exploring transformative leadership approaches to complex park issues and concepts.

Restorative justice is a criminal justice approach with the goal of healing both victim and offender.  It aims for participation with all involved while holding offenders responsible for their actions and encouraging introspection of the cause of their behaviour.

This approach is increasingly being applied across Canada leading to better outcomes for both victims and offenders. However, its application in a parks and protected areas context in Canada is unknown.

Our objective as a capstone team in the CPCIL Park Leaders Development Program was to pull the curtain back to find out if and how the process is used within our parks collective. This would result in a snapshot of the current state of restorative justice that others looking to venture down this road could access.

Photo by Ben den Engelsen / Unsplash

Our preliminary research of journals, news articles and other online resources turned up very little on the use of restorative justice within a parks context. So were we boldly going where no one has gone before? A bit more time plus a thorough jurisdictional review and numerous interviews would tell.

We set out to delve deeper into restorative justice application in a conservation context to get a baseline of usage from jurisdictions across Canada. Our online survey posed questions to the Canadian Parks Council network like:

  • Who is using restorative justice?
  • What cases are referred?
  • What training is used?
  • What challenges are faced?

So, did we boldly go into uncharted territory? Most certainly. We received six responses from across the country, five of which do not use restorative justice and one respondent applies restorative justice in a marine conservation context.  The responses received, along with the fairly low response rate, indicates that restorative justice is not widely used in parks and protected areas.

However, our interviews with subject matter experts show that restorative justice is applied in other contexts, such as offences involving wildlife and natural resource-related enforcement. This presents an opportunity to build a restorative justice program for parks and protected areas by basing it on these related programs.  There is more work that can be done to dig deeper.

Bull elk bugling in a grass field with elk herd.
Photo by Briana Touzour / Unsplash

Recommendations for further work to promote the use of restorative justice in parks and protected areas across Canada include:

  1. Follow up with survey respondent from the jurisdiction currently applying restorative justice to build a case study.
  2. Develop case studies in related fields such as wildlife offences which could provide the groundwork for developing restorative justice programs in parks and protected areas.
  3. Promote the use of restorative justice in parks and protected areas across Canada through the Canadian Parks Council network.
  4. Start a forum devoted to restorative justice on the CPCIL website to facilitate information exchange among interested practitioners.
  5. Consider revisiting this topic to explore how restorative justice is applied in 5-10 years.

The benefits of restorative justice are far-reaching yet underutilized in parks and protected areas. So we have a mission for a future capstone team: to go boldly into this new world of restorative justice in a parks and protected areas context. We are keen to see what the future holds.

What restorative justice programs or examples have you heard of? Let us know in the comments below.