Whales, wings and wetlands

The call of the wild is echoing through Tuesday's federal budget, which some environmental groups are calling a "game changer" for nature conservation across Canada.

The Liberals have earmarked $1.3 billion over five years to expand protected areas and help endangered and threatened species — a move that reflects its pledge to safeguard at least 17 per cent of Canada's land and inland waters by 2020.

"Canada is one of the most beautiful places on Earth," Finance Minister Bill Morneau said in his budget speech to the House of Commons. "It's up to all of us to help keep it that way."

The budget commits $500 million to a nature fund aimed at protecting sensitive ecosystems, expanding species protection and helping Indigenous groups play a role in conservation efforts. The initiative is expected to leverage an additional $500 million from the private sector and other levels of government.

Expanded measures to include Indigenous Peoples in the creation and management of protected areas is encouraging, said Valerie Courtois, director of the Indigenous Leadership Initiative.

She pointed to the leadership role Indigenous governments have played in the creation of protected areas across the country, from Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve off British Columbia's northern coast to the Torngat Mountains National Park in Labrador.

Graham Saul, head of Nature Canada, described the conservation measures as a billion-dollar breakthrough.

"This budget is a game-changer," Saul said. "We think that Canada's wildlife would also applaud."

The Nature Conservancy of Canada welcomed the new measures, as did the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

Steve Cornish, CEO of the David Suzuki Foundation, described the funding as urgently needed to address Canada's biodiversity crisis.

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