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Part 4
Biodiversity Conservation in Canada - Page 2


Goal #1: Conservation of biodiversity and sustainable resource use

In Canada, management of biological resources falls primarily within provincial jurisdictions. This gives the provinces primary responsibility in protection and conservation of wildlife and habitats.

Responsibility over some components of wildlife is maintained by the federal government such as migratory birds, fish, marine mammals, federal protected areas and wildlife trade. The federal government also has a role in the development of forestry and agricultural practices that affect biodiversity. These responsibilities are met through the drafting and implementation of legislation and conservation programs and through cooperative programs with the provinces and territories, other countries, aboriginal groups, conservation organizations and the private sector.

The federal government has prepared a number of reports detailing how they intend to meet the goals of the strategy with regards to wildlife, aquatic ecosystems, protected areas and with regards to the forestry and agricultural sectors. This section of the website borrows strongly from these reports. (Environment Canada, 1997)

Conservation initiatives

The annex to the report Caring for Canada's Biodiversity: Canada's First National Report to the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (Biodiversity Convention Office) includes an inventory of initiatives to address conservation of biodiversity at the national level. (Environment Canada, 1998)

Wildlife Initiatives

In 1990, the Wildlife Policy for Canada was drafted to provide a framework to ensure sustainable use of wildlife and to maintain and restore biodiversity and ecological processes.

Environment Canada is responsible for the management and conservation of migratory birds and wildlife species of national concern, particularly species at risk, although valuable contributions have been made by other federal departments and sectors of the community as well.

A significant number of programs have been implemented to maintain or restore wild populations of native flora and fauna. These include programs to manage species or populations that are harvested for commercial, recreational and subsistence purposes, to ensure their sustainable use. For a more detailed list of these programs, we refer the reader to the Environment Canada report entitled Conserving Wildlife Diversity: Implementing the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy.

There is particular emphasis on protecting species that are in danger of extinction because of human activity. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) is a federally-appointed body of experts that designates species at risk in Canada. See the section below on COSEWIC for a more in-depth discussion. The Recovery of Nationally Endangered Wildlife (RENEW) was established in 1988 by a committee of government and non-governemtn members to focus on the recovery of extirpated, threatened and endangered species.

Rehabilitation and restoration endeavors often involve landscape-level management at the regional scale and the combined effort of many partners. Such regional programs include the St. Lawrence Vision 2000 plan to monitor and protect the species and habitat quality of the St. Lawrence River.

(Environment Canada, 1998, 1997)

Protected Areas Initiatives

The establishment of Protected Areas is an important component to protecting Canada's biodiversity.

The Statement of Commitment to complete Canada's Network of Protected Areas was signed by federal, provincial and territorial environment ministers in 1992. The commitments included completion of the network of terrestrial protected areas by the year 2000 and an accelerated completion of network of marine protected areas. See the section below on protected areas for a more in-depth discussion.

Aquatic Ecosystems Initiatives

In Canada, the federal government has authority over ocean and marine biological resources. Canada has begun intergated management of activities in estuarine, coastal and marine ecosystems, in recognition that marine resources are not immune to effects from land-based activities (see also the Canada Oceans Act under Goal #4).

In development is the National Program of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based sources of Marine Pollution, which was to be completed in late 1998. This program will be implemented as a partnership between all levels of government and various stakeholders. The priority areas of concern with regard to alteration and destruction of habitats include: habitats of endangered species, shorelines, coastal watersheds, estuaries, marine protected areas and small islands.

Canada has also established an action plan with Arctic nations to address arctic marine pollution.

The St. Lawrence Vision 2000 initiative is an example of a joint effort between the governments of Canada and Quebec to protect and conserve the St. Lawrence River. Key areas of the plan include the reduction of toxic discharges into the river, wildlife habitat conservation and increased citizen involvement in river management. As well, the Canadian Wildlife Service , in conjunction with the St. Lawrence Center, is preparing an atlas on the biodiversity of the St. Lawrence river and its shorelines.

(Environment Canada, 1998)

Initiatives in the Forestry Sector

Within the sectors that depend on biological resources, it is essential to develop sustainable management and development strategies to ensure that resources are protected. There are a number of concerns regarding conservation of biodiversity and forestry, including habitat fragmentation and loss, wildlife species at risk, protected areas, conservation and exchange of forest genetic resources and climate change and acceptable methods of valuing and measuring biodiversity.

The Canadian Forestry Service has prepared a biodiversity action plan outlining its commitment to the goal of the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy (Natural Resources Canada, 1997) with a view to the above concerns.

In 1992, Canada developed a National Forest Strategy where biodiversity conservation and sustainable use were dominant themes. Among the ac tions undertaken, the following were deemed as critically necessary and are currently being developed:

  1. Completion of an ecological classification of forest lands
  2. Completion of a network of protected areas representative of Canada's forests
  3. Establishing forest inventories
  4. Development of a system of national indicators of sustainable forest management.

(Canadian Forestry Service website)

Initiatives in the Agricultural Sector

Approximately 7% of Canada's land base is under some form of agricultural production. Agricultural activities impact natural ecosystems although agriculture can, in some cases, also help maintain and enhance populations of wild flora and fauna. In view of this, Agriculture and Agri-food Canada has prepared a biodiversity action plan that details its commitment to the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, 1997). Initiatives include the management of croplands and rangelands to maximize both wildlife habitat and forage production, the enhancement of riparian ecosystems and wood lots to provide suitable habitat for native plants and wildlife, soil conservation techniques such as the planting of local genetic varieties of crops and the use of shelterbelts and hedgerows to minimize topsoil loss, and conservation of genetic diversity of plant species. (AAFC, 1997)

Cooperation with aboriginal groups

A number of co-management boards have been established, composed of representatives of Aboriginal communities and government appointees.
  • Within the Northwest Territories and Yukon, these boards have become the main instruments of wildlife management in land claim areas. Through the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, Inuit of the Northwest Territories' eastern areas co-manage wildlife in what will become the Nunavut Territory. In existence since 1982, the Beverly-Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board is an excellent example of incorporation of traditional knowledge into the political process.
  • The BC government has appointed a 19-member panel comprised of scientists and Nuu-Chah-Nulth elders to study ways of changing management practices in old-growth forests around Clayoquot Sound.
  • Parks Canada and the Inuvialuit of the Western Arctic are working together on a Management Plan for Aulavik National Park on Banks Island.
  • The Quebec government has prepared a list of parks, ecological reserves, and wildlife management activities for its northern regions that will involve Aboriginal communities. In 1994, the government and the Montagnais concluded an agreement for the co-management of the Louis-Babel ecological reserve.


Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC)

Canada currently does not have an Endangered Species Act. COSEWIC logo.gifThere is a federally-appointed task force whose mandate it is to develop a national listing of species at risk in Canada. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife In Canada (COSEWIC) is comprised of federal, provincial and territorial wildlife officials, as well as representatives from major NGOs like the Canadian Nature Federation and the World Wildlife Fund.

The primary mandate of COSEWIC is to determine species that are at risk of decline, based on the best scientific evidence available, for vertebrates, invertebrates (only molluscs and lepidoptera), plants and lichens. Species are listed in the following categories: extinct, extirpated, endangered, threatened and vulnerable.

Status is assigned on the basis of consensus arrived at by voting members of COSEWIC present at the annual meeting. Designations are frequently based on considerable discussion of data presented in the status reports prepared by the subcommittees. Once status designations are made, it is up to the respective provincial and territorial jurisdictions where the species occurs to take whatever actions are appropriate to address the threats and limiting factors placing a species at risk. COSEWIC has no legislative or management role.

There are now 307 species on the List of Canadian Wildlife at Risk. Fifty-eight of these species are found in Quebec. Click here to see the list of COSEWIC species at risk in Quebec.


Protected areas

Establishment of a system of protected areas is an important step in the conservation of biodiversity. Ideally, protected areas should be high-quality (i.e. little human intervention) cores connected by corridors, surrounded by a buffer zone of compatible land use. This allows for complete ecosystem protection, for the flow of genes and individuals between ecosystems and for protection of species from dangers immediately outside the protected area. For instance, laying a road directly outside a protected area for large mammals creates a high risk of mortality for these animals as soon as they wander outside the boundaries of the protected area. (Science Assessment, 1994)

Current status of protected areas
Canada has been protecting sites for various conservation purposes for over a century. It is important to evaluate if this current protection scheme is adequate and to adopt measures to make it complete. Presently, Canada has over 2800 protected areas, excluding private lands and cultural heritage sites. Sixty-one percent are strictly protected, but 80% are smaller than 10 km2. Of the 177 terrestrial ecoregions , 67 have no protected areas, and 14 of these ecosystems are at high risk of biodiversity loss. In 88 others, the protected areas occupy less than 12% of the land.

In addition, freshwater and marine ecosystems are a socal point for human establishment, making them vulnerable to human impact. For instance, over 90% of the wetland and estuarine habitat in Canada has been lost to drainage and conversion. (Science Assessment, 1994)

Challenges to establishing network of protected areas
There are a number of challenges to establishing such a protected areas network. Protected areas are established through many different means in Canada. There are independent federal, provincial and territorial systems with a mix of levels of protection and in various stages of completion.

In the management of protected areas for biodiversity conservation, the goals are difficult to define, including concepts like "ecological integrity" and "ecosystem health". Management is made difficult, in many cases, by insufficient information on the ecosystems involved.

Long-term monitoring of the ecosystems to evaluate the effects of management and other changes is rarely done (but see section on Monitoring).

As well, it is difficult to agree on what is considered as compatible land use in regions surrounding protected areas because land use decision-making bodies were not established with biodiversity conservation as a priority. As a result, it is very difficult to delineate buffer zones and linkages between protected areas.

Federal Protected Areas Initiatives: Canada's National Park System Plan

In the 1970's, Parks Canada devised a parks systemnational park system plan whose fundamental principle was to protect a representative sample of each of Canada's landscapes. Canada was then divided into 39 representative terrestrial "National Park Natural Regions" based on the appearance of the land and on vegetation. The goal of the System Plan is that by the year 2000 each natural region should be represented by a National Park. When the system is complete, it will cover about 3% of Canada (currently covers 2.25%). (National Park System Plan, 1997)

National parks are a special category of public lands administered by the federal government under the provisions of the National Parks Act. They are a crucial component of Canada's sustainable development strategy and help to:

  • preserve representative samples of Canada's landscapes free of industrial development;
  • protect critical wildlife habitat;
  • provide scientific benchmarks for measuring the impact of human changes to ecosystems;
  • contribute to economic diversification and social evolution of local communities;
  • draw tourists from other nations to contribute to Canada s growing ecotourism sector;
  • protect lands for traditional uses by aboriginal communities;
  • help fulfil Canada's international obligations to protect our biological diversity; and
  • inspire park visitors to develop an appreciation for wild ecosystems and to practice environmental actions at home.

(Canadian Nature Federation Homepage)

To date, 24 of the 39 natural regions are represented by 38 national parks. Four more natural regions have lands that have been reserved for national parks. The gaps in the park system are in the Northwest Territories, Quebec, Labrador, Manitoba and B.C. The marine parks system has only 3 out of 29 natural areas protected. (National Park System Plan,1997)

National Protected Areas Initiatives: Endangered Spaces Campaign

The Endangered Spaces Campaign, introduced by WWF and endorsed by Canada's 13 senior governments, has as its goal to establish a network of protected areas representing all of Canada's natural regions. This campaign is discussed in greater detail in the section on Species protection versus landscape protection. This campaign was endorsed by the federal, provincial and territorial governments.





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