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Part 2
Species protection vs. Landscape protection


Rationale for Conservation of Biodiversity

This issue of biodiversity protection is an urgent one because the loss of wild places is occurring extremely rapidly. In Canada, we are losing over 100 hectares of wilderness an hour. This is putting a lot of strain on the populations of over 300 000 species of plants and animals found in Canada. Each population of these organisms, in turn, relies on a combination of physical and biological features, its own special habitat, to survive. For example, the Monarch butterfly needs milkweed plants on which to reproduce; caribou need to feed on lichens and mosses of tundra plains, the carnivorous sundew plant needs moist, acid soil found in bogs; the endangered piping plover requires a nesting site on moderately sloping beaches strewn with rocks and shells (Reid, 1996). Therefore, the question often arises: "Is it better to protect individual species or to protect ecosystems and habitats?"

Protection of species

Often, by protecting the habitat of one species, we end up protecting the habitat for many different species. This is the rationale for using "umbrella" species to gain public awareness (e.g. beluga whales in the St. Lawrence, spotted owl in the Pacific Northwest)

There are some limitations to a species-oriented protection scheme. A species at a time is too slow; at least 5% of vertebrates and 30% of plant species in Canada are rare, threatened or endangered and there are 307 species listed by COSEWIC as at risk. It is not feasible to protect them on a case-by-case basis.

Protection of systems

The other approach to biodiversity consrevation is to protect different types of ecosystems and habitats. The first step is, this, to classify the habitats in an area. Indeed, a great deal of research has been devoted to this task.

There are many different ways to classify Canada's terrestrial ecosystems. For example, each province has its own classification scheme, which WWF used to stitch together a Canada-wide network of 486 ecosystems. At the other extreme, Parks Canada classified terrestrial systems into 39 different zones. For the purpose of this discussion, we talk about the land classification developed by the Canadian Government in 1996, called the National Ecological Framework for Canada. The purpose of the framework was to develop a uniform, ecological approach to terrestrial ecosystem classification and mapping. For more information on the framework, visit the EMAN website.

( ; WWF Canada Endangered Spaces Report ; )

Advantages of system protection

Canada's National Ecological Framework classifies the country into 15 ecozones and 217 ecoregions. Each ecoregion is ecologically and physically distinct and thus contains different types of organisms and has different functions. It is important to protect a portion of each of these ecosystems because many are being altered by human activity, be it habitat destruction, fragmentation, or overharvesting of species.

Simply stated, the most effective way to conserve biodiversity of species and genes is to conserve the variety of ecosystems that have permitted this diversity to emerge and survive. In the event of population fluctuations or even local extinctions, the environment would still be able to support the regeneration, return and success of its plants and animals.

Adequacy of Canada's and Quebec's protected areas network.

Establishing a system of protected areas is important for the protection of biodiversity in a region. Ideally, protected areas should be high-quality (species-rich) cores connected in a network with buffer zones of compatible land uses around them so that entire ecosystems or habitats can be protected. ( CBIN Website )

Most of Canada's protected areas presently do not meet the above criteria. Of a total of 2800 protected areas in Canada, 61% are strictly protected but 80% are very small (<10km2). The WWF has found that as of 1998, only 8% of Canada's natural regions are adequately protected.

Of Quebec's 75 natural regions, none are adequately represented by protected areas, five are moderately represented, and ten are partially represented, 60 regions remain unrepresented, two-thirds of which are in Northern Quebec. For more information on provincial and federal conservation efforts, see the section on Conservation issues.

Terrestrial protected areas in Quebec cover about 6.5 million hectares. Two new Parks and 37 new ecological reserves have been established since the Endangered Spaces Campaign began in 1989. (Endangered Spaces Progress Report ; WWF Canada Endangered Spaces Report)

Limitations of system protection

While establishing a protected areas network is an important goal, it must also be followed by sustainable use of the surrounding landscape in order to protect biological diversity. A protected area needs genetic material and organisms to flow in and out of it to replenish genetic variability and populations of organisms. If the surrounding landscape is severely altered or degraded, the protected area can become an isolated island whose inhabitants are vulnerable to genetic bottlenecks and population fluctuations, which increase the likelihood of extinction. ( CBIN Website )


How do we protect species and landscapes?

Classes of protected areas

A "protected area" can actually be many different kinds of areas, all having been designated as protected by law. The major classifications of protected areas are national parks (e.g. Parc de la Mauricie), provincial parks ( e.g. Parc du Mont Tremblant), managed wildlife areas (e.g. Parc de la Verendrye), cultural heritage sites (e.g. Old Quebec - a UNESCO World heritage Site), internationally designated areas (Mont St. Hilaire - a UNESCO Man and Bioshpere Reserve) and protected landscapes (there are currently none in Quebec).

WWF Endangered Spaces Campaign

In 1989, WWF Canada introduced the Canadian Wilderness Charter to raise awareness among the Canadian public about the need to protect Canada's wilderness. By 1992, Canada's federal and provincial environment, parks and wildlife ministers all signed the Statement of Commitment to the Endangered Spaces Campaign 2000, formally endorsing WWF's initiative. The goal of WWF's Endangered Spaces Campaign is to establish a network of protected areas representing all the natural regions of Canada by the year 2000.

The goal of the Endangered Spaces Marine Campaign is to have at least one-third of Canada's aquatic natural regions adequately protected by the year 2010. (Hummel, 1995 , Noss, 1994)

How are areas selected for protection?

A number of steps are involved in selecting areas for protection. First, the number, and types, of natural regions are determined, and the enduring features of the region identified. Enduring features are so called because even if the biological component were removed, the landscape would remain unchanged and, over time, may regenerate its previous characteristic natural communities. This is called coarse scale selection. For more details about how natural regions are selected and enduring features identified, see Hummel, 1995, Noss, 1995 and Kavanagh and Iacobelli, 1995.

Once the enduring features are identified, then one must look at the ecological integrity (finer scale aspects) of the area. Maintaining ecological integrity of a protected area factors in not only the inclusion of enduring features but also where the protected area is drawn and land use surrounding the area. For example a protected area occurring in a region of intact wilderness will likely maintain its ecological integrity since populations can be replanished from outside the area. Whereas a protected area within a region of intense land use puts the ecological integrity of the area at risk since roads, deforestation and other land use effectively create barriers for recolonization and increase the probability that a local extinction will occur. Equally important is to establish protected areas in zones of high biological diversity, high endemism and high rarity in order to best protect the ecological integrity of the protected area.

Finally, a map of existing protected areas is superimposed over the map of enduring features and areas important to the ecological integrity of the natural region to determine which features are not included by protected areas. This is called Gap Analysis and is the method used by WWF to determine the progress made in the Endangered Spaces Campaign. Adequate protection of a natural region requires that an example of every enduring features of that region is protected and the unrepresented features are the "gaps" in the protection system. This analysis helps to define what is needed to adequately protect a given natural region. For more details see Kavanagh and Iacobelli, 1995.

(Reid, 1996 ; Hummel, 1995 ; Noss, 1995)

Note of interest: Canada has the world's longest coastline, the second largest continental shelf and the world's largest system of freshwater lakes. (WWF, 97-98 Progress Report)

How are marine areas selected for protection

There is a lot of interest in establishing a comprehensive network of marine ecosystems for the purpose of monitoring and protection. For instance, Parks Canada has broadly classified 29 natural marine regions. But there is as yet no comprehensive network of marine ecosystems in the way that there is for terrestrial ones.

Marine protected areas are needed for the same reason that terrestrial ones are: to conserve the diversity of plants and animals within them. Part of WWF's Endangered Spaces Campaign is to complete a network of marine ecosystems, in addition to terrestrial ecosystems, by 2010. There is presently only one national marine park in Canada: the newly established Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park located at the confluence of the the Saguenay and St. Lawrence Rivers in Québec. (


Species protection

There are measures undertaken both federally and provincially to identify and promote the protection of species at risk in Canada and Québec.


The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada was created in 1977 with the mandate of developing a national listing of species at risk, based on the best scientific evidence available. COSEWIC has no legislative or management role, it can only recommend to provincial and territorial governments the appropriate actions. The list of species at risk is updated yearly. The current list of species has been detailed in section 3.2 of the chapter on Conservation of Biodiversity in Canada.

The current Chairperson of COSEWIC is Dr. David Green, who is also the curator of vertebrate zoology at the Redpath Museum. (COSEWIC website)

Provincial protection of species

While COSEWIC has no legislative power, Quebec has enacted laws to protect its species at risk and their habitats. These laws are also addressed in section 2.1 of the chapter on Conservation of Biodiversity in Quebec. Briefly, the most important law is the Loi sur les Espèces Menacées ou Vulnérables (L.R.Q., c. E-12.01), created in 1989.

Of the COSEWIC list of species at risk, approximately 53 are found in Québec. The province of Québec, however, has compiled a list of over 450 species which are susceptible to being designated as "at risk" in our province under the the Loi sur les Espèces Menacées ou Vulnérables. Management of endangered species is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Environment and Wildlife of Québec (MEF) and data about species at risk are compiled and disseminated by the Québec Natural Heritage Data Center (Centre des données sur la patrimoine naturelle du Québec). More information about the Center can be found on the web at:

Click here to learn about the species at risk in Quebec

(WWF, 1997)


Wilderness vs Biodiversity - different conservation goals?

Does biodiversity equal nature?

Biodiversity and nature are both terms that are difficult to define. But when pressed, most conservation biologists will admit to seeing little difference between the two. The difference may be in application. Biodiversity is a buzzword coined in the 1980's to evoke concern for species diversity, its decline and the need to protect it (in reality, biodiversity encompasses much more than just species diversity!). It is a term used to focus efforts to protect diversity of living things, even though these living things are considered as nature. (Takacs, 1996)

Does wilderness equal nature?

Wilderness, like nature, and biodiversity, is an ill-defined concept and subject to the perspective of the user. A trapper from Northern Quebec may consider Mont Tremblant to be civilization, whereas a vacationer from the Montreal area considers it to be wilderness.

The 1964 US Wilderness Act defines wilderness as a place "in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape [..] [Wilderness] is hereby recognized as an area where the Earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain." (US Wilderness Act, 1964)

Wilderness is also sometimes defined by size. The US Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission defined wilderness as a wild place that consists of a roadless area of at least 100 000 acres.

Wilderness, then, seems to be a place where nature and natural forces have more influence on the land than humans do. Essentially, wilderness does equal nature. (Nash, 1967)

Does biodiversity equal wilderness?

This is where the lack of definition for all three terms becomes obvious. Biodiversity is considered the same as nature and wilderness is considered to be the same as nature. Is, then, biodiversity the same as wilderness?

Both terms were defined for management purposes. And relative to their management goals, they are not necessarily the same, although wild areas may often overlap with areas of high biodiversity or high rarity (for example, Parc des Escoumins, Quebec).

spectacular, species-poor landscapespecies-rich landscapeNational parks and other protected areas may be created because the protected area is "sublime" and may or may not be an area of interest biologically (e.g. Banff National Park, Canada's first national park established in the 1880's) or because the protected area is of great diversity or rarity (e.g. wetlands), though not necessarily a scenic or spectacular landscape. Parks Canada National Park System Plan and the Endangered Spaces Campaign take both of these factors into consideration.

Further reading on this issue of wilderness versus biodiversity conservation: Sarkar, 1999; Cronon, 1995; Nash, 1967.




previous section

Part 1: Impacts on Biodiversity


Part 3: Conservation in Quebec