Timeline: Canadian Wildlife Service and Canada’s nature conservation milestones

We are an organisation responsible for the conservation of migratory birds, the recovery of species at risk, and the protection of nationally-important habitat for wildlife. With a long-standing tradition of scientifically-driven conservation and environmental regulation in Canada, we are also committed to renewed Crown-Indigenous relations and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, and integrating Indigenous knowledge in our decision-making.

Our vision is a society that lives and develops as part of nature that values the diversity of life and takes no more than what can be replenished so we can ensure a nurturing and dynamic world rich in biodiversity to future generations. Our mission is to achieve nature conservation outcomes for habitat, wildlife and their ecosystems, particularly migratory birds and species at risk.



Our work extends back even before our creation in 1947. Read and understand more about our long history of conserving and protecting nature:


Last Mountain Lake in Saskatchewan was first protected in 1887 when 1,025 hectares of land at the north end were set aside as breeding grounds for wild fowl. It became the first federal bird sanctuary in North America. By 1994, this area was designated a National Wildlife Area with over 10,000 hectares protected.


Following the first North American conservation conference held in Washington, D.C. in 1909, Parliament established the Commission of Conservation to gather information and make recommendations on the development and sustainable use of our forests, water, land, minerals and game.


The year after the Migratory Birds Convention was signed between Britain and the United States in 1916, Canada passed the Migratory Birds Convention Act to give the federal government responsibility for managing migratory bird species and a uniform system for protecting certain species of birds migrating between the United States and Canada.


Establishment of the first federal Advisory Board on Wildlife Protection and the Wildlife Division as part of the National Parks Branch was formed. Hoyes Lloyd was hired as the first Supervisor of Wildlife Protection through an open national competition. He promptly undertook the development of what would become the Canadian Wildlife Service.


Creation of 35 bird sanctuaries in Canada (Alberta: 7, Saskatchewan: 12, Manitoba: 6, Gulf of St. Lawrence: 10).


Creation of Canada's Bird Banding Registry was established. By 1972, the number of records submitted by volunteer banders totaled over 3.5 million.


Enactment of the Game Export Act to deter illicit interprovincial movement of game and fur. It was repealed in 1996 when the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act came into force.


Establishment of the Dominion Wildlife Service soon to be known as the Canadian Wildlife Service. Today we are a branch of Environment and Climate Change Canada.


Under the National Wildlife Week Act, each year the week of April 10 is the time when information on wildlife conservation is celebrated. April 10 is the birthdate of Jack Miner, an early migratory bird conservationist.


The Canadian Wildlife Service begins broadcasting Hinterland Who’s Who a series of wildlife vignettes on television.


On April 6, the National Wildlife Policy and Program is tabled in the House of Commons. It is a ground-breaking initiative to conserve wildlife in Canada by launching fundamental research in support of wildlife management, introducing a land acquisition process for a system of National Wildlife Areas and a national wetland preservation program with a focus on the prairies.


The Canada migratory game bird hunting permit was launched which enabled two key surveys necessary for the sustainable management of migratory game birds: the National Harvest Survey of selected permit holders and the Species Composition Survey the following year.


On June 11, Canada became the second country in the world to establish a formal Department of the Environment. The new ministry incorporated existing agencies, such as the Meteorological Service of Canada (1871), Water Survey of Canada (1908), the Lands Directorate and the Canadian Wildlife Service (1947).


The first global conference on the environment, the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, was held in Stockholm. Various recommendations related to the conservation of the diversity of species, the protection of ecosystems, and the importance of protected areas. The Conference resulted in the creation of the United Nations Environment Programme.


The Canada Wildlife Act was passed enabling the creation, management and protection of National Wildlife Areas. Today, there are 55 National Wildlife Areas (and growing) containing nationally significant habitats for animals or plants.


The five polar bear Range States (Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Norway, the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United States) signed the Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears, a multilateral treaty on the conservation of polar bears.


The Environmental Assessment and Review Process was introduced as the first systematic response to environmental impact assessment in Canada.


Canada ratified the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, an international agreement between countries to ensure the trade of species of wild animals and plants is not harmful to their survival. The Convention is implemented in Canada through The Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act.


The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada was created to provide independent advice to the Minister of Environment on the status of wildlife species at risk of extinction.


The Wildlife Area Regulations came into force. They allow for the establishment and management of National Wildlife Areas to protect habitat for migratory birds, species at risk and other wildlife.


Canada ratified the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat (Ramsar Convention). Its mission is the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world.


The North American Waterfowl Management Plan was signed by Canada and the United States. This successful plan conserves and protects wetland land and upland habitats and associated waterfowl populations.


Endorsed by the Wildlife Ministers Council of Canada, Recovery of Nationally Endangered Wildlife (RENEW) - initiative is launched as a means of reporting to the public on progress made in the protection of species at risk.


The Wildlife Ministers Council of Canada adopts A Wildlife Policy for Canada.


The Northern Contaminants program was created to understand and address contaminants that are transported to the Arctic through atmospheric and oceanic processes from other parts of the world.


The Federal Policy on Wetland Conservation was adopted. The objective of the policy is to promote the conservation of Canada's wetlands to sustain their ecological and socio-economic functions, now and in the future.


Canadian Environmental Assessment Act passed, requiring federal departments to conduct environmental assessments for proposed projects where the federal government is the proponent, or where the project involves federal funding, permits or licensing.


Canada ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity, which came into force globally in December 1993. The Convention on Biological Diversity is the first global agreement to cover all aspects of biological diversity and its conservation. It promotes the conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources.


The Migratory Birds Convention Act, originally created in 1917, was revised to include protection for sperm, embryos and tissue cultures from migratory birds, as well as birds and their eggs.


The Canada Wildlife Act was amended to include all land species of flora and fauna and all species found within 200 nautical miles of the Canadian coast and constituted the first Parliamentary authority for creation of marine protected areas in Canada. The habitats of all these species are protected by the Act, and mechanisms are provided for protecting endangered wildlife.


The Protocol to amend the Migratory Birds Convention is signed by Canada and the United States. While modernizing the Convention, the primary purpose of the amendments was to reflect the customary and traditional use of migratory birds by Indigenous Peoples of the two countries and, for Canada, to ensure conformity with the aboriginal and treaty rights of the Aboriginal Peoples of Canada.


The Ecological Gifts Program is established to offer tax benefits to landowners for donating ecological valuable lands to qualified recipients. By 2020, more than 1600 ecological gifts valued at over $1 billion were donated across Canada, protecting over 213,000 hectares of important habitat.


The Wildlife Ministers Council of Canada agreed in principle to the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk and committed to a common approach to protecting species at risk that included complementary legislation and programs.


The Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act (WAPPRIITA) came into force and the Wild Animal and Plant Trade Regulations (WAPTR) were adopted. These are the laws that Canada uses to manage illegal International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).


Lead was added to the List of Toxic Substances in Schedule 1 under Canadian Environmental Protection Act (1984). As a result, lead shot was banned from use to hunt waterfowl under the Migratory Birds Convention Act.


The Habitat Stewardship Program launches which provides funding for projects submitted by Canadians that contribute directly to the recovery objectives and population goals of species at risk listed on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act and that prevent others from becoming a conservation concern.


The Species at Risk Act was passed to help prevent wildlife species in Canada from disappearing, to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered, or threatened as a result of human activity, and to manage species of special concern to prevent them from becoming endangered or threatened.


Aboriginal Fund for Species at Risk was established and supports the development of Indigenous capacity to participate actively in the implementation of the Species at Risk Act (SARA). The Act recognizes the important role that Indigenous Peoples play in wildlife conservation and the need to consider Indigenous Traditional Knowledge (ITK) in the assessment of which species may be at risk, as well as in the development and implementation of protection and recovery measures.


An Inuit Impact and Benefits Agreement was concluded between Environment Canada, Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI) and four Designated Inuit Organizations / Regional Inuit Associations in relation to the National Wildlife Areas and Migratory Bird Sanctuaries in Nunavut. Among the provisions in the Agreement was the establishment of nine Area Co-management Committees.


The Biodiversity Outcomes Framework was published to build on decades of federal-provincial-territorial cooperation by focusing on why, what and how to sustain Canada's natural assets and enrich the lives of Canadians.


The Environmental Enforcement Act was passed to strengthen and harmonize the enforcement regimes of nine key environmental acts in Canada.


Boreal Caribou Recovery Strategy is published and aims to achieve self-sustaining local populations across Canada.


The first-ever Species at Risk Act Emergency Order was issued. This sought to protect the Greater Sage-Grouse, an endangered bird under the federal Species at Risk Act, one of the many species that depends on the unique prairie ecosystem of southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan.


Hinterland Who's Who celebrates its 50th Anniversary. Created in the 1960s, these wildlife vignettes were a groundbreaking effort to use the new medium of television to interest the public in wildlife conservation.


Canada's federal, provincial, and territorial governments released the 2020 Biodiversity Goals and Targets for Canada in response to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity's Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and its global Aichi Biodiversity Targets. A key target (one of 19) was the conservation of 17% of Canada’s terrestrial areas and inland water and 10% of coastal and marine areas, through networks of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures.


Canadian Wildlife Service becomes its own branch within the Department of Environment in recognition of the department’s increased responsibilities to protect nature.


Canada-United States signed on August 16, 1916 the Migratory Birds Convention, a foundation for the conservation of most migratory birds. One year later, on August 29, 1917, Canada adopted the Migratory Birds Convention Act, which implements the Convention to protect migrating birds for their ecological, nutritional, social, cultural, spiritual, economic, and aesthetic values. 100 years later, this important early environmental legislation was widely celebrated on both sides of the border.


Indigenous Guardians was announced as part of Budget 2017 with $25 million over four years. This initiative provides a greater opportunity for First Nations, Inuit and Métis to exercise their unique rights and responsibilities in stewardship of their traditional lands, waters, and ice. In Budget 2021, the Government of Canada announced up to $100M over five years to support new and existing Indigenous Guardians initiatives and the development of Indigenous Guardians Networks.


The Government of Canada announced the Nature Legacy initiative to meet its international commitments on biodiversity and put Canada on a solid path to protecting its lands and oceans. It also committed to transforming the way it protects and recovers species at risk and to advance reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples through meaningful partnerships on conservation.


The Dehcho First Nations and the Government of Canada signed an Agreement committing to co-manage the Edéhzhíe Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area in the Northwest Territories, the first such area established under the Nature Legacy initiative.


The Scott Islands Marine National Wildlife Area became the first Marine National Wildlife Area established under the Canada Wildlife Act. Located off the northwest tip of Vancouver Island, BC, the Scott Islands and surrounding waters make up one of the most productive and biologically diverse marine ecosystems on the Canadian Pacific coast, particularly for seabirds.


The Indigenous Circle of Experts provided recommendations and guidance on how to achieve conservation targets and goals through the creation of Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas, in the spirit and practice of reconciliation.


The Pan Canadian Approach to Transforming Species at Risk Conservation is launched. It is a shift from a single-species approach to conservation, to an approach that focuses on multiple species and ecosystems. Conservation efforts are concentrated on priority places, species, sectors and threats across Canada. This enables conservation partners to work together to achieve better outcomes for species at risk.


This year marks one hundred years since the designation of Canada’s first “Game Officer,” Robie Tufts who was hired in Moncton, New Brunswick as a Chief Migratory Birds Officer. In around the same time, elsewhere across the country, Temporary Bird Wardens were hired in the Atlantic Provinces, and Honorary Game Officers were hired throughout Canada.


One with Nature report is released as a renewed approach to land and freshwater conservation in Canada. The report was of Canada’s Federal Provincial and Territorial Departments Responsible for Parks, Protected Areas, Conservation, Wildlife and Biodiversity including recommendations from the National Advisory Panel and the Indigenous Circle of Experts.


The Wildlife Area Regulations were modernized to better protect priority habitats required for the conservation of Canada's migratory birds, species at risk, and other wildlife. More than 40 years since originally coming into force, the Regulations currently designate 55 National Wildlife Areas across Canada that provide approximately 1 million hectares of habitat for wildlife species.


The Government of Canada, the Government of British Columbia, the Saulteau First Nation and West Moberly First Nation sign a partnership agreement to protect important habitat in northeastern BC for Southern Mountain Caribou, a threatened species.


The Government of Canada announced another historic investment of $2.3B over five years to help achieve targets to protect 25 percent of lands and oceans in Canada by 2025, including through national wildlife areas, and Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas. Funds will also help create jobs in nature conservation, accelerate new provincial and territorial protected areas, support Indigenous Guardians, and take action to prevent priority species at imminent risk.


Nature Smart Climate Solutions Fund is launched. Funding will help individuals and organizations reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions by conserving, restoring, and enhancing the management of critical ecosystems. These actions will help to store and capture carbon, mitigate the impacts of climate change, build resilience and improve water quality, and provide critical habitat for Canada’s wildlife.

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