Evaluation of the Habitat Conservation Partnerships Program:Context

Habitat loss is recognized as one of the main threats to migratory birds and species at risk. Wetlands, in particular, are one of the most biologically productive habitats, supporting a wide range of flora and fauna. In Canada, wetlands provide a critical source of habitat for over 155 bird species, 45 waterfowl species and 50 mammalian species, many of which are considered species at risk. Wetlands also provide countless economic and social benefits to humanity, ranging from freshwater supply, food and building materials, to flood control, groundwater recharge and climate change mitigation.

The protection and conservation of habitats require the efforts of not only Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) but also all of its many partners throughout the federal government and provinces, territories, Indigenous peoples, environmental non-governmental organizations, Canadians and others.

This report presents the results of the evaluation of ECCC’s Habitat Conservation Partnerships (HCP) Program.

1.1 The Habitat Conservation Partnerships Program

The HCP Program funds projects, provides tax incentives, and encourages partnerships and habitat conservation activities that secure, protect, improve and restore important and ecologically sensitive habitat for wildlife, including migratory birds and species at risk. The program consists of several program components that provide different mechanisms to engage with organizations and individuals, including landowners, environmental non-governmental organizations and others. The HCP Program is focused on ensuring that wildlife habitat on private lands, provincial Crown lands, indigenous lands or in aquatic and marine areas across Canada are secured and managed in ways that are compatible with habitat conservation.

The program contributes to the delivery of ECCC’s mandate under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), the Migratory Birds Convention Act (MBCA) and the Canada Wildlife Act (CWA). The program also supports Canada’s international commitments under the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP) and the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Convention), and contributes to targets related to protected areas and the conservation and enhancement of wetlands that Canada committed to under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.

The HCP Program consists of seven program components, as shown in figure 1.

Figure 1: The Habitat Conservation Partnerships Program

Long description for figure 1

The Habitat Conservation Partnerships Program consists of seven programs. The following five programs are included in this evaluation report:

  • Natural Areas Conservation Program (NACP)
  • North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP)/North American Wetlands Conservation Council (Canada) (NAWCC Canada)
  • Wildlife Habitat Canada (WHC) Conservation Stamp Initiative
  • Ecological Gifts Program (EGP)
  • Canada’s participation in the Ramsar Convention

Two components were added to the program in 2014, when the government of Canada announced the National Conservation Plan:

  • Family Oriented Conservation Programming
  • National Wetland Conservation Fund

They were excluded from the scope of the evaluation because it was still too early to be able to assess their performance.

The evaluation looked at the five following program components:

  • Natural Areas Conservation Program (NACP), through which ECCC provides funding ($345 million over the period from 2007 to 2019) to a single grant recipient, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC). This funding supports projects that aim to acquire ecologically sensitive lands through donation, purchase or stewardship agreement with private landowners. The NCC uses the program’s funds to support projects it undertakes and to allocate some funding to projects managed by other non-profit, non-government conservation organizations (referred to as Other Qualified Organizations [OQO]), such as Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) and provincial and regional land trusts and nature conservancies.
  • North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP)/North American Wetlands Conservation Council (NAWCC) (Canada), a Canada-United States-Mexico partnership of federal, provincial and state governments and non-governmental organizations. It provides funding for projects to conserve wetland and upland habitats and associated waterfowl populations in North America. For the most part, external partners deliver NAWMP through Habitat Joint Ventures (HJVs), which are responsible for the overall planning, design and management of programs for key habitat areas. Funds are made available to Canada, the U.S. and Mexico through the NAWCA (Canada), which allocates funds with matching grant requirements to wetland conservation projects in the three countries.
  • Wildlife Habitat Canada (WHC) Conservation Stamp Initiative, through which ECCC transfers revenues generated from the sale of the Canadian Wildlife Habitat Conservation Stamps to Wildlife Habitat Canada (WHC), a national non-profit charitable conservation organization. The WHC uses these funds to support wildlife habitat conservation projects in Canada, especially for waterfowl. Canadian Wildlife Habitat Conservation Stamps are developed and sold on an annual basis. The stamps are purchased primarily by waterfowl hunters to validate their Migratory Game Bird Hunting Permits.
  • Ecological Gifts Program (EGP), a tax incentive program that offers significant tax benefits to private landowners who donate ecologically sensitive land to qualified recipient organizations. The recipients become responsible for the conservation of the donated land’s biodiversity and environmental heritage.
  • Canada’s participation in the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Convention), an intergovernmental treaty where countries agree to maintain the ecological character of their wetlands of international importance.

Two components were added to the program in 2014, when the government of Canada announced the National Conservation Plan. They were excluded from the scope of the evaluation because it was still too early to be able to assess their performance.

  • Expanding Family Oriented Conservation Programming, a $3-million investment over three years (2014 to 2017) in the Earth Rangers, to expand family-oriented conservation programming.
  • National Wetland Conservation Fund (NWCF), a five-year (2014 to 2019) $50-million funding program that supports projects aimed at restoring degraded or lost wetlands and enhancing ecological functions of existing degraded wetlands.

A detailed description can be included in Appendix A.

While each of the HCP Program components can be considered a program in its own right, they are also highly interrelated. A habitat conservation action may involve more than one program component. For example:

  • funding from the WHC Conservation Stamp Initiative can contribute to NAWMP projects
  • NACP funding may be used to support the donation of land through the EGP
  • stewardship projects funded by the NACP, NAWMP or the WHC Conservation Stamp Initiative may occur on designated Ramsar sites or on lands that were acquired under another program component, including the NACP and the EGP

The program also has close links with several other ECCC programs, including the Species at Risk Program, the Migratory Birds Program, the Protected Areas Program and the Compliance Promotion and Enforcement – Wildlife Program.

Average annual program expenditures for the six-year period from 2010-11 to 2015-16 for the five program components studied were $28.2 million, managed by approximately 17 full-time equivalent employees. Funding for grants and contributions (G&Cs) comprise the vast majority of the expenditures, representing 93% of total program spending. The NACP is the largest of the five components, accounting for approximately 78% of total spending. Table 16 shows ECCC’s total HCP Program expenditures for the five program components.

Overall accountability for the HCP Program rests with the Assistant Deputy Minister of the Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment and Climate Change Canada.

1.2 About the evaluation

 The evaluation looked at the first five program components over the period from 2010-11 to 2015-16. The evaluation team used a mixed-method approach, integrating quantitative and qualitative evidence, to assess issues related to the relevance and performance of the program:

  • a review of various types of documents pertaining to the programs, the department and the Government of Canada
  • interviews with 37 key informants, including ECCC program staff, senior management and external stakeholders
  • an online survey sent to 871 stakeholders involved in one or more of the HCP Program components, with a response rate of 19.2% (167 respondents)
  • six case studies (two projects from each of three program components: NAWMP/NAWCC [Canada], WHC Conservation Stamp Initiative and EGP)

A detailed description of the evaluation questions and methodology is included in Appendix C.

Table 1 outlines the limitations encountered while conducting the evaluation and the strategies put in place to mitigate their impact.

Table 1: Evaluation limitations and mitigation strategies
Limitations Mitigation strategies

The ability to develop meaningful conclusions from the overall program perspective proved challenging. The individual program components are very different and are delivered in a relatively autonomous manner. As well, few stakeholders were able to comment from an informed position on the overall program.

  • The analysis focused mostly on the findings for each component.
  • Where possible, the information was aggregated to provide an overall evaluation of the program’s relevance and performance.

The bulk of the data collection for the evaluation was completed by March 31, 2015. However, resource constraints within ECCC’s Audit and Evaluation Branch resulted in delays in the analysis and report-writing phase. These delays introduced concerns that the data collected may be dated.

  • The evaluation team reviewed supplementary documents such as financials for 2015-16 and more recent program documentation and performance data.
  • The new information was incorporated into the report findings.
  • Program representatives were consulted to validate the accuracy of the findings.

Key findings are presented in the next three sections. A rating is provided for each core issue assessed, based on a judgment of the evaluation findings. The rating statements and their significance are outlined in Table 2. A summary of ratings for the evaluation questions is provided in Appendix D.

Table 2: Definitions of standard rating statements
Statement Definition
Expectations met The intended outcomes or goals have been achieved.
Further work required Considerable progress has been made to meet the intended outcomes or goals, but attention is still needed.
Priority attention required Insufficient progress has been made to meet the intended outcomes or goals and attention is needed on a priority basis.
Unable to assess Insufficient evidence is available to support a rating.
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