Evaluation of the Habitat Conservation Partnerships Program: Findings: expected results

This section summarizes the evaluation findings related to the achievement of the Habitat Conservations Partnership 
(HCP) Program’s expected results. It focuses on the extent to which the program has achieved results related to land securement, habitat management and stewardship and participation and engagement.

A detailed description of each of the program’s expected results is included in Appendix B.

Table 4: Ratings for expected results
Expected results Rating
3.1   Land securement: The extent to which land has been secured (acquired or has come under protection) Expectations met
3.2   Habitat management and stewardship: The extent to which:


  • wildlife habitats are conserved through stewardship actions and managed sustainably through the creation, improvement, maintenance and management of wetland habitat
  • the program components, industry and organizations build and implement standards, guidelines and best practices to maintain and improve habitat
Expectations met
3.3   Participation and engagement: The extent to which target audiences participate and engage in conservation-related activities and are aware of conservation issues Further work required

3.1 Land securement

Findings:  While the total cumulative number of hectares secured across all components of the HCP Program is not available, the individual program components continue to acquire lands for protection and have made reasonable progress towards their respective land securement or retentionFootnote 1 goals.


Of the five HCP Program components, four contribute directly to this outcome theme. WHC Conservation Stamp Initiative funds cannot be used to acquire land and therefore do not contribute directly to expected results related to land securement. The focus of the NACP is generally on securing ecologically sensitive private lands, with an emphasis on lands in southern Canada. NAWMP focuses specifically on wetlands and associated uplands, on both private and public lands. The EGP, like the NACP, has a broad focus on securing ecologically sensitive private lands, but is reliant on donors coming forward. Through the Ramsar Convention, Canada designates a variety of sites across the country for effective conservation and management. The HCP Program contributes to Target 1 of the 2020 Biodiversity Targets and Goals for Canada related to protected areas. However, its components were not initially established as a mechanism to address this target and, with a primary focus on private lands, make only a limited contribution towards its achievement.

Each of these four components continues to expand the total hectares secured under the HCP Program. Table 5 presents the amount of new land secured or retained by each component from 2010-11 to 2015-16, as well as cumulatively from the component launch date. The table also presents each component’s target for total cumulative hectares secured. It should be noted that it is not possible to provide an overall total for land securement or retention for the HCP Program because double counting may occur between components.

Table 5: Total land secured or retained, by program component (in hectares)
Program Component Component launch date Cumulative hectares secured from launch date to March 2011 Total hectares secured from April 2011 to March 2016 Total cumulative hectares secured as of March 2016 Targets as of March 2016 - Total cumulative hectares to be secured
Natural Areas Conservation Program 2007 142,236 276,291 418,526 N/A*
North American Waterfowl Management Plan 1986 7,784,309 325,455 8,109,765 8,155,274
Ecological Gifts Program 1995 136,949 43,956 180,905 164,876
Ramsar Convention 1981 13,066,615 20,096 13,086,711 N/A

Source: Data received from Program as of 2017. Note: Hectares reported by program component are not mutually exclusive and therefore cannot be summed.
*NACP target is to secure 523,223 hectares by the end of 2018-19. See Table 6 for more information on the NACP target.

It is also important to note that variations in both focus and funding structure across the components influence both the cost of securing land and the total funding available, including funds leveraged from other partners. These variations among components have a significant impact on the number of hectares secured.

Natural Areas Conservation Program

The Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC) science-based conservation planning process has been critical to ensuring that securement and stewardship efforts are focused on priority lands of high ecological significance. The process engages experts, identifies gaps and gathers up-to-date information using biophysical models and tools to assess conservation needs and establish priority sites.Footnote 2  This information is collected and reported as “conservation blueprints” that identify target areas for land securement. Priority is generally given to lands that are nationally or provincially significant, that protect habitat for species at risk and migratory birds or that enhance connectivity or corridors between existing protected areas.

As shown in Table 6, between April 2007 and March 2016, more than 418,000 hectares of land were secured under the NACP. Of this amount, over 276,000 hectares (66%) were secured during the 6-year evaluation timeframe. Each of the NACP funding agreements identified a specific amount of land the program was expected to secure with the funding provided.

Table 6: Natural Areas Conservation Program land secured and targets (in hectares)
Land secured 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16
1st Agreement Amended 1st Agreement 2nd Agreement
Annual land secured
(per Fiscal Year)
22,288 173,636 30,991 18,836 4,649 20,654
Cumulative land secured
(per Agreement)
164,524* 338,160 369,151 24,073*** 4,649 25,303

Target per agreement**
– total land secured

200,000 18,000 130,000****

Source: Data received from Program as of March 2017.
* Includes land secured since program launch in 2007.
** Targets are identified with the fiscal year the agreement was first in effect, within the evaluation period.
*** Includes 5,237 hectares secured in 2014-15 under the 2013 amended agreement. Amount has been added to the cumulative total for the 2013-2014 year.
**** Target represents additional hectares identified in 2014-19 Agreement to be secured between 2014-15 and 2018-19. This equates to a total cumulative target of 523,223 hectares by March 31, 2019.

The NACP target for the 2007 funding agreement, covering the period from 2007 to the middle of 2013-14, was to conserve approximately 200,000 hectares of ecologically significant lands across Canada with $225 million. In 2013, the funding agreement was amended. The NACP committed to secure an additional 18,000 hectares with $20 million in funding, establishing a new target total of 218,000 hectares. During the 2007 and the 2013 amended agreements, the NACP component secured over 393,000 hectares of land, far surpassing its targets. In 2011-12, the program experienced a significant but unanticipated increase in land secured. It successfully secured development rights in the Flathead Watershed Area, which accounted for over 157,000 hectares.

Under the current 2014-19 agreement, the NACP aims to secure an additional 130,000 hectares of ecologically significant lands. This represents an average of about 26,000 hectares per year over five years. At this point, it is still too early to know if this more ambitious target will be met. Significant fluctuations by year can be anticipated, given the variation in size and value of the land secured. However, the rate of securement for the two years for which data is available is less than this.

NACP lands secured between 2007 and 2014-15 were located in 83 NCC priority sites and 74 DUC NAWMP priority areas. The NCC’s conserved areas also provide habitat for an increasing number of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) assessed species at risk. As of March 31, 2017, NCC properties provide habitat for 198 COSEWIC-assessed species at risk, compared to 181 species at risk as of March 2015 and 167 species at risk as of March 2014.

North American Waterfowl Management Plan/North American Wetlands Conservation Council (Canada)

NAWMP partners have successfully worked to conserve and restore wetlands, associated uplands and other key habitats for waterfowl across North America. As shown in Table 7, from 1986 to March 2016, Canadian NAWMP partners belonging to one of the four Canadian Habitat Joint Ventures (HJVs) achieved their long‑term goal of retaining 8.1 million hectares of land through land title transfers or binding long-term agreements with 10-year minimums. Of this total, 325,000 hectares (4%) were secured during the 6-year evaluation study periodFootnote 3.

Table 7: North American Waterfowl Management Plan/North American Wetlands Conservation Council (Canada) land retained and targets (in hectares)
Land retained 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16
Annual land retained 74,103 50,654 53,972 49,863 54,545 42,319
Cumulative land retained since 2007 7,858,412 7,909,038 7,963,038 8,012,901 8,067,446 8,109,765
Target - cumulative land retained 8,100,000 8,155,274

Source: Data received from Program as of June 2017

Based on draft HJV Implementation Plans, ECCC’s 2015-16 Report on Plans and Priorities (RPP) identified a program target of securing 9.9 million hectares of land for waterfowl by March 2017. This was an ambitious target in light of trends. In the 2016-17 RPP, this target was revised to 8.2 million hectares secured by March 2017. Although the 2016-17 numbers are not yet available, it appears that the program component is making good progress towards meeting this revised goal.

It should be noted that, while NAWMP contributes to land securement, its original and 2012 revised objectives primarily focus on enhancing and managing wetlands.

Ecological Gifts Program

Table 8 presents the performance data related to land secured by donations under the EGP. In total, from 1995 to March 2016, 1,270 gifts were donated across Canada, protecting more than 180,000 hectares of ecologically sensitive land. Many of these sites are designated as being of national or provincial significance.

Table 8: Ecological Gifts Program land secured and targets (in hectares)
Land retained 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16
Annual land retained 4,753 3,813 3,886 16,929 5,829 8,746
Cumulative land retained since 2007 141,702 145,515 149,401 166,330 172,159 180,905
Target - cumulative land retained         159,225 164,876

Source: Land secured data received from Program. Target data received from Departmental Performance Report (2014-15) and RPP (2015-16). Targets between 2010-11 and 2013-14 are not available.

Internal interviewees noted that, given the nature of the EGP, the program does not identify and target land. Rather, it must rely on private owners to come forward with donations. Consequently, it is difficult to predict target levels. However, in recent years, EGP has set tentative targets based on prior accomplishments.

Between 2010-11 and 2015-16, almost 44,000 hectares were secured through donations under the EGP. A very large donation in 2013-14 accounts for over a third of this total, bringing the cumulative land secured to 166,000 hectares in that year. This exceeded the March 2016 cumulative target of 164,000 hectares identified in ECCC’s 2015-16 RPP.

Ramsar Convention

There is no identified target for land securement under the Ramsar Convention. To date, Canada has protected 13 million hectares across its 37 designated Ramsar sites. 17 of these sites have national wildlife areas or migratory bird sanctuaries within their boundaries. Canada’s biggest Ramsar site, the Queen Maud Gulf site, was designated in 1982. It comprises 6 million hectares and is the second-largest Ramsar site in the world. In 2012, Canada expanded the size of the Fraser River Delta, formerly known as the Alaksen Ramsar Site, from 586 hectares to over 20,000 hectares.

3.2 Habitat management and stewardship

Findings: Each of the HCP Program components contributes to increased levels of habitat management and land stewardship. As well, each has established guidelines and standard practices aimed at maintaining and improving wildlife habitat. Though the management of Ramsar sites falls under various jurisdictions and tends to vary considerably, management plans have been developed for most of Canada’s Ramsar sites.


All five programs contribute to habitat management and land stewardship. Guidelines and standard practices for habitat management and implementation standards, as well as reporting requirements, have also been established for the five program components.

The initial focus of the NACP was on land securement. However in recent years, the NACP has put an increasing focus on habitat management. Since 2013, the NACP allows for stewardship and habitat management activities on lands secured under the program.

As a long-standing program, NAWMP continues to add to the total amount of land managed or enhanced. The WHC Conservation Stamp Initiative also contributes to habitat management through value-added funding to NAWMP and partner initiatives. The EGP contributes to habitat management by encouraging the recipient organizations to establish and implement management plans. Management plans have been developed for the majority of Canadian Ramsar sites.

Natural Areas Conservation Program

Funding under the NACP to support stewardship and habitat management was introduced with the 2013 NACP agreement. At that time, $2.725 million of the $10 million in funding was identified for the maintenance, improvement or monitoring of lands. The 2007-12 NACP agreement focused only on land securement. However, the 2014-19 agreement identified about $15 million of the $100 million in funding for use by the NCC for stewardship, and $5 million for DUC to use for land securement and stewardship activities.

The NACP final report for the period from 2007-15 identifies that the NCC has raised over $44 million in endowment capital, while other qualified organizations (OQO) raised an additional $3 million. DUC also has a fund that provides resources to steward its secured lands, including land secured under the NACP. The NACP report also noted that the NCC and OQOs had spent about $2.5 million on priority conservation actions and management activities to address urgent or necessary needs.

Table 9: Natural Areas Conservation Program land managed and targets (in hectares)
Land managed 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16
1st Agreement Amended 1st Agreement 2nd Agreement
Total land managed 0 0 0 169,067 0 173,705
Target – total land managed 0 0 0 55,000 220,000*

Source: Data received from Program as of June 2017.
*Represents target identified in 2014-19 Agreement, to be achieved by the end of 2018-19.

The latest figures show that, as of 2015-16, the NACP managed approximately 174,000 hectares of land by using stewardship in Priority Conservation Actions and Monitored Conservation Agreements. The program will need to continue to add to this number to meet its target of managing 220,000 hectares by the end of 2018-19. There is no indication that this target is not attainable.

The NCC makes long-term stewardship of secured lands a priority by requiring that 15% of the total land value is allocated to a Stewardship Endowment Fund to undertake future land management activities. It also ensures that ongoing active management plans are developed to guide longer-term stewardship of acquired lands. Interviewees confirmed that, overall, management plans have been a successful aspect of the NACP.

Stewardship activities for lands acquired in fee simple titleFootnote 4  are guided by broader conservation plans and property-specific management plans, known as Property Management Plans. These plans use the ecological, biological and cultural information gathered in a Baseline Inventory to identify the conservation goals of the property, the threats to achieving the goals and actions necessary to meet the goals.

The NCC’s science-based conservation planning approach (Conservation Blueprints) extends to land management through the Land Information System. This system ensures that secured properties are managed to achieve biodiversity targets and long-term conservation. Land conservation work at each Priority Natural Area is also guided by a comprehensive five-year Natural Area Conservation Plan. This plan builds on the foundation laid by the blueprints, identifies key biodiversity targets and associated threats and articulates concrete conservation actions aimed at ensuring lasting conservation results.

North American Waterfowl Management Plan/North American Wetlands Conservation Council (Canada)

Documentary evidence indicates that, overall, NAWMP has been successful in conserving waterfowl. This also speaks to the program’s effective efforts related to habitat management. Work undertaken under NAWMP has been fundamental in advancing knowledge on habitat drivers of waterfowl populations. Documentary evidence and key informants indicated that NAWMP uses knowledge of the wildlife, habitats and ecosystems as a foundation in its conservation work. In addition to addressing North American continent-wide goals, NAWMP takes into consideration local and regional needs. HJV partners actively:

  • research, monitor and evaluate waterfowl populations
  • deliver habitat conservation programs at a regional level
  • establish science-based implementation plans that address local, regional and international goals

Case study interviewees also indicated that NAWMP project partners provide farmers with information to improve their land.

Table 10 provides performance data related to NAWMP’s efforts for land management and enhancement.

Table 10: Land managed and enhanced by North American Waterfowl Management Plan (Canada) (in hectares)Footnote 5
Land managed 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16
Incremental land managed 219,863 266,502 276,589 231,322 236,683 263,140
Total land managed 3,446,677 3,713,179 3,989,768 4,221,090 4,457,773 4,720,913
Incremental land enhanced 28,333 22,961 50,778 8,795 9,795 315,007
Total land enhanced 1,062,191 1,085,152 1,135,930 1,144,725 1,154,520 1,469,527
Target – total land enhanced N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A 1,660,867*

Source: Data received from HCP Program, as of June 2017
*Represents targets to be achieved by the end of 2017

From the program’s launch in 1986 to 2016, the total cumulative land managed through the HJVs across Canada to maintain habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife has reached over 4.7 million hectares. In addition, almost 1.5 million hectares were enhanced or restored during the same time. The program appears to be on track to meeting the target of 1.6 million hectares established for the end of 2017. The number of hectares managed and enhanced under NAWMP continues to grow each year. The number of hectares managed increased by over 1.4 million hectares during the 6-year study timeframe, and the number enhanced increased by over 435,000 hectares.

Wildlife Habitat Canada Conservation Stamp Initiative

Case study evidence indicates that awareness and management projects supported by the WHC Conservation Stamp Initiative are achieving their goals. Interviewees noted that the WHC’s support for these activities is highly valued. There is no established target for land management for this program component.

The WHC Conservation Stamp Initiative contributes to habitat management by promoting awareness about waterfowl habitat and by providing an additional source of funding for habitat management initiatives led by partners, including those associated with NAWMP’s Canadian HJVs. The program also supports projects like the Long Point Waterfowl Initiative and the Newfoundland and Labrador Wetlands Stewardship, to address the conservation and protection of important habitats that are not part of NAWMP’s HJVs. Such projects may involve research and activities to assess land for securement, as well as habitat management.

The proportion of the program’s funding projects that addresses NAWMP activities has been gradually increasing: 70% of funded projects addressed NAWMP activities in 2011-12 and 90% did so in 2015-16. While the program has increased the proportion of NAWMP activities it supports by 20% during the evaluation period, it did not fully meet the requirement of the 2011 contribution agreement that a minimum of 95% of funds allocated for grants be used towards initiatives under NAWMP. However, it should be noted that the new 2017-2020 ECCC-WHC contribution agreement no longer contains this requirement.
As shown in Table 11, as of 2015-16, funding from the WHC Conservation Stamp Initiative and other partners contributed to the conservation, management and enhancement of a total 806,000 hectares of land. Given the high number of NAWMP projects supported by the WHC, there is likely to be considerable overlap with the hectares reported under NAWMP in the NAWMP National Tracking System.

Table 11: Land managed by the Wildlife Habitat Canada Conservation Stamp Initiative (in hectares)
Land managed 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16
Total land managed 113,556 313,641 722,046 760,986 796,423 806,325

Source: Wildlife Habitat Canada Annual Reports 2010-11 to 2015-16

Ecological Gifts Program

The EGP contributes to habitat management by requiring the recipient organizations to establish and implement management plans for donated land. This requirement is built into the EGP donation process and has been noted by donors as a valuable practice.

To be considered an eligible recipient of a land donation under the EGP, the recipient organization must acquire and manage “real estate for conservation purposes”Footnote 6. The recipient organization must ensure that the biodiversity and environmental heritage features of the donated property or eligible interest or right in the property are maintained and managed according to the terms of the transfer of land, conservation easement, covenant or real servitude in perpetuity.

Ramsar Convention

Canada’s Ramsar sites are owned by a range of agencies under different responsible jurisdictions, including federal, provincial, municipal and private lands. General management guidelines developed for Ramsar designated sites stipulate that the responsible jurisdiction or site manager must undertake wetland inventories and management planning for wetlands.

To date, 26 sites (70%) of the 37 Canadian Ramsar sites have completed management plans,Footnote 7  8 sites (21%) have plans in progress and three sites (9%) have no management plan.

There is considerable variation in Ramsar site management plans, which reflect the differences in policies and legislation across jurisdictions and the diverse needs for the various Ramsar sites. There also appears to be considerable variation in the implementation of site management plans. External interviewees and survey respondents reported that some sites are managed better than others. While the management of Ramsar sites is officially the responsibility of the site managers and not ECCC, the desire for greater leadership in implementing conservation actions with respect to Ramsar sites was identified.Footnote 8

3.3 Participation and engagement

Findings: Levels of participation and engagement are mixed across the various HCP Program components. The NACP and NAWMP have high levels of engagement and participation from their target audiences. NAWMP in particular is seen as a successful partnership model for co-operation among public and private stakeholders at various levels. However, opportunities for improvement related to the involvement of some stakeholder groups were identified. While the WHC Conservation Stamp Initiative and EGP components engage with their targeted audiences, the evaluation team identified that there is an opportunity to improve awareness and expand participation through increased outreach.


The HCP Program components are designed to enhance co-operation between stakeholders at the local, regional, national and international levels, as appropriate, and promote broad participation. The NACP component provides a mechanism for working with landowners through an external partner organization such as the NCC and other non-government conservation organizations, while the EGP encourages landowners to donate ecologically sensitive lands for conservation. The NAWMP component fosters co-operation on wetlands and waterfowl conservation between the key players in the U.S. and Canada at various governmental and non-governmental levels. Through the Ramsar Convention, Canada participates in international dialogue pertaining to wetlands. The requirement to secure matching funds for projects funded under the NACP, NAWMP and the WHC Conservation Stamp Initiative serves to encourage participation and engagement from conservation stakeholders.

Natural Areas Conservation Program

Documentary evidence suggests that funding support provided by the NACP has allowed the NCC to strengthen its partnerships and collaboration with OQOs such as DUC and provincial and regional land trusts and nature conservancies. The NACP also engages Canadians through events, promotional activities and announcements, such as property-specific press conferences and media announcements, and promotions through various print and on-line media.

Some external interviewees indicated that program delivery by NGOs such as the NCC is efficient and effective at increasing engagement of landowners, since some landowners are more comfortable working with NGOs than directly with government.

However, not all landowners prefer to work with NGOs. A few external interviewees noted that the NCC may have a more challenging relationship with some organizations that are dissatisfied with the high levels of funding the NCC receives. As well, smaller organizations that cannot meet the matching requirements may be excluded from receiving funding. Interviewees noted that this may be limiting overall conservation efforts.

North American Waterfowl Management Plan/North American Wetlands Conservation Council (Canada)

Many interviewees, both internal and external, mention NAWMP as a successful partnership model that supports co-operation among public and private stakeholders at various levels. NAWMP’s success in this area is viewed as being largely due to the concerted efforts of partners and the sustained engagement of the broad waterfowl conservation community enabled by the significant funding support for this initiative, including substantial levels of funding from the U.S.

Case study interviewees commended NAWMP for working closely with landowners and farmers to establish stewardship practices for land conservation and provide habitat for migrating waterfowl. They also reported that the support and partnership provided by ECCC means that a broader range of targeted audiences and organizations can be reached.

Interviewees noted that different stakeholders, local farmers and the public have shown a great level of interest and involvement in the discussion on wetlands policy. This has had a significant influence on the development of provincial wetland policies and increased awareness within governments about wetlands conservation.

Despite these identified strengths, both internal and external interviewees identified opportunities for improvement related to engaging with industry, other government departments, provincial government partners and Indigenous groups. In particular, both internal and external interviewees identified an absence of federal and provincial agricultural partners. Agriculture and forestry industry stakeholders and Indigenous stakeholders were also identified as being inadequately represented. Since much of the current conservation landscape is driven by these partners, their absence was noted as having an impact on overall conservation efforts, moving forward.

Wildlife Habitat Canada Conservation Stamp Initiative

Documentary evidence indicates that the WHC Conservation Stamp Initiative component has been able to influence partner involvement in projects and has made a contribution to increasing the awareness of the need for stewardship activities through funding conservation projects. Case study interviewees reported that the transfer of knowledge and expertise and broad outreach into the community was adequate.

Survey respondents and key informants generally reported that this program component has adequate engagement from its target audiences; however, many indicated that audiences are only engaged to a limited extent. As the program relies on the revenues generated through the sales of stamps and hunting permits, maintaining an appropriate base of waterfowl hunters is key to success. Some external interviewees indicated that the WHC Conservation Stamp Initiative would benefit from greater outreach to the public and potential hunter groups in particular, to improve awareness of how the stamp funds are used in an effort to increase stamp sales.

Ecological Gifts Program

The EGP is administered in co-operation with numerous partners, including other federal departments, provincial and municipal governments and environmental non-government organizations. The program also undertakes communication and program promotion activities to improve awareness of the EGP among its partners, stakeholders and the public at large. However, both the case studies and interviews indicated that many potential land donors are unaware of the EGP or of the fact that they may possess important habitat. Case study interviewees also identified a need for more EGP promotional activities to make landowners aware of the program. Interviewees noted that proactive identification of important habitats and distribution of information about the EGP to potential donors could increase their understanding of land preservation and their engagement.

Financial information indicates that there is minimal funding budgeted for promotional activities, totalling only $55,096 over the six-year evaluation period. This amount accounted for 2% of total EGP Operations and Maintenance (O&M) funding and 1% of EGP’s overall funding.

Ramsar Convention

While ECCC promotes stakeholder participation in decision making on wetland planning and management, its outreach and engagement with the wetlands community across Canada and communication among Ramsar site managers continue to be a challenge. Internal interviewees also identified a general lack of awareness among the Canadian public of the scope of Ramsar. Many external interviewees were of the view that the Ramsar program component receives minimal attention at the federal level, beyond the designation of sites. It was suggested that more engagement with site managers and coordination or oversight over Ramsar sites at the federal level could improve the implementation of management plans, create a more consistent assessment of the effectiveness of such actions and ultimately better support the goal of land conservation and management for Ramsar sites.

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