Protected Areas indicators: data sources and methods, chapter 2

Data sources and methods

What are the data sources

Protected areas data are taken from the Conservation Areas Reporting and Tracking System, collaboratively produced by the Canadian Council on Ecological Areas and Environment and Climate Change Canada. Data are collated from federal, provincial and territorial jurisdictions, which are the authoritative data sources.

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Data sources

Protected areas

Canadian Council on Ecological Areas's Conservation Areas Reporting and Tracking System contains data consolidated from all jurisdictions with responsibilities for protected areas in Canada. Data current as of December 31, 2016.

Jurisdictional area

  • For Canada except Quebec: Natural Resources Canada (2005) Canada Centre for Remote Sensing, Land and freshwater area, by province and territory
  • For Quebec: Ministère du Développement durable, de l'Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques
  • Canada's marine territory: Fisheries and Oceans Canada (2013) Departmental analysis based on Atlas of Canada 1,000,000 National Frameworks Data (2009), Administrative Boundaries

National boundaries

Natural Resources Canada (2009) Atlas of Canada 1,000,000 National Frameworks Data, Administrative Boundaries.


Canadian Council on Ecological Areas (2014) Canada Ecozones V5b.

Data description

Protected areas data are housed in the Conservation Areas Reporting and Tracking System (CARTS). Each year, federal, provincial and territorial departments and agencies submit geospatial and ancillary data for protected areas under their administrative control. Data on areas controlled by indigenous or non-governmental organizations, such as the Nature Conservancy of Canada and Ducks Unlimited Canada, are included in cases where a jurisdiction has recognized and categorized those areas.

National and provincial parks, national marine conservation areas, migratory bird sanctuaries and wildlife reserves are all examples of protected areas. Federal, provincial and territorial protected areas are included in this indicator, as well as some areas protected by non-governmental environmental organizations, and Indigenous and local communities. Only partial information exists for privately held conservation lands, such as those owned by land trusts, or lands still in private ownership but conserved through easements or similar agreements.

Work is ongoing to capture and incorporate data on additional privately held protected areas and on areas being conserved through means other than formal protection. A formal definition of the "other effective area-based conservation measures" included in protected area targets has not been established, and they are not included in the indicators.

The data include the following information on each protected area:

  • name of the protected area
  • geospatial location
  • boundaries
  • official area in hectares
  • biome (terrestrial/marine)
  • International Union for Conservation of Nature category
  • managing jurisdiction
  • protection date

In cases where the same attribute information does not apply to the entire protected area, the protected area is divided into zones for reporting. For example, a single protected area that crosses a provincial border is divided into zones corresponding to the different provinces. Similarly, a protected area that is later expanded is treated as several zones, each with its own protection date. Terrestrial and marine sections are treated as separate zones; freshwater is included in the terrestrial zone. Ancillary data are maintained independently for each zone. Protected areas that are undivided are treated as a single zone.

How are these indicators calculated

The area protected is estimated through a geographical analysis based on the boundaries of protected areas. A correction is made for overlaps.

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Canada's protected areas

The protected areas database (Conservation Areas Reporting and Tracking System) contains information on the protection date of each zone. For some zones, it also contains a delisting date. To estimate the terrestrial protected area trend over time:

  1. all polygons representing terrestrial protected areas that were protected in 1990 or earlier were selected from the database
  2. the selected polygons were dissolved into a single polygon (removing overlaps), and the resulting area calculated
  3. the process was repeated for each subsequent year (delisted zones were removed from the analysis beginning in the year they were delisted)
  4. estimates were divided by the total terrestrial area of Canada to determine the proportion protected

To estimate the marine protected area trend, a similar process was followed, with marine polygons selected at each step.

Polygons with an unknown protection date comprise less than 1% of the total protected area and were treated as having been protected prior to 1990.

The areas protected under each federal jurisdiction were calculated by selecting either terrestrial or marine polygons protected by a given jurisdiction, merging the polygons and estimating the area. The total area protected by federal jurisdictions was calculated by combining terrestrial or marine polygons for all federal jurisdictions and calculating the area.

Rates of change were calculated by dividing the difference in area (a given year minus the previous year) by the total area protected in the previous year.

Protected areas, by province and territory

The protected areas database contains information on the province or territory in which a protected area is located. Following methodology similar to that used for reporting trends in the national indicator, for each province and territory, terrestrial polygons were combined into a single polygon and the area was calculated.

Marine protected areas, by jurisdiction

The protected areas database contains information on the jurisdiction responsible for each protected area. As with the national indicator, for each jurisdiction, marine polygons were combined into a single polygon and the area was calculated.

Protected areas, by ecological region

The protected areas database does not contain information on ecological regions. To generate an estimate of protected area within each ecozone, a geospatial analysis was conducted. National ecozone boundaries are more generalized than local protected areas boundaries, however, and this could affect estimates in coastal areas. To avoid this problem, marine and terrestrial protected areas were processed separately.

Marine protected area polygons that mapped outside a marine ecozone were assigned to the nearest marine ecozone. Similarly, terrestrial protected areas that mapped outside a terrestrial ecozone were assigned to the nearest terrestrial ecozone:

  1. A working layer containing generalized ecozone boundaries was developed. Marine ecozone boundaries were copied from the national ecozone coverage, and polygons were extended to include adjacent terrestrial regions.
  2. The marine protected area polygons were selected from the protected areas layer.
  3. The working layer and the marine protected area polygons were combined into a single layer (marine protected area that cross ecozone boundaries are divided at the boundary).
  4. Protected area polygons were selected from the combined layer, and the overlap-corrected area was calculated for each generalized ecozone.
  5. The process was repeated for terrestrial protected areas.
  6. The process resulted in more than one multi-part polygon for some terrestrial ecozones: the areas of these were combined in a final step to estimate the protected area within each terrestrial ecozone.

The total area of each ecozone was calculated from its geospatial boundaries, as re-projected to Albers Equal Area Conic to be consistent with the projection used in the Conservation Areas Reporting and Tracking System. The area for Newfoundland and Labrador Shelves ecozone was corrected for the territorial area of St. Pierre and Miquelon. The total area protected by ecozone was divided by the total area of the ecozone to generate a protected percentage.

What has recently changed

Data are regularly reviewed and updated. In 2015, changes to the database made it possible to capture information on delisting and transfer between jurisdictions for the first time. This information is not yet fully captured in the database.

Management of areas previously under the Community Pastures Program (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada) has been transferred to provinces or other jurisdictions. Similarly, the portion of Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary that is located in the Northwest Territories has been transferred to territorial jurisdiction.

What are the caveats and limitations

Comparisons with previous reports should be made with caution, as data quality and completeness continue to improve. Areas may be conserved using instruments other than formal protection. Other effective area-based conservation measures contribute to Canada's targets, but are not yet captured as part of the indicators.

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The area calculated using polygon boundaries may differ from the legally protected area.

Responsibility for source data accuracy and completeness lies with jurisdictions. The Canadian Council on Ecological Areas provides data standards and guidance, including a procedures manual. Nonetheless, some differences among jurisdictions can be expected.

Areas that are no longer recognized as protected ("decommissioned" or "delisted") are not captured comprehensively and may be missing from the database.

Complex boundaries such as coastlines and ecological regions must be generalized for mapping purposes. In nature, ecozones do not have sharp boundaries. Due to the uncertainty of such boundaries, results should be seen as estimates rather than precise measurements. The mismatch in scale between protected areas, mapped with fine detail, and national-scale geographic frameworks, mapped at broad scale, may lead to minor differences across the different summaries because of the measurement uncertainty inherent in this type of analysis. Differences in the delineation of coastlines may result in a small amount of overlap between marine and terrestrial protected area polygon boundaries; these have not been corrected for.

Ecozones are an ecologically based framework, and should not be considered an expression of sovereignty.

The Canadian Council Ecological Areas provides a summary that differs slightly from the results reported here. It uses the sum of the official areas of individual protected areas and does not account for overlaps, with the exception of the national total. It also uses baseline areas from multiple sources; the protected areas indicators reported here use the official territorial extent from the Atlas of Canada (with the exception of Quebec) and a geographic information system estimate of marine territory. In comparing these results, care should be taken to note any differences in the date stamp of the underlying data and the methods of analysis.

Protection is a designation, and the indicators do not provide information on the effectiveness of protection, the degree to which the ecological functioning of the area is intact, or the degree to which pressures outside a protected area might affect the biodiversity within it.

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