Selection of sites as national wildlife areas

The selection of sites as National Wildlife Areas begins with the identification of areas based on biological criteria.
These criteria were developed by an Environment and Climate Change Canada Canadian Wildlife Service team of habitat specialists from our headquarters and regions.


 Areas meeting more than one criterion may be accorded a higher importance value. In addition, areas determined to be important or critical habitat may also be assessed according to priorities for action for that area. Priority may be determined by such factors as threat, opportunity or funding.

Once a candidate area has been identified, an assessment is made of the conservation values, natural resources and other values, to help determine the proposed boundaries of the potential NWA. The boundary determination will take into account the lands and waters essential to conserving the ecosystem functions of the area and the wildlife resource. Ownership of and interests in the lands must also be taken into account. Because NWA can only be established on federally owned lands, land tenure might affect the final boundaries of the candidate site and the management mechanism needed for the area (e.g., co-management).

In accordance with its vision and guiding principles, Environment and Climate Change Canada recognizes that the management of NWA must be based on working concertedly with partners and integrating land use actions to maintain the wildlife values of the area.


The selection criteria will serve three main purposes, providing a basis for:

  • establishing a minimum standard of national habitat importance, based on defensible biological values in keeping with Canada's obligations under the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Wildlife Policy for Canada;
  • making decisions that are generally consistent across the country for the selection of new areas; and
  • communications, to demonstrate the uniqueness and national value of the identified areas.

In developing these national criteria, it is recognized that regional applications of these criteria may require region-specific guidelines, and may further require the elaboration of region-specific criteria in some instances. In either case, the national criteria will form the minimum standard for selection nationwide.


The criteria take into account:

  • the authority of the Canada Wildlife Act to establish NWA;
  • the purposes of research, conservation and interpretation for which NWA may be established under the Act;
  • national and international commitments of the federal government as they pertain to habitatFootnote1; and
  • the broad definition of "wildlife" as agreed to by all jurisdictions in the Wildlife Policy for Canada

Criteria for candidate national wildlife area

An area is considered to meet the minimum requirements of a NWA if it meets at least one of the following criteria:

Criterion Description

The area supports at least 1% of the Canadian population of a species or subspecies of migratory bird or species at riskFootnote2; for any portion of the year where total populations are known.

This criterion includes areas on which species or subspecies depend to complete any part of their life cycle, such as nesting, feeding, migration and wintering areas.


The area supports an appreciable assemblage of species or subspecies of migratory birds or species at risk, or an appreciable number of individuals of any one or more of these species or subspecies where total populations are not known or the assemblage represents a regionally significant area.

An "appreciable assemblage" of species or subspecies would be a grouping that, in relative terms, is generally accepted as being sufficient to warrant conservation action, such as waterfowl.


The area has been identified as critical habitat for a listed migratory bird or other species at risk population, subspecies or species.


The area is a rare or unusual wildlife habitat of a specific type in a biogeographic region, or has special value for maintaining the genetic and ecological diversity of a region because of the wide range, quality and uniqueness of its flora and fauna.

This criterion allows for habitats that always have been rare in a region, as well as habitats reduced to a remnant of their former extent. Examples include bog habitats in southern Ontario, the Garry Oak ecosystem on southern Vancouver Island, or the tall grass prairie ecosystem.


The area possesses a high potential for restoration or enhancement, now or in the future, such that wildlife populations could be increased or managed to meet national objectives.

This criterion may apply to an area with high potential for wildlife research, which is one of the functions for which a NWA may be created. Research may be in support of restoration or enhancement of an area, either to restore degraded habitats or enhance good habitats, for the benefit of wildlife. The goal would be to increase wildlife populations to meet national targets, such as those established under the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, the Canadian Landbird Monitoring Strategy, the population and distribution objectives of a national recovery strategy and, on occasion, international targets.

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