Species at risk conservation: national framework


The purpose of the National Framework for Species at Risk Conservation (NFSARC) is to support the implementation of the 1996 Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk by providing a set of common principles, objectives and overarching approaches for species at risk conservation that all participants can share and work toward in a collaborative way.


The specific objectives of the Framework are to:

  • Facilitate coordination and cooperation among jurisdictions involved with species at risk.
  • Encourage greater national coherence and consistency in jurisdictional policies and procedures.
  • Provide context and common ground for federal/provincial/territorial bilateral agreements.


In 1992, Canada became the first western industrialized nation to ratify the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity and pledged to provide "effective protection" for Canadian species at risk and the critical habitat and ecosystems on which they depend.

Implementation of the Convention required, among other actions, the development of a Canadian Biodiversity Strategy to provide strategic direction and a framework for action at all levels of government. The Strategy promotes the conservation of biodiversity and the sustainable use of biological resources, and describes how Canada will contribute to, and be involved with, international efforts to implement the Convention.

The related Biodiversity Outcomes Framework complements the Strategy by defining the outcomes that need to be achieved to maintain Canada's biodiversity. A fundamental goal of the Biodiversity Outcomes Framework is to prevent wild species in Canada from becoming at risk. Intervention at early stages of risk is fundamental to effective management of resources and landscapes as it minimizes the need for costly and intrusive recovery efforts. Governments, Aboriginal organizations and communities, industry sectors and other stakeholders will have access to a greater range and variety of options to manage land use when working together proactively.

Another key component of the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy is the 1996 Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk. The provinces and territories hold primary responsibility for wildlife species in Canada and for the management of provincial and territorial lands upon which many species at risk rely, while the federal government exercises direct responsibility for aquatic species and migratory birds and for species found on federal lands. Conservation of species at risk therefore requires a collaborative approach, with recognition and coordination of responsibilities and activities across all jurisdictions and participants. The Accord outlines commitments by federal, provincial and territorial ministers to designate species at risk, protect their habitats, and develop recovery plans as well as complementary legislation, regulations, policies and programs, including stewardship.

Consistent with commitments set out in both the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy and the 1996 Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk, the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) came into full force in 2004. The objectives of the federal Species at Risk Act are to prevent wildlife species from being extirpated or becoming extinct, 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.

Provinces and territories also have legislative, regulatory and policy instruments for the protection of species at risk. The roles and responsibilities of federal, provincial, and territorial governments in the delivery of species at risk programs are further clarified through bi-lateral agreements and other instruments.

The Species at Risk Conservation Cycle

Species at risk conservation is built on a cycle of assessment, protection, recovery planning, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation, as shown in the diagram that follows. It is premised on an adaptive management approach whereby monitoring progress towards achieving the stated conservation and protection objectives and evaluating the effectiveness of adopted strategies are performed on an ongoing basis and are incorporated into each of the different components of the conservation cycle. Early action at appropriate points on the cycle will be encouraged to expedite implementation of effective protection and recovery measures. Consistent with the 1996 Accord, lack of full scientific certainty will not delay measures to avoid or minimize threats to species at risk.

To ensure a nationally coordinated and consistent process for species at risk conservation and effective decision-making the Framework identifies:

  • A set of 'foundational elements' consisting of structures, activities, tools and guidance that collectively support the implementation of the species at risk conservation cycle. Each 'foundational element' pertains to multiple components of the cycle to the extent relevant.
  • A clear objective and associated set of guiding principles for each component of the cycle.
Species at Risk Conservation Cycle

Foundational Elements

  • Conservation: Conservation of biodiversity is the ultimate goal, as put forth in the Convention on Biological Diversity. This goal must lie at the heart of all decisions and actions related to the identification, protection and recovery of species at risk. Efforts must focus on preventative approaches and early intervention to prevent species from becoming at risk.
  • Governance and Legal Framework: Implementation of the SAR conservation cycle will recognize the legislative frameworks of federal/provincial and territorial governments, the provisions of treaties and Land Claim Agreements, and the role of Wildlife Management Boards in the process. Jurisdictions are encouraged to build on the Accord and to continue to commit to joint implementation approaches through bi-lateral agreements.
  • Knowledge: Jurisdictions will seek and incorporate the best available information into their decision making. Science-based information, aboriginal traditional knowledge and community knowledge are of particular importance in this respect, as is a precautionary approach.
  • Consultation: Jurisdictions will recognize and fulfill their responsibilities to consult affected parties, including aboriginal organizations and communities and wildlife management boards, on species at risk matters.
  • Socio-economic Analysis: Socio-economic factors and information will be incorporated into decision-making (including protection, recovery planning and implementation), as appropriate. Socio-economic analysis should be undertaken on a priority basis, to the appropriate level of detail, when decisions are likely to have significant impacts. Socio-economic analysis should include cooperation and information sharing with participating jurisdictions, and incorporate peer review where suitable.
  • Stewardship, Education and Awareness: Jurisdictions will promote the adoption of a range of stewardship and voluntary actions for protection and recovery of species at risk. This includes working with partners to increase awareness, build capacity and increase participation of Canadians so that they increasingly do the right things for the environment. Measures such as education, incentives or provision of scientific and technical assistance to participants will be strongly encouraged, backed up by enforcement of a regulatory framework where required.


Assessment involves a two-stage examination and review process as follows:

  1. First, jurisdictions collectively review the general status of their wildlife species, using the best available information and inventory data, to determine whether any species under their jurisdiction may be at risk.
  2. Next, those species that may be at risk are further examined, using a science-based approach, to more fully understand the nature and severity of the risk. The end result may be a classification as: extinct; extirpated, endangered; threatened; special concern; data deficient; or, not at risk.

The objective of assessment is to formally identify those species that are at risk, or are trending towards becoming at risk, so that appropriate steps may be planned and implemented to protect and/or recover them.

A set of key principles will guide the assessment process. Specifically, the assessment process will:

  • Be knowledge-based: A range of knowledge from a variety of sources will be used to inform the assessment process, including science based data, aboriginal traditional knowledge and community knowledge.
  • Reflect the need for continuous improvement of data and information: Collecting, archiving and reporting of comprehensive inventory data on species and ecosystems at risk is essential to accurate and timely assessment. A commitment will be made to continuously improve the quality, value and management of information to reduce uncertainty and enable the most complete and accurate picture of wildlife species possible.
  • Be timely: Timely assessments will be encouraged as part of an early warning system to facilitate cost-effective early action, where necessary, and improve prospects for recovery.
  • Be independent: Assessments will be conducted by independent scientific bodies. The process will be transparent to ensure that it is not unduly influenced by special interests.
  • Address uncertainty: Where feasible and warranted, additional work (e.g., studies including inventory) will be undertaken to address areas of uncertainty or lack of information.
  • Consider multi-species / ecosystem opportunities: Groups of species that co-occur in an ecosystem, or that share the same primary threat, may be assessed simultaneously, as this may facilitate future multi-species or ecosystem-level recovery efforts.


Once a species is determined to be at risk, measures need to be instituted as quickly as possible to protect the species, provide safeguards against further declines, and support recovery initiatives.

The objective of protection is to protect individuals from being harmed, and protect areas on which they depend. Application of protection measures can precede the development of a plan or strategy that will detail recovery objectives and the actions, including further protection measures, needed to reach these objectives.

A set of key principles will guide the protection process. Specifically, the process will:

  • Ensure formal protection measures are established: Protection can be achieved through a suite of measures, including voluntary compliance, as well as regulatory and legislative tools, such as legal listing - all aiming to ensure the survival of species while recovery actions are being developed and implemented.
  • Be risk-based: Protection decisions and actions will be commensurate with the level of risk or urgency.
  • Be timely: Protection decisions and actions, including listing and de-listing, will be made in a timely manner.
  • Be coordinated across jurisdictions: Protection decisions and actions will take into account the level of protection collectively provided by existing federal/provincial/territorial legislative frameworks. In cases where overlaps exist, jurisdictions will jointly determine who will initiate action.

Recovery Planning

Recovery planning is a two-staged process that involves the:

  • development of scientifically sound and credible goals, objectives and strategies for the survival and recovery of species at risk and their habitats, and
  • identification of appropriate measures and actions to effectively achieve those goals.

The objective of recovery planning is to improve the likelihood of survival and recovery of species at risk by identifying the scientific, social, economic and ecological implications associated with recovery of the species and developing a workable suite of actions that can be implemented in a timely manner by jurisdictions and stakeholders.

A set of key principles will guide the recovery planning process. Specifically, the process will:

  • Be Knowledge-based: The identification of goals, objectives and strategic approaches to recover species at risk will be informed by sound and credible scientific and technical advice, including aboriginal traditional knowledge and community knowledge as appropriate.
  • Address uncertainty: Where feasible and warranted, additional work (e.g., studies) will be undertaken to address areas of uncertainty or lack of information.
  • Develop pragmatic solutions: A wide range of measures will be considered for the survival and recovery of species at risk and their habitats. This will be done with due regard for socio-economic considerations and the feasibility of timely and effective implementation by jurisdictions and stakeholders.
  • Use an appropriate level and manner of cooperation and consultation: Recognizing that there is no 'one size fits all' approach to planning, the extent and type of cooperation and consultation will be tailored (as circumstances and resources permit) to obtain community support and input to the planning process. Consultation efforts will be proportional to the expected social and economic impact of decisions to implement recovery actions.
  • Result in a commitment to action: Governments will make public, in a timely manner, their commitment to undertake actions for recovery of species at risk.


Implementation is the process by which the actions identified in the recovery planning stage are carried out to achieve recovery goals, objectives and strategies.

The objective is to ensure that measures are put in place by responsible jurisdictions, land owners, land managers, and other responsible interests, to meet the goals and objectives identified in the recovery planning stage.

A set of key principles will guide the implementation process. Specifically, the process will:

  • Make use of existing systems: The approach will make use of existing landscape, ecosystem and species management systems where practical. A multi-species approach will also be used, where it will result in more effective or efficient measures.
  • Promote collaboration: Opportunities for collaboration among responsible jurisdictions and interested parties will be proactively pursued to enable efficiencies and increase cost-effectiveness.
  • Be timely: Recovery measures will be implemented in a timely manner.
  • Foster stewardship: Jurisdictions will encourage individual Canadians, communities, organizations (including aboriginal communities and organizations), corporate entities and other stakeholders to carry out conservation activities.

Monitoring and Evaluation

Monitoring and evaluation refers to the process of examining what has been done to date to ensure that the conservation measures are on the right track and achieving the stated recovery goals and objectives.

The objective of monitoring and evaluation is three-fold:

  1. to detect changes in the conservation status of a species;
  2. to determine the effectiveness of protection and recovery measures; and
  3. to measure progress towards achieving recovery goals.

A set of key principles will guide the monitoring and evaluation process. Specifically, the process will:

  • Be based on reliable data: The results of actions aimed at protection and recovery will be tracked and evaluated. The activities required to accomplish this will be incorporated into recovery plans.
  • Reflect adaptive management principles: Recovery goals, objectives and measures will be reviewed in light of monitoring and evaluation results coupled with consideration of significant external factors (e.g., climatic changes). Protection and recovery measures will be adjusted or adapted to reflect new or changed circumstances in the environment and ecosystem within which species live.
  • Lead to reassessment: When the situation of a species changes significantly enough to warrant reconsideration of its conservation status, this information will be communicated to the appropriate body responsible for species assessment.
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