Canadian protected areas status report 2012 to 2015

Photos of Protected Areas of Canada
Photos: Bylot Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary © Christian Marcotte; Boatswain Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary © Luc Robillard; Dinosaur Provincial Park © Government of Alberta; Stillwater Brook Protected Natural Area © Steve Gordon.

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Executive Summary

Protected areas in Canada and the goals of the report

Protected areas play a critical role in Canada’s efforts to conserve nature. They protect important parts of Canada’s ecosystems, maintain essential ecosystem services, safeguard habitat, and provide opportunities for tourism, recreation, and connections with nature.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature defines a protected area as “a clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.”

The Canadian Protected Areas Status Report provides a snapshot of Canada’s protected areas and highlights accomplishments for the period January 2012 to December 2015. It details the extent of protected areas across the country and summarizes the actions undertaken by governments to protect representative ecosystems, conserve biodiversity, safeguard ecosystem services, and improve connectivity. It also describes efforts to plan and manage protected areas effectively, in cooperation with Indigenous Peoples and stakeholders.

In 2015, Canada adopted a suite of objectives for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. The 2020 Biodiversity Goals and Targets for Canada were developed collaboratively by federal, provincial and territorial governments, with input from national Indigenous organisations, non-governmental organisations, businesses, academia and individual Canadians. The goals and targets are for Canada as a whole and progress will be reported at the national level. The contribution of each jurisdiction may vary, but all governments and sectors of society can make a significant contribution to overall progress. Many provinces and territories have their own biodiversity strategies and initiatives that support the national level goals and targets.

Canada’s Target 1 of these objectives highlights a commitment related to area-based conservation, including protected areas:

“By 2020, at least 17% of terrestrial areas and inland water, and 10% of coastal and marine areas, are conserved through networks of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures.”

This report provides a benchmark to assess the progress toward reaching Target 1.

Extent and growth of Canada’s protected areas

At the end of 2015, 10.6% (1.05 million km2) of Canada's terrestrial area and 0.90% (51 thousand km2) of its marine territory were recognized as protected. This is an increase from the 9.8% of Canada’s terrestrial area and the 0.88% of Canada’s marine area that were protected at the end of the last reporting period in December 2011.

Protected areas have been established nation-wide and can be found in each of the provinces and territories as well as in all three oceans. The distribution of this protection varies across the country. For example, Canada is comprised of 18 terrestrial ecozones, 12 marine ecozones and one freshwater ecozone, all of which have been protected to some degree. The percent of protected terrestrial or marine area varies by ecozone and in general, terrestrial ecozones are more protected than marine ecozones. Additionally, southern regions of Canada have a higher concentration of small protected areas while those in the north tend to be larger and more widely dispersed. The establishment of protected areas continues to fall predominantly under government purview with approximately 95% of Canada’s terrestrial and marine protected areas being governed by federal, provincial or territorial governments.

More detailed information on the extent and growth of protected areas nationally can be found in Chapter 1 of the report.

Protected areas planning and establishment

The two primary objectives identified in the planning and establishment of protected areas were: protecting representative samples of ecological areas, and; conserving biological diversity. To accomplish these objectives, approximately half of the 13 provinces and territories and the three federal departments included in the report had strategies in place to guide the development and implementation of a network of protected areas. At the national level, Fisheries and Oceans Canada has created a framework to guide the development and implementation of a network of marine protected areas; however, no equivalent national framework exists for a terrestrial protected areas network.

Several provinces and territories and the federal government have made specific commitments that will expand Canada’s protected areas system and contribute to achieving national and/or provincial and territorial targets. As of December 31, 2015, the projects identified by federal, provincial and territorial governments that are anticipated to be completed by 2020 have the potential to increase the percentage of Canada’s terrestrial area conserved from 10.6% to 11.8%, and the percentage of Canada’s marine area conserved from 0.9% to 2.3%. Work is ongoing to identify the projects that will enable Canada to achieve Target 1 of the 2020 Biodiversity Goals and Targets.

More detailed information on protected area planning and establishment, including information on protected areas targets and objectives, can be found in Chapter 2 of the report.

Protected areas management and reporting

Most of the government protected areas organisations have made progress on the development and implementation of management plans for protected areas. However, the overall number of up-to-date management plans for protected areas remains low. Similarly, while most agencies report on program-related performance measures, the majority do not conduct effectiveness assessments of their protected areas. Management effectiveness assessments are increasingly recognized as best-practice method for determining whether protected areas are achieving desired conservation objectives. Nearly all protected areas organisations identified challenges related to the management of protected areas - principally deficiencies in capacity and resources for site management and site monitoring.

More detailed information on protected areas management and reporting can be found in Chapter 3 of the report.

Indigenous peoples and stakeholder involvement

All governments emphasized the importance of collaboration with other organisations, governments, including Indigenous organisations, local communities and stakeholders, in the planning and establishment of protected areas. Notably, most had formal arrangements in place to engage organisations, Indigenous communities, and the general public. Conservation of privately owned land remains an important consideration in the strategies of many government organisations working on terrestrial protected areas, while close collaboration with land trusts is ongoing. A number of governments had programs to encourage and support conservation on private property, including the designation and recognition of private protected areas.

More detailed information on engagement with Indigenous peoples and stakeholders can be found in Chapter 4 of the report.

Federal, provincial and territorial summaries

Canada’s federal and provincial and territorial governments have collectively made significant progress with respect to protected areas.

Attaining the 2020 Biodiversity Goals and Targets will require sustained and concerted effort by governments, working in close partnership with various stakeholders and Indigenous Peoples. Collaboration is imperative, to ensure that protected areas are established in key biodiversity areas, and that protected areas in Canada are effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative, well-connected, and integrated into the broader landscape.

Details on Canada’s recent accomplishments, as well as a breakdown of protected areas and priorities across Canada, can be found in Chapter 5.

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