Canadian Protected Areas Status Report 2012 to 2015: chapter 3


Chapter 3: Protected Area Management and Reporting

While efforts are ongoing to increase the amount of area protected, it is also important to ensure that the management of these areas is conducted in a manner that will achieve the targeted conservation goals. This section highlights the challenges and progress made with respect to the management of protected areas in Canada since the last 2011 report.

Management effectiveness

Measuring management effectiveness is becoming a recognized and necessary practice by all protected areas authorities for evaluating if the targeted conservation goals and objectives are being met. The evaluation and improvement of protected areas management effectiveness is also one of the goals under the Convention on Biological Diversity Programme of Work on Protected Areas (Goal 4.2), which Canada has committed to. However, for the majority of jurisdictions managing terrestrial and marine protected areas in Canada, evaluations have not been conducted on management effectiveness for their networks or systems of protected areas.

For terrestrial protected areas:

  • Five out of 15 organisations reporting on terrestrial protected areas (33%) have conducted some level of evaluations on the management effectiveness for their network of protected areas (British Columbia, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Environment and Climate Change Canada and Parks Canada).
  • For these five organisations, the methods and indicators used for measuring effectiveness greatly differed:
    • Saskatchewan did not monitor management effectiveness on a broad scale across its entire network of protected areas; only certain aspects of its Parks Services visitation were evaluated (e.g. budget expenditures, revenues and visitor’s satisfaction).
    • For Ontario, the maintenance of ecological integrity continued to be used as the indicator, this being the first principle associated with the planning and management of its protected area framework. 
    • For British Columbia, the maintenance of ecological integrity is an important indicator but not the factor considered when measuring management effectiveness given the difficulty of attributing changes observed in ecosystems to specific actions. As such, management effectiveness is measured through performance indicators associated with the implementation of various conservation tools (e.g. management plans, conservation risk and impact assessments, permits issued, etc.). These indicators are used for both terrestrial and marine protected areas and are reported on in the BC Parks Annual Report.
    • Environment and Climate Change Canada has for the first time evaluated its network of protected areas by using the Management Effectiveness Tracking Tool, one of the methods available for measuring management effectiveness based on various management components including level of resources and results.

For marine protected areas:

  • Two out of nine organisations reporting on marine protected areas (22%) evaluated management effectiveness at the level of their network or systems of protected areas (British Columbia and Parks Canada). However, and as described elsewhere in the document, other organisations evaluate management effectiveness on a site by site basis.

Management plan development and implementation

Most jurisdictions made progress on the development and implementation of protected areas management plans for protected areas under their administrationFootnote1. A management plan sets goals and targets along with a course of actions on how these will be accomplished. Having a management plan in place is like having a blueprint to guide both day-to-day and long-term decisions according to the set vision for the area. At the end of 2015, all organisations reporting on terrestrial protected areas and six out of nine organisations reporting on marine protected areas reported that management plans were in place for at least some of their protected areas, and about 60% of organisations had increased the number of management plans in place, however, the overall number of protected areas in Canada with up to date management plans in place remained low. Only 16% of terrestrial protected areas and (among those that reported on management plans for marine protected areas) 28% of marine protected areas had up to date management plans. However, this proportion varies greatly among jurisdictions (table 10). For terrestrial protected areas, this may be explained in part because of the difficulty of keeping up with the increase in the number of protected areas. Since 2005, the number of terrestrial protected areas in Canada went from 3 642 to 4 660 in 2011, and 7 106 in 2015.

For terrestrial protected areas:

  • Only six out of 15 organisations (40%) had management plans in place for more than half of their protected areas. Some progress has been made on updating management plans: seven out of 15 (47%) increased the proportion of their protected areas with up-to-date management plans since 2011 (British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Yukon, Environment and Climate Change Canada).
  • Two organisations reported having management plans updated in the last 10 years for over half of their protected areas (Yukon and Parks Canada).
  • Most organisations that established a number of new protected areas since 2011 reported a decreased proportion of protected areas with management plans in place (e.g. Ontario, Quebec and Parks Canada). In New Brunswick, six management plans are in place for private land trust protected areas and the province has made significant advancements in developing a management framework for its crown protected areas.Footnote2
  • For organisations reporting on terrestrial protected areas 10 out of 15 (67%) reported that they monitored the implementation of management plans, an increase from 31% in 2011. Additionally, such monitoring was being conducted in over 75% of protected areas with management plans for six jurisdictions (Manitoba, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Ontario, Yukon and Parks Canada).
  • Fourteen out of 15 organisations (93%) reporting on terrestrial protected areas were implementing management actions set out in management plans. Four out of 15 organisations (27%) reported having substantially implemented the actions set out in their plans (Manitoba, Nunavut, Quebec, Parks Canada); though still low, this is twice the number reported in 2011.
  • Eight out of 15 organisations (53%) reported that they have partially implemented the actions in their management plans, up from 13% in 2011. Additionally, for Alberta, the implementation of management actions included in management plans varied greatly between sites and region around the province, ranging from unknown to substantially implemented.

For marine protected areasFootnote3:

  • Six out of nine organisations (67%) had management plans in place for a portion of their marine protected areas.
  • All six organisations also reported that these included plans that were less than 10 years old. However, the proportion of marine protected areas covered by these up-to-date management plans varied widely among organisations from 1% for Quebec, 14% for Newfoundland and Labrador and British Columbia, a little over a quarter for New Brunswick, 50% for Parks Canada, and 88% for Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
  • Only three jurisdictions had a portion of their existing management plans that were older than 10 years old. However, older management plans can still be valid when assessed on an ongoing basis. This is the case of British Columbia, which has policy that requires all management plans to be assessed internally at least every 5 years to determine if they should still be considered valid approved plans.
  • Four out of nine organisations reporting on marine protected areas (44%) monitored the implementation of management plans. Only one of these reported that they conduct monitoring in over 75% of their marine protected areas (Parks Canada).
  • Of the six organisations (67%) that reported on the implementation of management plans actions, as of 2015, four (Quebec, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada and Parks Canada) had substantially implemented management actions, while two reported having partially implemented management actions (British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador ). 
Table 10. Extent of protected areas with management plans in place administered by governmental organisations responsible of protected areas Footnote4
Biome Organisation Number of protected areas with management plans in place
(Number/Total)
Number of protected areas with management plans in place
(Percent)
Number of protected areas with management plans less than 10 years old
(Number/Total)
Number of protected areas with management plans less than 10 years old
(Percent)
Extent of management actions included in plans that are being implemented
Terrestrial Alberta 62/252 25 % 12/252 5% Unknown to substantiallyk
Terrestrial British Columbial 728/1028 71% 133/1028 13% Partially
Terrestrial Manitobam 22/127 17% 17/127 13% Substantially
Terrestrial New Brunswick 0/212 0% 0/212 0% Unknown
Terrestrial Newfoundland and Labrador 17/57 30% 3/57 5% Partially
Terrestrial Nova Scotia 13/146 9% 1/146 1% Partially
Terrestrial Northwest Territories 1/4 25% 0 0% Partially
Terrestrial Nunavut 8/8 100% 0 0% Substantially
Terrestrial Ontario 619/649 95% 94/649 15% Partially
Terrestrial Prince Edward Islandn 228/245 93% 80/245 33% Partially
Terrestrial Quebec 297/3823 8% 190/3823 5% Substantially
Terrestrial Saskatchewan 118/322 37% Not provided - Partially
Terrestrial Yukon 10 /17 59% 10 /17 59% Partially
Terrestrial Environment and Climate Change Canada 11/129 9% 11/129 9% Partially
Terrestrial Parks Canada 41/50 82% 37/50 74% Substantially
Marine British Columbia 124/184 67% 26/184 14% Partially
Marine Manitoba 0/1 0% 0/1 0% Not provided
Marine New Brunswick 3/11 27% 3/11 27% Unknown
Marine Newfoundland and Labrador 4/7 57% 1/7 14% Partially
Marine Prince Edward Island 0/0 - 0/0 - unknown
Marine Quebec 9/507 2% 5/507 1% Substantially
Marine Fisheries and Oceans Canada 7/8 88% 7/8 88% Substantially
Marine Environment and Climate Change Canada unknown - unknown - Substantially
Marine Parks Canada 1/2 50% 1/2 50% Substantially

k Alberta reported that management actions had been implemented to varying degrees from partially to substantially across their protected areas, and that for some the degree of implementation was unknown.

l BC Parks manages 1028 terrestrial protected areas and one marine protected area in total. There are another 29 Wildlife Management Areas not included in the totals above since they are not managed by BC Parks. Of these 29 areas, 28 have a terrestrial component. Although there is no formal management plan program or tracking on management plans for these areas, various management direction documents are developed by different agencies.

m Manitoba also has 184 private conservation areas not accounted for above but that are included in the province’s protected areas network. According to the Memorandums of Agreement signed with conservation agencies in the province, it is the conservation agencies that are responsible for controlling and managing these areas, including conserving the integrity of the dynamic ecosystems on these lands.

n Prince Edward Island counts its Protected Areas Network at two scales. Natural Areas are counted at an individual property or parcel level while Wildlife Management Areas are counted at a larger block area. There are 228 parcels of Natural Area and 17 Wildlife Management Areas (six of which are shared governance) at 90 sites. The Shared Governance Wildlife Management Areas have no specific management plan but shared management principles.

Challenges to protected area management

The majority of organisations reported on challenges or barriers related to the management of both terrestrial and marine protected areas in Canada (Table 11).

For terrestrial protected areas:

  • All 15 organisations responsible for terrestrial protected areas (100%) identified the existence of management challenges.
  • Twelve out of 15 reported that not having enough staff to manage protected areas and not having the resources for monitoring those sites were important barriers.
  • The third most common challenge identified by organisations (seven out of 15) was the lack of management plans or objectives to guide decisions.
  • Other challenges highlighted by some organisations included difficulty of meeting mutual interests with Indigenous governments, as well as a lack of priority and commitment by government authorities for managing protected areas, including the absence of long-term funding. 

For marine protected areas:

  • Six out of nine organisations responsible for marine protected areas (67%) identified challenges to managing marine protected areas.
  • The most common barriers mentioned by four out of these six organisations were a lack of resources for managing sites and for monitoring.
  • Other management challenges identified included working with other governments and agencies (including Indigenous governments), a lack of appropriate tools for managing protected areas administered by more than one government agency, as well as financial and technical limitations especially for offshore and deep water monitoring.
Table 11. Primary challenges or barriers to the management of protected areas in Canada identified by protected area organisations.
Primary management challenges / barriers Percentage of jurisdictions facing challenges according to each type of barrier (%)
(Terrestrial/freshwater)
Percentage of jurisdictions facing challenges according to each type of barrier (%)
(Marine)
Lack of staff resources for site management 80 67
Lack of resources for site monitoring 80 67
Lack of management plans or objectives to guide decisions 47 17
Lack of appropriate legal/policy tools for managing activities adjacent to protected areas in a manner compatible with the conservation objectives of these sites 36 50
Lack of guidelines or protocols to effectively implement management decisions 14 33

Monitoring protocols for protected areas

For terrestrial protected areas (see Table 12):

  • Eleven out of 15 organisations reporting on terrestrial protected areas (73%) reported that monitoring protocols are in place for their terrestrial protected areas with the majority of such protocols being 10 years old or less.
  • Out of 11 organisations who had implemented such monitoring protocols, six of them were drafting new protocols for additional sites. This included for three provincial parks in Saskatchewan (Cypress Hills, Duck Mountain, Saskatchewan Landing) and for the Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary in the Northwest Territories through the establishment of a management committee. In addition, Environment and Climate Change Canada was also working on the development of monitoring protocols for 25 of its sites across Canada as part of the management plans.
  • The proportion of protected areas that are covered by monitoring protocols varied greatly across jurisdictions, from about less than 1% for Manitoba to 97% for Prince Edward Island.
  • In Saskatchewan, varying levels of monitoring are in place for provincial parks only. In New Brunswick, monitoring is included in the management plans of Protected Natural Areas on land trust lands, while in Prince Edward Island monitoring generally occurs where it has been identified as a management goal for the protected area. In Newfoundland and Labrador, varying levels of monitoring are in place in parks and wilderness and ecological reserves. In British Columbia, BC Parks developed a monitoring program framework for monitoring productivity and species movement at selected sites within protected areas. Although such monitoring sites have not been established in every protected area, this framework applies to the entire system of protected areas (terrestrial and marine).

For marine protected areas (see table 12):

  • Five out of nine organisations reporting on marine protected areas (56%) had monitoring protocols in place for their marine protected areas with 100% of these being 10 years old or less.
  • The proportion of marine protected areas covered by such protocols varied from about 2% for Quebec to 75% for Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
  • Two organisations reported that additional monitoring protocols will be developed for marine sites in the near future: British Columbia for two marine areas, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada for the Bowie Seamount and Endeavour Hydrothermal Vents Marine Protected Areas. In addition, Parks Canada reported that monitoring plans for all their sites were being reviewed and revised.
  • Fisheries and Oceans Canada produces monitoring reports for some of its marine protected areas. Some results are available online (e.g., the Eastport Marine Protected Area Monitoring Report). 
Table 12. Monitoring protocols in protected areas 
Biomes Organisation % of protected areas with monitoring protocols in place % of protected areas with protocols in development
Terrestrial Alberta 10% None identified
Terrestrial British Columbia 6% 4%
Terrestrial Manitoba <1% 0%
Terrestrial New Brunswick 3% 0%
Terrestrial Newfoundland and Labrador 53% 0%
Terrestrial Northwest Territories 0% 25%
Terrestrial Nova Scotia 0% 0%
Terrestrial Nunavut 0% 0%
Terrestrial Ontario Unknown Unknown
Terrestrial Prince Edward Island 97% None identified
Terrestrial Quebec 10% None identified
Terrestrial Saskatchewan 11% 1%
Terrestrial Yukon 18% 0%
Terrestrial Environment and Climate Change Canada 1% 17%
Terrestrial Parks Canada 96% 4%
Marine British Columbia 4% 1%
Marine Manitoba 0% 0%
Marine New Brunswick 27% 0%
Marine Newfoundland and Labrador 0% 0%
Marine Prince Edward Island None identified None identified
Marine Quebec 2% None identified
Marine Environment and Climate Change Canada 0% 0%
Marine Fisheries and Oceans Canada 75% 25%
Marine Parks Canada 50% 50%

Monitoring and managing for ecological integrity

Ecological integrity refers to “a condition that is determined to be characteristic of a natural region and likely to persist, including abiotic components and the composition and abundance of native species and biological communities, rates of change and supporting processes”Footnote5. Increasingly maintaining the ecological integrity of protected areas is a key component of protected areas management for Canadian jurisdictions with the goal to preserve ecological processes as well as the region’s composition and abundance of native species (see Tables 13 and 14).

For terrestrial protected areas:

  • Twelve out of 15 organisations (80%) indicated having measures in place for managing ecological integrity. This is an increase from 56% as reported in 2011.
  • Out of the 12 organisations managing ecological integrity, five of them (42%) had such measures in place covering most of their network or system of protected areas, while the remaining seven (58%) had such measures implemented partially or covering only a portion of their sites.
  • The extent to which organisations were monitoring ecological integrity varied greatly from a full monitoring program at Parks Canada to three provinces only conducting ecological integrity monitoring sporadically (British Columbia, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador).
  • Four provinces and territories (Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Yukon) had ongoing ecological integrity monitoring activities for some or a portion of their protected areas. In Quebec only those sites under the Société des établissements de plein air du Québec were being monitored for ecological integrity.
  • Parks Canada continues to be a leader, with a complete ecological integrity monitoring program, which it has implemented across all its national parks. Embedded in the Canada National Parks Act, the maintenance and restoration of ecological integrity is a priority for the Agency’s management of its protected areas. This has resulted in the recognition of Parks Canada expertise and guidelines on ecological integrity, including having influenced the principles and best practices developed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature on the topic.
  • Two jurisdictions made the results of their monitoring activities available online for the public: British Columbia through the annual BC Parks report and Parks Canada through the Ecological Integrity of National Parks indicator found through the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators webpage.

For marine protected areas:

  • Six out of nine organisations (67%) reported having measures in place for managing ecological integrity in some or all of the protected areas in their network or systems. This is an increase from 33% reported in 2011.
  • Like those reporting on terrestrial protected areas, a smaller number or two out of six (33%) organisations managing for ecological integrity had measures in place covering most of their marine protected areas while the remaining four organisations (67%) had partially implemented such measures for a portion of their sites only.
  • Only two out of nine organisations (22%) were sporadically monitoring the ecological integrity of their marine protected areas (British Columbia and Fisheries and Oceans Canada).
  • Results of monitoring activities conducted on the ecological integrity of marine protected areas are reported on in the BC Parks Annual Report.
Table 13. Extent of ecological integrity monitoring being conducted
Biome Full Monitoring at all protected areas Monitoring at most protected areas Ongoing monitoring at some protected areas Sporadic monitoring Little or no monitoring
Terrestrial Parks Canada - Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Yukon British Columbia, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador Alberta, New Brunswick, Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Nunavut, Prince Edward Island, Environment and Climate Change Canada
Marine - Parks Canada - British Columbia, Fisheries and Oceans Canada Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Environment and Climate Change Canada
Table 14. Measures in place to manage ecological integrity
Biome Fully (for all protected areas) Mostly (for most protected areas) Partially (for a portion of protected areas) No (not at all)
Terrestrial - British Columbia, Northwest Territories, Ontario, Quebec, Parks Canada Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan Yukon, Environment and Climate Change Canada Newfoundland and Labrador, Nunavut, Prince Edward Island
Marine - British Columbia, Parks Canada Manitoba, New Brunswick, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Quebec

Information in support of protected area management

Managers of protected areas rely on various sources of information for decision making. In addition to biophysical data, this can include information on anthropogenic activities to understand the effects and impacts human activities may have on an area, and information from traditional ecological knowledge, drawing on the awareness of the area developed over time by local and Indigenous People through ongoing use and observations of the land and marine environments.

For terrestrial protected areas:

  • As reported in 2011, the majority of jurisdictions reporting on terrestrial protected areas continue to have limited information across the various categories surveyed (see Table 15 below), including on ecological processes and traditional knowledge.
  • One hundred percent of organisations reported that at least some information was available regarding natural inventories and activites adjacent to protected areas. The exent of information available for both categories was limited for eight organisations (53%). Only two organisations reported having a comprehensive scope of information on natural resources inventories only.
  • Eighty-seven percent of organisations indicated that information regarding ecological community structure and function, traditional ecological knowledge, visitor use and visitor impacts was available. However, the extent of such information remains limited for the majority of organisations. Six reported a moderate level of information on visitor use while only a few (one to three) reported possessing a moderate scope of information on the other three categories.
  • Between 64% and 82% of organisations reported that they had a limited level of information regarding the occurrence of invasive species, ecological processes and ecological isolation or connectedness.
  • In Alberta, the availability and scope of information available across all types varies geographically across the province and from site to site. Prince Edward Island noted that they possess information collected through 10 years of resource inventory and aerial photography work, as well as through periodic site visits.

For marine protected areas:

  • One hundred percent of organisations reporting on marine protected areas indicated that information on activities adjacent to marine protected areas was availaible. The extent of information available was moderate for just under half of organisations.
  • For 89% of organisations, information was available on natural resources inventories although it remained limited for the majority of respondents.
  • Seventy eight percent of organisations reported having information on visitor use although the scope of such information remained limited for most.
  • Sixty seven percent of organisations indicated having access to some information on community structure and function, traditional knowledge and invasive species. For the majority of them, the scope of information available on these categories remained limited except for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, which indicated having a moderate level of information on all three.
  • More generally for organisations reporting on marine protected areas, about half had a limited to moderate extent of information on ecological processes, ecological isolation or connectedness, and visitor impacts.
  • BC Parks also reported that the development of a suite of conservation and planning tools have given managers some assurance that biological and cultural elements of the network are being well managed for both their terrestrial and marine protected areas.
Table 15a. Scope of information available by type for the management of terrestrial and marine protected areas.
Biome Scope of info Natural resource inventories Community structure and function Ecological processes Ecological isolation/ connectedness Traditional ecological knowledge
Terrestrial Comprehensive Parks Canada, Prince Edward Island Manitoba Manitoba Parks Canada -
Terrestrial Moderate Manitoba, New Brunswick, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Environment and Climate Change Canada New Brunswick Parks Canada British Columbia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island Prince Edward Island, Parks Canada
Terrestrial Limited Alberta, British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Quebec, Yukon Alberta, British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Parks Canada Alberta, British Columbia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Yukon Alberta, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Yukon, Environment and Climate Change Canada
Marine Comprehensive - - - - -
Marine Moderate Environment and Climate Change Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada Fisheries and Oceans Canada Fisheries and Oceans Canada Manitoba Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Parks Canada
Marine Limited British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Parks Canada British Columbia, Manitoba, Quebec Environment and Climate Change Canada, Parks Canada British Columbia, Manitoba, Parks Canada British Columbia, Quebec, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Parks Canada British Columbia, Manitoba, Quebec, Environment and Climate Change Canada
Table 15b. Scope of information available by type for the management of terrestrial and marine protected areas.
Biome Scope of info Visitor use Visitor impacts Occurrence of invasive species Adjacent activities
Terrestrial Comprehensive - - - -
Terrestrial Moderate British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Parks Canada Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Parks Canada British Columbia, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Parks Canada Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Ontario
Terrestrial Limited Alberta, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Nunavut, Yukon, Environment and Climate Change Canada Alberta, British Columbia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Nunavut, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Yukon Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Yukon British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Yukon, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Parks Canada
Marine Comprehensive - - - -
Marine Moderate Manitoba, Quebec Manitoba, Environment and Climate Change Canada Fisheries and Oceans Canada Manitoba, Quebec, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Parks Canada
Marine Limited British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Parks Canada British Columbia, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Parks Canada British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Quebec, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Parks Canada British Columbia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island

Threats to Canada’s protected areas

Threats are part of the key elements that help guide decisions in protected area management. The Convention on Biological Diversity defines a protected area threat as "any human activity or related process that has a negative impact on key biodiversity features, ecological processes or cultural assets within protected areas". Some of the most common challenges and threats to protected areas in Canada include: incompatible land/ocean uses outside protected areas, invasive species, climate change, cumulative impacts and population declines. In addition, the lack of public awareness among Canada’s primarily urban populations could result in a lack of support for protecting and managing protected areas. These are only some of the challenges and threats protected areas managers are increasingly facing not only in Canada but also worldwide.

For terrestrial protected areas:

  • Thirteen out of 15 organisations (87%) have conducted some assessment to identify threats to their protected areas. Out of these, seven out of 13 had identified such threats for most of their protected areas, while the remainder had partially done so as of December 2015.
  • The principal threats identified by organisations reporting on terrestrial protected areas are comparable to those identified in past status reports as shown in Table 16 (table compares principal threats between 2005, 2011 and 2015) and include:
    • Incompatible land uses outside protected areas, which include activities from numerous economic sectors such as extractives (e.g. mining, oil and gas), agriculture, transport as well as urban expansion, which threaten the ecological integrity of protected areas.
    • Invasive species such as leafy spurge, purple loosestrife, hybrid cattail, scotch broom and green crabs. Four organisations reported invasive species as a serious threat with seven others mentioning the issue as important .
    • Climate change is expected to result in significant changes impacting protected areas including sea-level rise and loss of coastal areas, changing fire risk, insect outbreaks, and shifts in species ranges.
    • Cumulative impacts are still not well understood and difficult to estimate whether inside or outside protected areas. For three jurisdictions cumulative impacts are a serious threat and an important one for five others.  
    • Population declines, which also include all species listed at risk in Canada including Chestnut-collared Longspur, Greater Sage-Grouse, Short-eared Owl , Tri-colored Bat and Peary Caribou. The number of species listed on the Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act increased from 493 in 2011 to 521 in 2014, the most recent year with data available. Population declines are often the result of threats, such as those mentioned above. However, populations declines are also an important challenge for protected areas managers and can also be considered a threat to the ecological health of protected areas.
  • Alberta further noted that principal threats to specific protected areas can vary widely throughout the province from increased visitor use or excessive recreation in the south, to oil and gas development in the north of the province.
  • Nova Scotia noted three factors - isolation, disconnectedness and sites of small sizes - as the principle main threats to the health of individual protected areas.
  • Saskatchewan highlighted that many protected areas are no longer in a natural state due to suppression of the natural fire regime, fragmentation of habitat by linear development and introduction of invasive species, in addition to some recreational activities that can have a detrimental impact on protected area ecosystems if not managed properly.
Table 16. Principal threats to Canada’s terrestrial protected areas
Rank 2000-2005 2006-2011 2012-2015
1 Incompatible land uses adjacent to protected areas Climate change Incompatible land uses outside of protected areas
2 Habitat fragmentation Cumulative impacts Invasive species
3 Invasive species Incompatible land uses adjacent to protected areas Climate change
4 Increasing visitor use Population declines Cumulative Impacts
5 - Invasive species Population declines

For marine protected areas:

  • Six out of nine organisations (67%) have conducted threat assessments with four of these having done so for most of their marine protected areas and the other two having assessed threats for a portion of their network/system only.
  • Although similar threats to terrestrial protected areas were identified, their ranking differed somewhat with the top three threats being: climate change, incompatible ocean uses outside protected areas, and population declines. Catastrophic events was identified as a serious threat by one jurisdiction (British Columbia).
  • Other important threats identified  included: invasive species, loss of habitat, compromised water quality, overuse of natural resources inside protected areas, interruption of natural cycles, infrastructure development adjacent to protected area sites, ocean acidification, marine debris and microplastics.

Protected Areas Reporting

For terrestrial protected areas:

  • Eight out of 15 organisations (53%) reported that they assess and report on the state of their terrestrial protected areas through processes embedded in legislation or policy.
  • Out of these eight , five ( British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan, Parks Canada) do so on a systematic basis. 
  • Manitoba also reports on its protected areas through other reporting mechanisms including the Manitoba Sustainable Development Annual Report. Under the Sustainable Development Act, Manitoba also reports on the implementation of and compliance with the principles and guidelines of sustainable development, which includes reporting on the total increase in designated and protected lands in the province.
  • Alberta reports sporadically, while Nunavut and Environment and Climate Change Canada reported that they did not conduct regular assessment and reporting of their protected areas. 
  • Northwest Territories reported that, while assessing and reporting on the status of protected areas was not embedded in legislation, it has been working on completing its first State of Conservation Network Report, that includes the state of protected areas, in 2016.
  • For Quebec, an assessment on the status of protected areas (for both marine and terrestrial sites) is conducted through the review of management plans every seven years initially, then every 10 years for sites under the Natural Heritage Conservation Act (Loi sur la conservation du patrimoine naturel). Parks administered by the Kativik Regional Administration are managed according to a single management plan which requires regular assessments.

For marine protected areas:

  • Three out of nine organisations reporting on marine protected areas (33%) had measures in place to assess and report on the state of marine protected areas with such process entrenched in legislation or policy (British Columbia, Environment and Cilmate Change Canada, Parks Canada).
  • Out of these, only British Columbia and Parks Canada, had implemented such measures on a systematic basis, while Environment and Climate Change Canada was not doing so regularly.
  • Two other organisations reported implementing measures to assess and report on the state of their marine protected areas on a systematic basis, Manitoba and Quebec.

Protected area downgrading, downsizing and degazetting

Over time, organisations may make changes that will affect the level of protection of an established protected area or its size. Reasons for such changes vary greatly and can include the rectification of boundaries with improved mapping, changes in management approach or for operational reasons such as to facilitate activities permitted, changing the status of the site because the protected area is no longer serving its original purpose or recognition that the site does not meet the definition of a protected area. Although organisations can also improve or upgrade the level of protection or increase the size of a protected area, this section mainly focuses on three types of actions undertaken during the reporting period, unless otherwise noted (see Table 17):

  1. downgrading (decreasing the level of protection or restrictions),
  2. downsizing (reducing the size of the site by changing its boundaries) or
  3. degazetting/delisting/deregulating (removing its status so that the site is no longer considered a protected area).
Table 17. Protected area downgrading, downsizing and degazetting: changes since 2011
Jurisdiction Number of protected areas downgraded Number of protected areas downsized Number of protected areas degazetted/delisted/deregulated Total area affected by jurisdiction (km2)
Alberta - - 2 20
British Columbia 4 15 1 295
Northwest Territories - - 3 6 028
Ontario - 1 1 3
Prince Edward Island - - 1 <1
Quebec - 1 421 2 422
Parks Canada - 1 - <1
  • One provincial jurisdiction decreased the level of protection for some protected areas. In total, 1.44 km2 of protected area was downgraded across 4 terrestrial protected areas.
    • In British Columbia, small portions of four sites were downgraded to British Columbia’s Protected Area status, a category that allows for one or more activities usually not allowed in parks. Sites affected included the Dzawadi/Upper Klinaklini River Conservancy , Stawamus Chief Park, Elk Falls Park, and the Anhluut’ukwsim Laxmihl Angwinga’asanskwhl Nisga’a [a.k.a. Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park] for a total of 1.44 km2.
  • In March of 2015, the province of Quebec upgraded the majority of its proposed aquatic reserves and biodiversity reserves from International Union for the Conservation of Nature Category III to Category II.
  • Four jurisdictions downsized or reduced the size of protected areas by 485 km2 in total:
    • In British Columbia, 15 terrestrial parks saw their boundaries changed (e.g., correcting administrative errors, improved mapping accuracy, boundary rationalization, etc.) for a combined total reduction of 0.90 km²;
    • Silent Lake Provincial Park of Ontario was reduced by 0.09 km2 as a result of improved mapping accuracy; 
    • Nahanni National Park Reserve was reduced by 0.1 km2, to rectify an overlapping area of protection that was created when the park was expanded in 2009.
    • In Quebec, and according to lands covered by agreements, a section of the réserve de parc national du Cap-Wolstenholme was transferred to an Inuit community of Nunavik. This area included a terrestrial portion of 465 km2 and a marine portion of 19 km2
  • Seven jurisdictions degazetted or delisted protected areas totaling approximately 8 281 km2:
    • Alberta: two Natural areas (total of 20 km2) were converted to Provincial Recreation Areas and will no longer be considred protected areas (Redwater and North Bruderheim).
    • British Columbia: One recreation area (Atlin Recreation Area) saw was partially upgraded to park status (92 km2) and approximately 292 km2 was removed from the protected areas system.
    • Northwest Territories: a re-evaluation revealed that previously reported three sites (total of 6 028 km2) did not meet the required criteria for a protected area and thus are no longer considered as protected areas (Hidden Lake Territorial Park, Gwich'in Territorial Park, and Gwich'in Land Use Plan Conservation Zones). 
    • Ontario: Le Pate Provincial Nature Reserve, an area of 2.5 km2, was deregulated.
    • Prince Edward Island: an area of 0.0125 km2 was required to improve road alignment and safety. 
    • Saskatchewan: lands of lower ecological value under The Wildlife Habitat Protection Act are being degazetted and sold to lessees, moderate value lands area also being degazetted and sold, but remain protected under private title by a Crown conservation easement. However, and in parallel, vacant Crown lands of higher ecological are being added into the regulations.
    • Quebec: eight of the sites inlcuded in the 1999 répertoire des milieux de conservation volontaire have been delisted because they no longer met the International Union for Conservation of Nature protected areas classification criteria (total of 17 km2). In addition, Quebec conducted an analysis of the network of protected areas and mining and existing gas rights in 2013. Protected areas with up to 25% of their area under industrial rights had that portion of the protected area removed from the Registre des aires protegées du Québec. The entire protected area was removed if the area under industrial rights exceeded 25%. In total, an area of 1 921 km2 was removed. However, protected areas with industrial rights on a portion of their area retained their legal designation. Subsequently, when industrial rights were withdrawn, these areas were reinstated in the Registre des aires protegées.

Funding and resources for protected areas

A comprehensive assessment of funding is beyond the scope of this report, however some protected areas organisations were able to provide estimates of annual expenditures. This enables a general overview to be presented in Table 18.

Table 18. Estimated annual expenditures on protected areas for provinces, territories and federal protected area agencies
Jurisdiction Annual expendituresn Expenditure per km2o
Albertap $103,000,000 $3,732
British Columbia $47,000,000 $329
Manitobaq $400,000 Not available
New Brunswickr $2,600,000 $896
Northwest Territories $1,000,000 $42
Nova Scotias $5,900,000 $1,513
Nunavut $2,100,000 $2,100
Ontario $91 000,000 $853
Prince Edward Island $100,000 $667
Quebec $4,200,000 $28
Saskatchewant $43,970,000 $792
Yukonu $4,200,000 $200
Environment and Climate Change Canada $11,600,000 $111
Parks Canadav $419,587,000 $1,190

n Annual expenditures include an estimate of capital, operations and other expenditures rounded up to the nearest $100,000. This information was provided by each of the provinces,territories or federal organisations in the table above. Methodologies for determining expenditures vary between jurisdictions so any comparisons should be made with caution. For certain jurisdictions such as Alberta and Nova Scotia, expenditures are for all natural and recreational areas including some sites that are not recognized as protected areas (for example, most provincial parks in Nova Scotia). No information was available from Newfoundland and Labrador or Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

o Expenditures per km2was calculated by dividing the annual expenditures for each province, territory or federal department by the total protected area (terrestrial and marine) under their administration including areas managed under shared governance arrangements.

p Annual expenditures for Alberta reflect the resources allocated for all parks and protected areas managed by the Parks Division. A large proportion of these expenditures flow to high use and capital intensive sites, and are not necessarily limited to sites that are designated as protected areas.

q Annual expenditures for Manitoba reflect the annual resources that were allocated for the Protected Areas Initiative from 2012-2016. These resources go toward protected area planning and establishment, and therefore would only apply to km2 established during the reporting period.

r Annual expenditures for New Brunswick reflect annual resources allocated to protected natural areas on Crown Land and to three provincial parks, with the majority being dedicated to park operations and management.

s For Nova Scotia, these numbers include expenditures for all provincial parks, most of which are not protected areas.

t Annual expenditures for Saskatchewan include those for provincial park lands and the adminsiration of the Representative Areas Network.

u Annual expenditures for Yukon are not specific to protected areas only, but reflect annual resources allocated to the agency.

v Expenditures for Parks Canada are related to the establishment and operations of protected areas.

  • Six out of 15 organisations reporting on terrestrial protected areas (40%) and 5 out of 9 organisations reporting on marine protected areas (56%) reported that an assessment of the resources needed to effectively deliver on their protected areas program now or in the near future had been carried out.
    • Northwest Territories reported that while an assessment had been undertaken in 2005, a new assessment of the resources associated with long-term funding for the management and monitoring of new protected areas is needed.
    • Nova Scotia reported that a needs assessment was completed and and presented in support of the province’s annual budgeting process.
    • British Columbia reported that while the budget for BC Parks remained largely static during the 2012-2015 period, the cost of operating and maintaining the Province’s parks and protected areas system has risen each year due to increases in costs of a number of inputs including; labour, fuel, infrastructure amortization and maintenance. BC Parks has implemented a number of strategies to address the shortfall, including, shortening operating seasons, eliminating park ranger positions, reducing proactive maintenance activities and other program cuts. The British Columbia Parks Financial Sustainability Initiative, mandated in 2013, aims to enhance revenue, enhance relationships with Park Operators and business communities, enhance relationships with First Nations, provide greater levels and diversity of services to park visitors, and facilitate a change to BC Parks organisational culture.
    • With respect to assessing resource needs, British Columbia noted that it has a variety of assessment tools for identifying and prioritizing resource needs, including:
      • The Levels of Management - Visitor Services Project, which provides a provincial framework to prioritize the allocation of visitor services resources. This information is used to set park fee levels, supported decisions on service reductions, and to identify needed investments (or disinvestments) in services and facilities for each park.
      • The Conservation Risk Assessment contains information on a park by park basis of the values, threats and an overall conservation integrity score, which is then used to develop a list of management actions on an annual basis. The list is then prioritized and resources are allocated to the highest priority items.
  • Environment and Climate Change Canada reported that its current needs assessment estimates that the Protected Areas Program would require significantly more funding to operate effectively. The estimated funding needs are based on a preliminary costing of final and draft protected area management plans, estimates of fixed costs, estimates related to the implementation of a Performance Measurement Framework for the Program, and resources required to support other parts of the department that enable program operations. This level of investment would result in expenditures of approximately $280 per km2 for Environment and Climate Change Canada Protected Areas.
  • Fisheries and Oceans Canada reported that an analysis of the costs associated with marine protected areas establishment and management has been undertaken.
  • Saskatchewan reported that the provincial Parks Service does conduct assessments of capital budget and infrastructure needs. Specifically, an annual inventory of parks facilities and activities, including park visitation and costing of infrastructure operations is conducted - this is used as a basis for annual budget allocations to each park. 

Assessment of benefits of protected areas

Beyond their biodiversity conservation value, many organisations recognize the range of benefits, both direct and indirect, that protected areas provide to local communities and economies. These include opportunities for recreation, tourism and employment, scientific research and education, cultural heritage discovery and interpretation, human health and well-being, and a number of other ecosystem services. This range of benefits was demonstrated by initiatives and studies undertaken from 2012-2015, as highlighted below.

  • In Alberta, the positive effects of protected area visitation on health and well-being are being recognized. Along the lines of previous studies on the subject, Lemieux et al. (2015)Footnote6 examined the perceived and reported motives and benefits among Alberta park visitors. Over the summers of 2012 and 2013, 67.8% of survey respondents indicated improvement in several indices of mental and physical health and well-being following their day or overnight park experiences. The need for equal access to these types of benefits for all citizens is, in part, what drives the Push to Open Nature Initiative of Alberta Parks. Push to Open Nature works to remove barriers in new and existing facilities as well as in programs and daily operations in all of Alberta’s parks. The goal of the initiative is to ensure that people of all abilities can participate in nature-based experiences and outdoor recreation.
  • Ontario is exploring how an ecosystem services framework can be used to assess and measure the contributions of parks and protected areas to human welfare. Predictive models can be used to evaluate the potential impacts of alternative management scenarios, or to map where and how benefits flow to communities in order to better target future land acquisitions. The results can be found in a 2013 report produced for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry entitled Mapping the Off-site Benefits from Protected Areas’ Ecosystem Services.
  • Organisations reported many examples of how protected areas tourism boosts local community employment. Ecotourism associated with boat tours of Witless Bay Ecological Reserve continue to be an important local industry in Newfoundland and Labrador, while tourism generated from low-impact wilderness-based recreation brings a significant benefit to the communities surrounding many of the wilderness areas, reserves, and parks of Nova Scotia. A study done by the Société des établissements de plein air du Québec revealed that 5,200 people were employed in Québec provincial parks in 2014, and that for each day spent in a park, a visitor contributed $66 on average to the local economy. British Colombia reports how successful grizzly bear viewing tour operators in Khutzeymateen Provincial Park have contributed a percentage of profits to fund two First Nations interpreter positions in the park.
  • The 2008 Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement for National Wildlife Areas and Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, signed between Environment and Climate Change Canada and five Designated Inuit Organisations in the Nunavut Settlement Area, has brought about positive changes to the 11 communities associated with these sites. Thanks to the core activities funded under the Agreement, benefits have started to flow including increased capacity to participate in conservation and research activities, and income related to tourism. The Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement expired in 2014, and its renewal was under negotiation as of December 31, 2015.

Brokenhead Wetland Ecological Reserve: A successful community partnership for conservation

People have been attracted to the Brokenhead Wetland in Manitoba for many years. The local Ojibway Nation communities have used it for medicinal plant collection, cultural activities and hunting, and continue to do so today. Orchid lovers and eco-tourists visit it for the many beautiful and rare species found there. Although this area is wonderfully attractive, visitation has been discouraged in the past because of the risk of damage to the rare plants and their habitat.

Debwendon Inc. (meaning “trust” in Ojibway) was formed in 2007 to promote and preserve the Brokenhead Wetland Ecological Reserve, to raise public awareness of the historic cultural connection between the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation and the wetland, and to construct and maintain a boardwalk and interpretive trail adjacent to the ecological reserve. It is made up of volunteers from two non-profit organisations, Native Orchid Conservation Inc. and the Manitoba Model Forest, along with the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation and Eastside Aboriginal Sustainable Tourism Inc. Manitoba Parks has recently partnered with Debwendon Inc. to construct a floating boardwalk, with funding support from the Eugene Reimer Environment Fund at The Winnipeg Foundation. An interpretive trail has been created adjacent to the ecological reserve, within a 100 metre-wide buffer that follows the reserve boundary for 1.2 km, which includes interpretive nodes that indicate where specific plants such as orchids, pitcher plants, and Labrador tea can be seen along the trail. As this initiative rolls out, live interpretation highlighting the special relationship between the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation and the wetland will be provided, along with ongoing trail maintenance, by Brokenhead Ojibway Nation members employed over the coming seasons. This installation of boardwalks, signage and live interpreters will enable the public to safely visit the area for aesthetic, educational and cultural reasons without causing further damage to the native plants and their habitat.

This has been a unique and successful partnership between the provincial government, a First Nation, conservation organisations and a locally established endowment fund to protect this rare wetland area and share it with the world.

Protected areas visitation

Tourism and visitation has been intricately linked to protected areas since their modern-era conception. Indeed, for many of us, it is only by visiting and pursuing recreation in protected areas that we come to understand and appreciate their value to nature conservation. In the fundamental sense, visitation to protected areas is about a process in which visitors personally connect with their natural and cultural heritage through compelling experiences, thereby fostering support for those and other protected areas.

The importance of visitation and tourism in protected areas conservation has been recognized by organisations and jurisdictions the world over. Yet many have also recognized the potential negative impacts of recreation and visitation, particularly on sensitive habitats which succumb quickly to the effects of human disturbance. As such, many protected area managers limit access to sensitive zones or limit time of use to try and minimize negative human impacts.

For terrestrial protected areas:

  • In Canada, from 2012 to 2015, all 15 organisations who administer terrestrial protected areas allow public visitation. Just over half of these organisations open all of their protected areas to the public (Alberta, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Yukon, Nunavut, Northwest Territories and all of the National Parks of Parks Canada), while for the other half (British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Quebec, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Environment and Climate Change Canada) public access is possible in the majority of the protected areas (equivalenet to about 76-100% of the area).
  • As a part of policy, planning and management of terrestrial protected areas, visitation is incorporated as a primary objective for four jurisdictions (Parks Canada, British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nunavut); as a secondary objective for seven (Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec, Yukon, and Environment and Climate Change Canada); not an objective but mentioned in policy, planning and management for four (New Brunswick, Northwest Territories, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan).

For marine protected areas:

  • Eight out of the nine organisations reporting on marine protected areas allow public access in 76-100% of a site. Prince Edward Island does not allow any visitors.
  • For marine protected areas, the incorporation of visitation in their policy, planning and management is a primary objective for British Columbia and Parks Canada only; a secondary objective for Environment and Climate Change Canada and Quebec; not an objective but mentioned for Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Manitoba; and not mentioned at all for New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island.

Whether visitation is encouraged or not, certain aspects of visitation are controlled by a variety of policies, strategies or specific guidelines for all jurisdictions. Table 19 indicates the number of protected area organisations employing different types of measures.

Table 19. Use of different measures to regulate the impacts of visitation in protected areas
Type of Control Measure Number of organisations (out of 15) using the measure in terrestrial protected areas Number of organisations (out of 9) using the measure in marine protected areas
Regulation of visitor use 12 3
Spatial restrictions on visitor access 11 3
Design of buildings or infrastructure 10 2
Construction of buildings and infrastructure 10 3
Waste management 7 2
Water use 4 2
Energy use 3 1

Several organisations reported that management of visitor use and infrastructure development is more prevalent in provincial parks than in other types of provincial protected areas. For example, there is little construction or infrastructure development in wilderness areas and nature reserves except in a small number of cases of trails, trailheads, parking lots, and designated campsites.

Ten out of 15 organisations reporting on terrestrial protected areas, and three out of nine organisations reporting on marine protected areas reported that they had programs or initiatives in place to increase visitation. Table 20 shows the most frequently cited targets of such programs or initiatives.

Table 20. Targets of visitation programs
Visitation Promotion Program Target Number of organisations (out of 10) for terrestrial protected areas Number of organisations (out of 3) for marine protected areas
Linking parks with healthy/active lifestyle 8 2
Opportunities for sustainable recreation 8 3
Engaging youth 7 2
Engaging new Canadians 4 2

Other visitation promotion programs and initiatives being delivered in Canada include:

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Connecting Canadians to Nature initiative to attract communities to their closest National Wildlife Area to explore trails and participate in organized activities like bird-banding;
  • Trail development in Prince Edward Island;
  • Parks Canada’s Learn-To-Camp program helps Canadians build the skills and confidence required to enjoy camping and other activities in protected areas.
  • Education and outreach programming to draw visitors to protected areas in Nova Scotia;
  • Informing potential visitors using tourism publications (brochures and guides), as well as delivering orientation trips for tour operators in Nunavut.

Attracting Paddlers and other Visitors to the Musquash Estuary Marine Protected Area

Public awareness and education are critical factors in ensuring the long term success of a marine protected area, especially in the Musquash Estuary Marine Protected Area which has coastal access.

Every year since 1998, with the support of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Conservation Council of New Brunswick has hosted the Musquash Paddle. The paddle is an opportunity for community members and visitors to experience the Musquash Estuary--which is connected to the Bay of Fundy, 20 km southwest of Saint John, New Brunswick--from a kayak or canoe with the help of a guide who is extremely knowledgeable of the estuary. Every year the paddle is well attended and community members can learn about the Marine Protected Area and the estuary ecosystem while experiencing its natural beauty.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Conservation Council of New Brunswick also collaborated in 2013 to update the Musquash Estuary Marine Protected Area brochure, called “Discover Musquash” that describes the Marine Protected Area and recreational activities that residents and visitors are able to undertake there. Distributed to tourism-based businesses throughout New Brunswick, the revised brochure serves to increase public interest in and awareness of the Marine Protected Area.

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