Protected areas

Well-managed protected and conserved areas help preserve species and their habitats for present and future generations by reducing direct human development stresses. Conserved areas play a vital role in protecting Canada’s natural environment, and they provide opportunities for people to connect with nature.

The establishment of protected areas goes hand in hand with SFM in the surrounding landscape. They work alongside other measures such as integrated land-use planning, environmentally sound forest management practices, species and habitat recovery, and tax incentives, to help protect Canada’s biological diversity.

Federal, provincial, and territorial governments have a long history of working together to sustain Canada’s biodiversity. Together they designed a blueprint for the conservation and sustainable use of Canada’s living resources called the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy. Some provinces and territories also have their own biodiversity strategies. The Biodiversity Outcomes Framework for Canada complements and builds on that work.

Biodiversity goals and targets for Canada

In 2015, Canada’s federal, provincial, and territorial governments released the 2020 Biodiversity Goals and Targets for Canada in response to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity’s Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and its global Aichi Biodiversity Targets. This suite of four goals and nineteen targets reflects Canada’s particular context and priorities for biodiversity conservation and articulates the ways in which Canada will contribute to the achievement of the global Aichi Biodiversity Targets.

Canada’s goals and targets encourage:

  • Better land use planning management
  • Environmentally sustainable management across sectors
  • Improving information about biodiversity ecosystem services
  • Raising awareness of biodiversity and encouraging participation in conservation

Where possible, the national targets and their indicators are aligned with the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy and the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators to ensure robust reporting over time.

These aspirational goals and targets describe results to be achieved through the collective efforts of a diversity of players both public and private, whose actions and decisions have an impact on biodiversity. Governments need to do their part but cannot act alone.

Commitments, successful implementation and Indigenous participation

As part of the 2020 Biodiversity Goals and Targets for Canada (and the global conservation objectives of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity), Canada committed to conserve at least 17 per cent of its terrestrial areas and inland water by 2020 through networks of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures. Forest areas within protected areas make up a part of this conservation landscape.

As we achieve this goal, it is important to track which terrestrial ecosystems are being protected to ensure all ecosystems are adequately represented. Tracking the forest area within protected areas provides an indication of long-term planning to conserve these important ecosystems.

Implementation of the goals and targets will rely on meaningful, full, and effective participation of Indigenous Peoples, including First Nations, Inuit and Métis. In this respect, while Indigenous knowledge, science and customary use of biological resources are specifically highlighted under targets 12 and 15, the traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of Indigenous communities are relevant for implementing all of Canada’s biodiversity goals and targets, as is protecting and encouraging customary use of biological resources compatible with their conservation and sustainable use.

Local communities, urban and regional governments, business and industry, conservation and stewardship groups, educational and scientific institutions and citizens are also all able to contribute. Canadians are invited to commit to doing their part and to share the results of their efforts.

Taking stock of progress

As part of commitments under the Convention, all Parties are required to report every four years on progress towards implementing the Convention domestically. As a National Focal Point for the Convention on Biological Diversity, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) developed and submitted Canada’s report in November 2018. The next report is due to be released in 2022.

Prepared in consultation with other government departments, provinces, and territories, and with input from aboriginal organizations and select stakeholders, the 6th National Report takes stock of efforts by Canadian governments and their partners in biodiversity conservation. Indigenous cultures and societies are inextricably linked with the land and the water; as such, their knowledge, innovations and practices are relevant to all of Canada’s biodiversity goals and targets and therefore highlighted throughout the 6th National Report and accompanying summary.

According to the report, Canada is making steady progress towards its targets related to wetland conservation, sustainable forest management, sustainable aquaculture and agriculture, and controlling invasive alien species. Steady progress is also being made in expanding and improving the scientific information needed to support decision-makers, integrating information about biodiversity into school curricula, connecting Canadians with nature, and incorporating biodiversity considerations into both municipal planning and Canada’s national statistical system. Progress has been somewhat slower in the recovery of species at risk, ecosystem-based management of fisheries, and reducing pollution levels in Canadian waters. These will continue to be areas of shared focus in Canada moving forward.

Canada’s national parks

National parks are among Canada’s (and the world’s) natural jewels. They represent the power of Canada’s natural environment — which has shaped not only the geography of this country, but also the course of its history and the experiences of the people who live and travel here.

Canada has 48 national parks located on the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic coasts, across the interior mountains and plains and Great Lakes, reaching as far north and south as Canada goes. They range in size from 14 km2 (Georgian Bay Islands National Park of Canada) to almost 45,000 km2 (Wood Buffalo National Park of Canada — the largest park in Canada located in the heart of the boreal forest, straddling the border between Alberta and the Northwest Territories). The list of national parks includes world-renowned names such as Banff and Jasper, as well as the more recently established Ivvavik and Vuntut.

The values of protection

National parks are established to protect and present outstanding representative examples of natural landscapes and natural phenomena that occur in Canada’s 39 natural regions, as identified in the National Parks System Plan. By law, they are protected for public understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment, while being maintained in an unimpaired state for future generations.

These wild places, located in every province and territory, range from mountains and plains, to boreal forests and tundra, to lakes and glaciers, and much more. National parks protect the habitats, wildlife, and ecosystem diversity representative of — and sometimes unique to — the natural regions. National parks also act as long-term ecological research sites, serving as ecological benchmarks, for the study of natural environments, processes, and their components.

National parks provide opportunities to connect with nature, people and events that define Canada. They tell the stories of Canada’s natural beginnings — mountains forming, lakes emerging, rivers running, forests growing, glaciers moving, grasslands evolving — to anyone who takes the time to listen, to look and to understand. They tell tales of human history too, from traditional Indigenous activities, to early exploration, to European settlement, to modern use.

Understanding the importance of Canada’s natural heritage to the nation and the world and developing support for its protection are critical to the long-term health of the system of national parks.

Forest area within protected areas

Forests provide habitat for the majority of Canada’s terrestrial plant and animal species. Many forest species do well in a landscape where sustainable timber harvesting occurs while others require habitat that has not been affected by human activities (e.g. timber harvesting, road building).

Canada aims to conserve its natural diversity in interconnected networks of protected and conserved areas for the enduring benefit of nature and future generations. The establishment of protected areas and connectivity between them is therefore an essential part of land management planning.

The forest area within protected areas has increased over the past two decades with the establishment of new parks and protected areas.

For more information, see The State of Canada’s Forests 2019 Report: forest area within protected areas

Forest management planning

In Canada, forest management planning is one of the primary tools used to ensure that the country’s publicly owned forests remain healthy and vibrant and are managed sustainably.

Key to this approach is that public lands managed for forestry must, by law, have a forest management plan approved by the government before harvesting can take place. As well, parks and protected areas must have a government-approved management plan to guide conservation.

The development of these plans follows a strict process drawing upon the required input from industry, government agencies, Indigenous communities, the public and other stakeholders. Public participation ensures that the planning process is transparent and gives Canadians real influence in decision making.

Of Canada’s 347 million hectares of forest land, more than 200 million hectares are managed with a long-term (10 years or longer) management plan. This is an increase of eight per cent since 1990.

Forest areas without a long-term management plan may include areas with short-term management plans, private land, or areas for which no management plan is developed.

For more information, see The State of Canada’s Forests 2019 Report: forest management planning

Protecting and preserving our critical forests

Careful management, protection and preservation of our regions benefit both Canada and the world. Canada respects and looks after our forests in many ways, including setting aside legally protected areas, conducting scientific research, and monitoring the state of the forests.

Two examples of this are as follows.

The boreal forests

Boreal ecosystem

Stretching from Yukon to Newfoundland and Labrador across 270 million hectares (ha), the boreal forest makes up approximately 55 per cent of Canada’s land mass. The forest began to form after the retreat of the glaciers approximately 10,000 years ago and is made up mostly of balsam fir and white birch, with smaller amounts of white spruce, black spruce, and American mountain ash. Canada’s boreal forest is also home to a rich diversity of wildlife including moose, lynx, snowshoe hare, red squirrel, hermit thrush, boreal chickadee, and gray jay.

Natural disturbances

Natural disturbances such as wildfire, disease, insects, and weather have played, and continue to play, a major role in the boreal forest’s development and renewal — turning the leaves, logs and conifer needles on the forest floor into nutrient-rich ash to nourish new plant growth, and opening up the canopy to sunlight. The oldest trees and stands are those that have escaped the natural catastrophic disturbances that renew forests.

Boreal values and management

Central to Canada’s natural environment

Because a large portion of the world’s boreal zone lies in Canada (28 per cent or 552 million hectares), the boreal forest affects the health of the environment worldwide helping to store carbon, purify the air and water and regulate climate.

Central to Canada’s history and culture

Indigenous Peoples have lived in and relied upon the boreal forest for millennia, and today over 600 Indigenous communities live in the boreal region. Their spiritual, cultural, and economic relationship with the boreal forest — and often with caribou — runs deep.

Traditional knowledge held by Indigenous Peoples in Canada about the boreal forest offers western scientists a vitally important information source. With the boreal forest facing increasing threats from climate change, habitat loss and fragmentation, and invasive species, this knowledge is more important than ever.

Central to Canada’s economy

Canada’s boreal forest, and more broadly the boreal zone, is also crucial to the national economy because of the available timber and non-timber products, mineral and energy resources, and hydroelectric potential of regional rivers. The boreal forest provides food and renewable raw materials to Canadians, and creates jobs for Canadians and communities living in the boreal zone that rely heavily on the forest sector for economic stability. The forest also offers unique tourism and recreational opportunities, which contribute to the local and national economies.

B.C.’s Great Bear Rainforest

Great Bear Rainforest ecosystem

Rainforests cover less than 10 per cent of the world’s land surface. This surface area is quite small on the global scale, but the impact of this ecosystem is great: rainforests can be some of the most productive areas on Earth — the world’s rainforests have been described as the “lungs of the Earth” because of their oxygen production.

The Great Bear Rainforest covers 6.4 million hectares along British Columbia’s (B.C.’s) Pacific Coast — an area almost the size of Ireland. With one quarter of the world’s coastal temperate rainforest, Canada’s coastal rainforest is different from other temperate rainforests because it has more coniferous trees than deciduous trees, yet it is one of the wettest non-tropical areas in the world. It offers breathtaking scenery and unparalleled recreational opportunities that draw visitors from around the globe. Furthermore, its productive forest and marine resources support local communities and economies.

Over the past two decades, B.C.’s land use planning process and the unprecedented collaboration among First Nations, the B.C. government, environmental groups and forest companies, is resulting in the protection of forest ecosystems, providing economic opportunities for First Nations, and offering certainty for the forest industry through sustainable harvesting of both old and second growth managed forests.

On January 28, 2016, the B.C. government legally established the new Great Bear Rainforest Land Use Order and in May 2016 enacted the Great Bear Rainforest (Forest Management) Act as the final implementation measures, replacing the previous land use orders in 2007 and 2009. Furthermore, British Columbia has entered into government-to-government protocols with area First Nations to ensure management decisions are informed by their perspectives.

Great Bear Rainforest values and management

Supporting ecological integrity and human well-being

B.C. concurrently manages ecological integrity and human well-being in the globally unique Great Bear Rainforest through ecosystem-based management. Ecosystem-based management is an adaptive, systematic approach to managing human activities that seeks to ensure the co-existence of healthy, fully functioning ecosystems and human communities. Other provinces, such as Québec, have adopted ecosystem-based management as well.

Maintaining wildlife habitat

An integral component of ecosystem-based management implementation in the Great Bear Rainforest is to ensure there is sufficient habitat for five species of special interest — mountain goats, grizzly bears, marbled murrelets, tailed frogs, and northern goshawk.

Managing old-growth forest

The Great Bear Rainforest land use order will conserve 70 per cent of the natural range of old growth forests, with some minor exceptions, across the entire 6.4 million-hectare region over time.

Great Bear Rainforest land use zones

One third of the Great Bear Rainforest, two million hectares, is fully protected in parks and conservation areas and about nine per cent of the total area (equates to 15 per cent of the forested area) is available for timber harvesting in the managed forest.

Managed Forest comprises 550,000 hectares where harvesting of old growth and second-growth forest is focused, guided by ecosystem-based management.

Parks and Protected Areas comprise 471,000 hectares that are fully protected.

Conservancies make up 1.5 million hectares in a new conservancy designation that recognizes the importance of specific areas for First Nations.

Biodiversity, Mining and Tourism areas comprise 309,000 hectares in areas where the primary use is biodiversity conservation and protection of key ecological and cultural values. Commercial forestry and hydroelectric generation linked to the power grid are not allowed.

Special Forest Management areas totaling 273,000 hectares are in areas where hydroelectric generation, mining and tourism development is allowed if it maintains ecological integrity. Commercial forestry is not allowed. It is expected that some of these will become Biodiversity, Mining or Tourism areas, or Conservancies over time.

Certainty and security for all

Forests make up more than half of the Great Bear Rainforest — a total of 3.7 million hectares. The land use orders identify 550,000 hectares of managed forest that will support a sustainable harvest. This creates stability for First Nations, workers, communities, investors, and customers.


The forests of Canada are home to a wide range of animals, from the wood bison, the largest mammal on the North American continent, to the pygmy shrew, the smallest. Other residents of Canadian woodlands are moose, wolves, caribou, bears, rodents, rabbits, lynx, minx and some 450 species of bird. Canada’s bird population is the most dynamic of its forest wildlife with up to five billion birds flying south and returning north every year.

Species of growing concern: woodland caribou

Woodland caribou, also known as boreal caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou), are found in Canada’s boreal forests and the open taiga forests along the Hudson Bay coast.

In general, boreal caribou prefer habitat consisting of mature to old-growth coniferous forest (e.g. jack pine), black spruce with abundant lichens, or muskegs and peat lands intermixed with upland or hilly areas.

Unlike caribou that inhabit the tundra, woodland caribou do not migrate long distances between seasons, instead staying in the forest, either alone or in small groups. They need large contiguous areas of suitable habitat with low levels of disturbances.

Threats to woodland caribou

The main threat to woodland caribou is habitat deterioration, from fragmentation, degradation or loss. Habitat fragmentation can also contribute to an increase in predation.

Climate change is also having an impact on woodland caribou by shifting their geographic distribution. Additional factors impacting caribou include hunting and poaching, noise and light disturbances from resource industry development, parasites and disease.

Species at Risk Act, Recovery Strategy and Action Plan

Woodland caribou are listed as threatened under the federal Species at Risk Act, as well as under provincial legislation in OntarioBritish ColumbiaAlberta, ManitobaLabradorNorthwest Territories and Quebec. This at-risk status is largely because of habitat loss or fragmentation caused by human development.

In February 2002, a National Boreal Caribou Technical Steering Committee, represented by the 10 jurisdictions involved in the recovery of the boreal caribou, was established to develop a National Recovery Strategy for Boreal Caribou.

Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) is the federal lead for caribou protection and recovery, as per the Species at Risk Act. ECCC released a Recovery Strategy in 2012 and an Action Plan in 2018.

Natural Resources Canada–Canadian Forest Service (NRCan–CFS) plays a critical role in supporting Pillar 1 of the Action Plan, Knowledge to Support Recovery. NRCan–CFS research informs forest management and habitat restoration standards and improves predictions about climate change impacts and the future state of caribou critical habitat.

In regions with caribou populations, land, resource, and forest management plans identify areas where harvesting is allowed and the best methods to maintain caribou habitat. Research shows it is better to log a few large patches rather than many smaller ones so there are fewer roads, less habitat and landscape fragmentation, the site is less attractive to moose and deer that draw predators, and the area more closely resembles caribou habitat when it grows back in 50 to 150 years. Forest management practices consider the specific needs of different caribou populations across Canada, and forest companies operating in caribou habitat have some form of access management to limit the effects of humans and predators on caribou.