Protected Areas

Terrestrial protected areas

Millions km2, 1885 to May 2009
Graph:  terrestrial protected areas. Click for graphic description (new window).
Note: the green dot is the total area protected, including protected areas with unknown dates of establishment.
Source: Environment Canada, 20092



Canada’s terrestrial protected areas network has increased steadily since 1992, when the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity was signed. As of May 2009, 4,826 protected areas, covering 9.4% (939,993 km2) of the land base, had been designated.2 This includes: some very old parks, such as Banff National Park, created in 1885 and covering 6,641 km2; areas of international significance, such as Queen Maude Gulf Bird Sanctuary, covering 63,024 km2 of Arctic tundra and marshes; and smaller areas representative of unique and endangered ecosystems, such as Point Pelee National Park, covering 15 km2 in southeastern Ontario, with many at-risk species representative of the Carolinian forest. Protected areas established after May 2009, such as the expansion of Nahanni National Park Reserve from 4,766 km2 to over 30,000 km2, are not included in this analysis.

The majority (68%) of the protected areas in Canada are managed primarily for conservation of ecosystems and natural and cultural features. Over 1,500 protected areas (31%) have also been dedicated for sustainable use by established cultural tradition.2

Photo: bowhead whales in Isabella Bay, Baffin Island, Nunavut © A.P. Taylor
Bowhead whales in Isabella Bay, Baffin Island, Nunavut

National wildlife areas in Nunavut

National Wildlife Areas protect nationally significant habitat for migratory birds, support species or ecosystems at risk, or protect rare or unusual habitat. Critical natural features are conserved and activities considered harmful to species or habitats are prohibited. Three new National Wildlife Areas were created in Nunavut in June 2010 to protect critical habitat for Arctic seabirds, bowhead whales, and other species. They will be co-managed by local and federal governments, and were chosen based on advocacy and involvement from the communities of Qikiqtarjuak and Clyde River.9

Photo: Akpait National Wildlife Area © Garry DonaldsonAkpait National Wildlife Area (774 km2) is an important area for migratory birds. It provides breeding habitat for one of Canada’s largest thick-billed murre colonies, black-legged kittiwakes, glaucous gulls, and black guillemots. It is also home to polar bears, walruses, and several species of seals.9

Qaqulluit National Wildlife Area (398 km2) is home to Canada’s largest colony of northern fulmars, representing an estimated 22% of the total Canadian population. Marine animals, including walrus and ringed seals, also use the waters of this National Wildlife Area.9 Ninginganiq National Wildlife Area (Isabella Bay) (336 km2) protects critical summer habitat for the eastern Arctic population of bowhead whales, a Threatened species.9

B.C. north and central coast-land use plan

Photo: North Coast grizzly © A.S. Wright

In one of the largest coordinated land-use planning efforts on record, B.C. and the majority of First Nations of the North and Central Coast, along with industry, environmental, and community leaders, agreed in 2007 to a unique management approach for 64,000 km2 of the B.C. coast.10 Vast areas of temperate coastal rainforest have now been protected, including the largest intact temperate rainforest left on earth, home to thousands of species of plants, birds, and animals. The land-use planning agreement protects more than 30% of the land in 114 protected areas and recommends low-impact logging regulations that will conserve 50% of the natural range of old-growth forests outside of the protected areas. Applying this management approach recognizes the critical role played by land outside protected areas in the conservation of biodiversity. An adaptive management framework is in place to monitor, learn from, and improve the management of this area on an ongoing basis.

Freshwater protected areas

In general, the protection of freshwater has not been a focus of protected area efforts, with the exception of Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area, the largest freshwater protected area in the world. Located in the Canadian part of the Great Lakes, it consists of approximately 10,000 km2 of lakebed and associated shoreline and 60 km2 of islands and mainland.2