The establishment and management of protected areas is the second element of the ecological management approach. Protected areas contribute to the conservation of biodiversity, although they must be complemented by sound stewardship across the entire country with particular attention to areas around protected areas.
The Convention defines a protected area as "a geographically defined area which is designated or regulated and managed to achieve specific conservation objectives. " Within that definition, protected areas may be established and managed to achieve one or more diverse objectives. These may include: the maintenance of ecological integrity; the conservation of ecosystem, species and genetic diversity; maintenance of essential ecological processes and life-support systems; wilderness preservation; scientific research and the protection of specific natural and cultural features; environmental education; outdoor recreation and tourism; and, in specific cases where consistent with the conservation objectives of the area, the sustainable use of resources from natural ecosystems.
Just as the purposes of protected areas vary, so too do the levels of protection afforded them. In some, human activities and access are strictly limited, while in others, multiple land-use objectives are pursued. Some protected areas fulfil more than one purpose and are zoned for different levels of protection. Site-specific analysis and establishment of management objectives is required to determine appropriate and compatible uses.
In Canada, the first protected areas were established in the late 1800s, in the first decades after Confederation. Today, federal, provincial, territorial, and regional and urban governments, and indigenous communities, individuals and private organizations acquire and manage lands to conserve biodiversity.
The World Conservation Union (IUCN) has developed a system for classifying protected areas. According to this system, about eight percent of Canada is classified as protected and about four percent removed from all commercial extractive activities. The National Conservation Areas Data Base (NCADB) developed by Environment Canada, the Canadian Council on Ecological Areas and others, identify approximately 3,500 publicly-owned protected areas covering about 800,000 km2 and approximately 10,000 km2 held by non-government groups.
Canadian Council on Ecological Areas
The Canadian Council on Ecological Areas (CCEA) was established in 1982 to encourage and facilitate the establishment and use of a comprehensive network of protected areas that are representative of Canada's terrestrial and aquatic diversity. As a non-profit, independent organization, CCEA serves as a unique forum for federal, provincial and territorial government agencies, non-government organizations, researchers, industries and other sectors involved in conserving ecological areas. Through conferences, consultations, projects and technical reports, CCEA educates and provides valuable guidance and support for efforts to complete a comprehensive Canadian network of protected areas.
Governments, conservation organizations and individuals are continuing to establish protected areas. Efforts have also been directed at improving biological inventories, ecological land classifications and planning to support the establishment of protected areas.
Despite the efforts of governments and non-government organizations, networks of ecological reserves, national, provincial, territorial and regional parks, managed wildlife areas, protected landscapes and internationally designated sites are not yet complete. Not all of our ecological regions are represented in existing protected areas networks. In some regions of the country, opportunities to establish protected areas are being diminished or foreclosed.