Key finding overview
KEY FINDING 9. Stewardship activity in Canada is increasing, both in number and types of initiatives and in participation rates. The overall effectiveness of these activities in conserving and improving biodiversity and ecosystem health has not been fully assessed.
This key finding is divided into four sections:
- Key finding overview (this page)
- Standards and codes of practice
- Stewardship on private land
- Community-based stewardship
Stewardship is the responsible management of land and water to ensure its values and services are maintained for future generations. Strong stewardship initiatives are based on ecological principles and involve long-term commitments. They build on a strong connection between people and their natural heritage and encompass a broad suite of strategies. Stewardship is important because, while protected areas are the most visible form of ecosystem conservation, they conserve only a small fraction of the land and seascape. With continued pressure on the land and oceans, effective conservation tools that encourage good stewardship are crucial to ensure long-term ecosystem viability and sustainability. Stewardship also contributes to the economy by creating jobs and sustainable businesses.
Although stewardship is not new, it has increased greatly since the 1980s.1 There are now over a thousand stewardship groups and over one million people in Canada2 participating in thousands of initiatives on private and public lands. These vary from small grassroots community projects to programs operated by corporations, environmental non-government organizations, and all levels of government. In the last ten years, the importance of stewardship to long-term sustainability has been increasingly recognized and is being translated into policy and practice.1, 2 A good example is Canada’s Stewardship Agenda,3 endorsed in 2002 by Canada’s resource ministers.
There are no comprehensive national data on stewardship activities in Canada, nor are there comprehensive analyses of trends in its overall success in conserving biodiversity. This key finding uses examples from across the wide spectrum of stewardship initiatives to provide evidence of its growth. Improved monitoring of stewardship activities is required to determine its success.
Standards and codes of practice
Over 94% of Canada’s forests, 100% of water, and large areas of rangelands are publicly owned. A number of standards, codes of practice, and certification programs are available that encourage biodiversity conservation in these areas, and on private forest and agricultural land. Examples include:
- five Pacific coast and seven Atlantic coast fisheries that are certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council.4 For some fisheries, this is related to success in reducing by-catch. Levels of by-catch of cod, Greenland halibut, and American plaice are less than 2.5%5 and have been reported at lower levels in some areas;6
- 28% of farms in Canada indicated in 2006 that they had developed Environment Farm Plans to reduce the impact of agricultural practices on the environment.7
Forest certification in Canada
To earn certification for their forest lands, forest companies must demonstrate stewardship activities and biodiversity conservation under a sustainable forest management framework. In Canada, the amount of forest land receiving such certification has been steadily increasing since 2000. As of 2009, almost 1.5 million km2, 87% of the working forest area in Canada, had received certification. This represents 40% of the world’s certified forest.8
Stewardship on private land
Approximately 50% of the 900,000 km2 of private land in Canada was identified in 1994 as being at high risk of biodiversity loss due to ecosystem degradation and landscape fragmentation,9 making stewardship very important. Private land stewardship takes many forms, including financial incentives; broad international, national, and regional programs delivered by non-government organizations; demonstration and extension programs; information and education support; and small community-driven projects. Many of these, particularly education-related initiatives that strive to develop a long-term stewardship ethic, are particularly difficult to monitor in terms of results for biodiversity.
Support through information
Sharing of information and best practices that promote adoption and maintenance of sustainable land use is an important part of stewardship. The Stewardship Centre for British Columbia10 is a virtual online centre that encourages environmental stewardship by providing technical support and capacity-building tools and resources. It fosters partnerships among stewardship organizations, government, and the private sector. The Centre’s Stewardship Series provides guidelines for local governments, developers, and stewardship groups to support healthier and more sustainable development practices. The Centre also helps to build capacity of stewardship organizations by providing core funding. The Centre is affiliated with the Stewardship Canada Portal, the Land Stewardship Centre of Canada, and other stewardship centres across the country.
Broad-scale, long-term commitment to stewardship: North American Waterfowl Management Plan
The North American Waterfowl Management Plan was established in 1986 in response to plummeting waterfowl numbers exacerbated by wetland drainage and drought. An initiative of Canada and the U.S., and joined in 1994 by Mexico, the plan recognized that waterfowl populations could not be restored without continental cooperation across a broad landscape. Its goal is to restore waterfowl populations to average 1970s levels by conserving habitat through regional public-private partnerships called “Joint Ventures” that are guided by the best available science and a continental landscape vision.11 It includes a broad range of approaches, one of which is agricultural stewardship. For example, the Prairie Habitat Joint Venture works with farmers to encourage waterfowl-friendly cropping practices such as the planting of fall-seeded cereals like winter wheat. Winter wheat reduces disturbance and provides cover for early nesting species like northern pintail. The area seeded to winter wheat increased from 1992 to 2007.12 Declines in the last two years are a result of a late fall harvest related to weather. Partners through the initiative influenced the stewardship of over 70,000 km2 of wetland, shoreline, grassland, and agricultural habitat across southern Canada between 2000 and 2009.13
Growth of land trusts in Canada
Land trusts are non-profit organizations, usually community based, working for the long-term protection of natural heritage, and some more recently for protection of agricultural land. Taking many forms and using a variety of approaches, they are playing an increasingly important role in conservation of biodiversity in Canada. They have been growing in size and number over 85 years, with volunteers as their backbone. The number of land trusts in Canada roughly doubled from 1995 to 200514 to over 150 organizations.1 As of June 2010, the 50 member groups of the Canadian Land Trust Alliance had protected over 27,000 km2 of land through the involvement of almost 20,000 volunteers, over 200,000 members and supporters, and 800 staff.15
Conservation easements in the Prairies
A conservation easement is a legal tool that imposes restrictions on current and future use of land by registering the restriction on the land title. Of the approximately 1,200 km2 of land under 1,400 conservation easements across Canada in 2007, about 90% were in the Prairies (representing 70% of the total number of easements).16 Much of the habitat important for biodiversity in the Prairies is on agricultural land, and this is where 90% of prairie easements are located. Some agricultural uses, such as grazing, continue under the easements. The number of conservation easements registered per year in the Prairies has increased from fewer than 10 in 1996 to over 180 in 2006.16
Tax incentive programs: Ontario
Two voluntary programs in Ontario, the Managed Forest Tax Incentive Program and the Conservation Land Tax Incentive Program, provide examples of tax incentives to private landowners to encourage long-term stewardship and biodiversity conservation. Both programs provide property tax relief to landowners who protect conservation values – such as forests, wetlands, and endangered species habitat – on their lands.17, 18 Participation in both has increased since their inception. By 2008, over 11,000 properties were enrolled in the Managed Forest Tax Incentive Program, covering 7,580 km2, and over 16,000 properties covering over 2,170 km2, were enrolled in the Conservation Land Tax Incentive Program.19
Habitat restoration at Blackie Spit, Surrey, British Columbia
Stewardship initiatives led by communities or individuals are one of the most promising areas of stewardship with great potential for expansion.20 Grassroots stewardship projects inspired by local watershed and landscape issues work to protect and conserve biodiversity. The total number of community-led initiatives in Canada is not known.
Linking Traditional Knowledge and science: Nunavut Coastal Resource Inventory
Knowledge co-produced by holders of Traditional Knowledge and scientists forms the basis of many northern resource management and stewardship initiatives.21-23 Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (Inuit Traditional Knowledge), for example, is based on many generations of experience and understanding of ecosystems and local conditions in the North and brings that perspective to stewardship initiatives. The Igloolik pilot project of the Nunavut Coastal Resource Inventory, a collaborative coastal monitoring program of the Government of Nunavut, the Nunavut Research Institute, and the Igloolik Hunters and Trappers Organization, initiated in 2007, used both community elders’ knowledge and science to produce a database, including maps of mammal migration routes and a wealth of information on use of coastal locations by marine mammals. The information is available to all partners in the inventory and serves as a model for future collaborative work in other communities. The inventories can be used, for example, in the development of sustainable fisheries, coastal management plans, environmental impact assessments, sensitivity mapping, community planning, development of coastal parks, and as a means to preserve local ecological knowledge.24
Protecting eider ducks through community stewardship, Labrador
Many coastal communities have a long history of settlement and use of coastal resources. The residents around St. Peter’s Bay, Labrador, provide a good example of coastal community-based stewardship. Small islands provide critical nesting habitat for common eiders and reducing disturbance and predation during nesting is essential to their survival. St. Peter’s Bay residents have been installing and maintaining nest shelters since 2003 to protect the nests and young, and educating their communities on good stewardship practices.25 In 2009, recognizing the importance of the bay for up to 650 common eider nesting pairs,25three communities took their stewardship commitment one step further by signing a Coastal Stewardship Agreement with the provincial government to ensure the long-term sustainability of the eider population by conserving approximately 38 km2 of habitat.
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