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New wilderness protection report shows areas of progress and concern across Canada

Ottawa –The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society is pleased that Canada has made progress in the past decade in increasing the amount of protected wilderness, but concerned that we continue to lag behind the global average of nearly 13% of land permanently protected, according to a report released today by Global Forest Watch Canada. (PDF)

“This timely report from Global Forest Watch Canada shows that only 8.5% of Canada’s wilderness today is permanently protected. This is far below the amount that needs to be protected to conserve our country’s biodiversity. We know that the primary reason that biodiversity continues to decline so badly is habitat loss, so protecting much more land from industrial development is key to conservation,” says CPAWS National Conservation Director Alison Woodley.

CPAWS’ vision is that Canada will protect at least half of our public lands and waters. There is growing scientific evidence that this is the magnitude of protection needed to ensure that the full diversity of life within our country will survive and flourish in the future.

Canada lags behind other countries

Canada still lags far behind other OECD countries like New Zealand and the U.S. which have respectively protected 26% and nearly15% of their land. Many other countries, including Costa Rica, Cambodia, Thailand and Poland have protected over 20% of their territory, and some countries like Guatemala and Botswana have set aside more than 30% or their lands in protected areas.

“With our vast and relatively intact landscape, Canada has a huge opportunity to become a world leader in protected areas. We need to step up to the challenge,” adds Woodley. On a positive note, CPAWS is encouraged by signs in the Global Forest Watch Canada report that Canada is moving in the right direction.

Progress made by federal government, some provinces and territories

Over the past decade, the percentage of permanently and temporarily protected lands in Canada has nearly doubled from 6.6% to just over 12%. However it is not yet clear how much of the temporarily protected lands will stay permanently off limits to industry. The federal government’s recent progress on creating or expanding large national parks like Nahanni in the Northwest Territories and the Mealy Mountains in Newfoundland and Labrador has made an important contribution to this increase, along with new protected areas created in many provinces and territories.

“We’re optimistic that this progress on new national parks will continue, given the recent statements in the Speech from the Throne that the federal government will create significant new protected areas,” adds Woodley.

Canadian governments have made significant commitments in recent years to continue progress on protected areas. Ontario has committed to protect at least half of its northern boreal forest. However much of the hard work of identifying which areas will be protected still needs to be done in partnership with Aboriginal communities. Quebec has committed to set aside half of the northern part of the province from industrial development to protect the environment and safeguard biodiversity. Manitoba has recently announced large new protected areas that will raise the amount of land protected in the province to 10%. In 2010, Canada signed on to a new global target of protecting 17% of the world’s lands and inland waters by 2020 under the International Convention on Biological Diversity.

In the Northwest Territories, Aboriginal communities are working in partnership with the federal and territorial governments, conservation organizations and industry to create a network of large protected areas through the NWT Protected Areas Strategy. Completing this work and securing permanent protection for these proposed areas is critically important to ensure the future health of northern communities and wildlife.

Most recently, the Nova Scotia government has made significant progress in expanding its protected areas system. It has just committed to establishing almost 200,000 hectares of new protected areas, raising the level of protection in the province from 8.6% to 12%.

“We’re also hopeful that the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement, signed by CPAWS, other environmental groups and the forest industry last year, will contribute to large new protected areas across Canada, developed with Aboriginal peoples and governments,” adds Woodley.

Some provinces lag behind

Several provinces stand out as lagging behind in the amount of land they have protected. Of particular note is New Brunswick, which has only protected 3.1% of its land, and has no plan in place to significantly improve on this poor record. CPAWS is also concerned about Alberta. While it started the decade as a provincial leader in wilderness protection, since 2000 Alberta has made minimal progress in establishing new protected areas. A current land use planning process may help to improve this.

“If we’re to collectively succeed in conserving Canada’s biodiversity, especially given the growing stresses caused by climate change, every jurisdiction in the country needs to work together to protect significantly more land. We think the time is ripe for more coordinated action. We want to work with governments and others to develop an ambitious nationwide conservation plan for Canada. This is also something the federal government has identified as an important priority for the coming year,” says Woodley.


For more information on protected areas and changes between 2000 and 2010 by province and territory, view Global Forest Watch’s “Report at a Glance”, Canada’s Terrestrial Protected Areas Status Report 2010: Number, Area and Naturalness, at

See regional press releases from CPAWS chapters: