Canada: Over a Decade of Work

“Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the recent surge in wilderness protection in Canada has been a fairly broad public consensus that landscape conservation at a major scale needs to be implemented,” Harvey Locke, International Journal of Wilderness, April 2009

Since early 2000, Canada has recognized the importance of protected at least half and is actively working to reach this goal. Collaborative efforts between government, First Nations, environmental groups and responsible corporations have rallied for the protection of nature and have had many successes, outlined below.

Conservation groups, scientists, various governments and civil society aligning their visions

In 2003, the Boreal Conservation Framework was signed by a variety First Nations, resource companies, and conservation groups. Its goal is to protect at least 50% of the boreal forest and ensure that world-class standards are applied to extractive activities on the rest. This was based on the best scientific information available about what truly effective conservation would require. The boreal forest represents over 60% of the land mass in Canada.

In 2005, The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) Canada’s leading wilderness conservation group confirmed its national conservation vision for Canada’s Wilderness calling for the protection of at least 50% of Canada’s wilderness lands, seas and fresh water bodies.

In May 2007, more than 1,500 scientists from around the world endorsed the Boreal Conservation Framework’s vision of protecting at least half of the boreal ecosystem in Canada in an interconnected way. Scientists helped to define the map to success by highlighting the focus on:

  1. Representing all native ecosystem types in a system of protected areas
  2. Maintaining viable populations of all native species in natural patterns of abundance and distribution;
  3. Maintaining ecological and evolutionary processes;
  4. Managing landscapes and communities to be responsive to short‐term and long‐term environmental change.

Meanwhile CPAWS and Mountain Equipment Coop, the largest outdoors gear retailer in Canada, launched The Big Wild social marketing campaign calling all citizens to protect at least half of Canada’s land, fresh water and sea.

By 2008, most of Canada’s national NGOs with an interest in conservation had embraced the goal of protecting at least 50% of Canada’s remaining wild areas and begun advocating for it publicly, especially during the Federal Election campaign. Following this initiative, two out of four major political parties adopted it in the electoral platform.

From a base of about 10% of the land protected, many Canadians are moving ahead an agenda for conservation at scale in the twenty first century.

Aboriginal rights have created an important new interest in protected areas

“The Dehcho Land Use plan would protect more than 50% of our territory in interconnected conservation zones, a figure that I believe is a good rule of thumb for all First nations to pursue to ensure the future of the land and the wildlife that lives on it”

Grand Chief Herb Norwegian DehCho First Nations(2005) in “Protecting Wild Nature on Native Lands, Proceedings of the Native Lands and Wilderness Council, 8th World Wilderness Congress,” The WILD Foundation, Boulder CO.

In the last 30 years, first peoples’ rights have been recognized through jurisprudence and the Constitution Act of 1982. These rights have important implications for protected areas, particularly in regions where new treaties are negotiated.

Building on the 1980 National Park reserve to protect South Moresby Island in Gwaii Haanas, the Haida Nation have also recently achieved protection of nearly half their homeland through a combination of court challenges and negotiations with the province of British Columbia to create new conservancies. This unique combination of land and sea protection lead the way is one of the most interesting examples on how to achieve Nature Needs Half.

In the Northwest Territories, the Dehcho First Nations have also advanced a land-use plan that calls for protection of about half their traditional area as part of their treaty negotiations with Canada. As of April 2008, the amount of protected areas they seek is 25% in federal protected areas (part of which is Nahanni) and 24% in other conservation areas.

The 2009 expansion of Nahanni National Park Reserve to cover 30,000 sq km of spectacular wilderness in Canada’s Northwest Territories represented a major landmark in terms of size of area protected and cooperation between First Nations and the federal government with NGO support.

Moving ahead in Public Policy

“The Far North Planning Initiative will protect more than 225,000 square kilometers of forest and wetland, keeping it safe for future generations to enjoy, and preserving its unique climate change-fighting properties.” Premier Dalton McGuinty, Ontario

While the idea of protecting at least half of Canada is moving across society, most land management decisions are under the jurisdiction of the provinces.

The first spectacular wilderness conservation policy event relating to protecting at least half explicitly was the announcement by Premier Dalton McGuinty of Ontario in July 2008 that at least half of that province’s vast Far North would be protected. A land use planning process is being developed with that policy at the center and with a goal of about 225,000 sq km (86,873 sq. mi.) of boreal forest, wetlands, and tundra to be protected.

In November 2008, during the provincial election campaign, which his party won, Quebec premier Jean Charest promised to protect at least half of Quebec north of the 49th parallel. This area would amount to 70% of the province, and the area protected would cover an area about the size of France.

By fall of 2010, processes had been established in both Ontario and Quebec to move towards these policy goals.


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