Conserving biodiversity in the forest can be done in two broad ways: through protection and through sustainable forest management.
Protection involves creating parks and other protected areas that limit resource development.
Sustainable forest management involves using practices to conserve the forest’s genetic resources. Those practices include retaining trees, creating buffer zones, managing species and using measures to emulate natural disturbances.
A protected area is a “clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values” (International Union for Conservation of Nature [IUCN] 2008).
Forest protected areas are a sub-category of protected areas. The IUCN has defined six protected area categories based on primary management objectives. They range from areas managed mainly for science and wilderness protection (Category I) to areas managed mainly for the sustainable use of natural ecosystems (Category VI).
Protected areas support:
- scientific research
- adaptation to climate change
- preservation of species and genetic diversity
- maintenance of environmental services
- protection of specific natural and cultural features
- tourism and recreation
- sustainable use of resources from natural ecosystems
- maintenance of cultural and traditional attributes
Canada’s involvement in protected areas efforts
Canada has been very active in the development of key international policies on protected areas, such as the 1987 World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), and the 1993 Convention on Biological Diversity. The Programme of Work on Protected Areas (under the Convention on Biological Diversity) is the mechanism through which member parties discuss and coordinate actions on protected areas globally.
In Canada, protected areas are a shared responsibility of the provincial, territorial and federal governments. In 1992, each jurisdiction signed A Statement of Commitment to Complete Canada’s Networks of Protected Areas, confirming Canada’s commitment to establish a network of national protected areas representing each of Canada’s 39 ecological regions.
With the 1995 Canadian Biodiversity Strategy, Canada confirmed its commitment to creating additional protected areas. Most of the provinces and territories have also developed their own strategies on protected areas. Canadian legislation, including the National Parks Act, has been developed in parallel with biodiversity and protected areas strategies, providing the legal means to create, establish and manage protected areas.
The status of protected areas in Canada
- Canada currently has approximately 8500 protected areas, representing 9.9% of its land base—almost one-fifth more than it had in 2000.
- About 95% of protected lands are within IUCN Categories I to IV. These categories largely prohibit industrial activities such as forest harvesting, mining and hydroelectric development.]
- More than 31 million hectares (8%) of forest and other wooded land in Canada are within protected areas.
- More than 23.5 million hectares (75%) of protected forest and other wooded land are considered strictly protected—an increase of 78% since 1990.
The Canadian Council on Ecological Areas has developed the Conservation Areas Reporting and Tracking System (CARTS), which provides maps of Canadian protected areas using the Google Earth application.