Country Profiles

Canada - Country Profile

Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Canada supports a remarkable diversity of tundra, forest, grassland, freshwater, and ocean ecosystems. The country encompasses a surface area of 9.98 million km², approximately 6.7% of the Earth’s total, and is bordered by three oceans with 243,000 km of coastline. About 40% of Canada is forests and woodlands, representing about 10% of the world’s total forest cover. It has been estimated that Canada has about 25% of the world’s wetlands, occupying roughly 14% of the country’s area. Approximately 8,500 rivers and over 2 million freshwater lakes cover almost 9% of Canada’s total surface area. Scientists have identified over 70,000 species occurring in Canada’s diverse ecosystems, and as many more remain to be properly investigated. Canada has a low percentage of endemic species compared to many countries, but approximately 54 species of vascular plants, mammals and freshwater fish and molluscs are known to be endemic to Canada.

Canada’s terrestrial protected areas cover 933,930 km2. Since 1992, the number of protected areas has increased steadily and the percentage of land covered by protected areas was 9.4% as of June 2009. Canada’s terrestrial protected areas network consists of over 4850 protected areas, including some very old parks (e.g. Banff National Park created in 1885), areas of international significance (e.g. Queen Maud Gulf Bird Sanctuary, a RAMSAR site of Arctic tundra and marshes), and smaller areas representative of unique and endangered ecosystems. Approximately 45,280 km2 (0.64%) of Canada’s oceans are protected. Although some terrestrial protected areas on Canada’s coasts have marine components, the designation of specific marine protected areas is newer. This includes some marine areas of global significance, such as Gully Marine Protected Area, the largest underwater canyon in eastern North America, situated 200 km off the coast of Nova Scotia.

Native prairie grassland ecosystems have undergone the most extensive modification of any of Canada’s major ecological units, mostly through conversion to agricultural land, with losses continuing today. Development, mainly dyking and draining for agriculture and urban areas resulted in an estimated loss of up to 65% of Atlantic coastal marshes, up to 68% of southern Ontario wetlands, up to 70% of prairie wetlands, and up to 88% of freshwater wetlands in the Lower Fraser Valley, British Columbia. The quality of sea ice has also changed, with an increase in younger, thinner ice and a decrease in the older, multi-aged and thicker ice. Arctic summer sea ice is now 34% below the long-term average from 1979 to 2000. Loss of sea ice would constitute the loss of an entire biome. The reduction and possible loss of summer and multi-year ice would also lead to loss of tundra, changes in primary productivity and species composition, as well as large-scale changes in ocean circulation, affecting biodiversity well beyond the Arctic. Increasing numbers of species of landbirds, seabirds, freshwater fish, reptiles, and freshwater mussels are imperilled. Most populations of caribou are declining. Some genetic resources and adaptive capacity are eroding, for example the average weight of groundfish on the Scotian Shelf declined by 66% from 1970-1995 owing in part to genetic change induced by selective fishing of large individuals.

Ecosystems services provide economic, social and ecological benefits, many of which are irreplaceable by human systems. In Canada, those which could be replaced have been estimated to be worth trillions of dollars globally. Indeed, much of the Canadian economy is built on a natural resource base; recent statistics indicate that a significant portion of Canada’s GDP is directly related to the use of natural resources, with approximately 2.7% from forests, 8% from agriculture and agri-foods, 1.5% from the ocean sector, and many billions of dollars from nature-related tourism and recreational activities. Biodiversity also serves as the basis for the emerging “bio-based economy”, including the genomics, biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. Aboriginal peoples have also, over thousands of years, developed an intimate cultural and spiritual relationship with nature. Canada’s boreal forest services alone have been valued at approximately $93 billion per year, over 2.5 times greater than the net market value of boreal capital extraction in Canada. In addition to providing valuable goods and services, conserving biodiversity maximizes ecosystem and human adaptability to unforeseen or difficult-to-predict changes in the environment and/or economy. As such, biodiversity provides Canada with ecological resilience, which is increasingly being recognized as essential if ecosystems are to be able to adapt to stresses such as climate change and invasive alien species and reduce the risk of catastrophic change.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Degradation, fragmentation, and shifts in the structure and composition of many ecosystems are taking place owing to a number of pressures. Habitat is declining in quantity and becoming fragmented due to combined pressures from urbanization and industrial activity including agriculture, forestry, fisheries, mining and oil, and gas development. Air and water pollution, invasive alien species and wildlife disease, are also putting pressure on ecosystems and species. Climate change is having an impact on ecosystems across the country and raising questions with respect to their vulnerability and adaptive capacity. Not all management practices currently in place in Canada were designed to cope with these increased, cumulative, and complex pressures.

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

The Canadian Biodiversity Strategy, developed jointly by federal, provincial and territorial governments and released in 1996, highlights the importance of Canada’s natural assets and sets out a range of strategic directions for the conservation and sustainable use of Canada’s natural capital. In 2005, federal, provincial and territorial ministers agreed on the need for an outcomes-based framework to provide a more systematic approach to identifying national biodiversity priorities; a framework for evaluating and reporting on progress; a mechanism for continuous learning, improvement and adaptive management; and a basis for communicating with both domestic and international audiences. In 2006, they endorsed a Biodiversity Outcomes Framework for Canada. The centrepiece of the framework is a suite of national outcomes: healthy and diverse ecosystems, viable populations of species, genetic resources and adaptive potential and sustainable use of biological resources. Joint meetings of Ministers, called the Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers have taken place regularly since 2001. Following the adoption of the Biodiversity Outcomes Framework in 2006, the Canadian Councils of Resource Ministers mandated the development of an Ecosystem Status and Trends Report for Canada as a first deliverable in 2007. They also called for a study of knowledge and information needs associated with biodiversity and adaptation to climate change.

At present, Canada is developing its own national biodiversity goals and targets that are relevant domestically, using the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity (2011-2020) as a guide. Canada’s goals and targets would support and complement the long-term outcomes set in Canada’s Biodiversity Outcomes Framework.

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

One of the most significant results achieved regarding the Aichi targets is the additions to Canada’s networks of protected areas, with approximately 9.4% of Canada’s terrestrial area currently protected. The protection of ecologically sensitive lands through acquisition, conservation covenants, easements and agreements with private landowners has become more effective over the last 25 years as a result of the work of land trust organizations, and a commitment of federal and provincial governments through improved legislation, investment and tax incentives. However, despite the recent increased attention on marine protected areas, only 0.64% of Canada’s ocean area is now protected. The commitment to establish Large Ocean Management Areas (LOMAs) for all of Canada's marine regions has arisen as a significant initiative in the protection of Canada’s marine ecosystems. LOMAs extend from the coastline to the limits of jurisdiction under international law and will address large-scale ecosystem and economic development issues through the development and implementation of integrated ocean management plans. Comprehensive overview and assessment reports have been developed for each LOMA, and smaller-scale ecologically significant areas and ecologically significant species have also been identified. The conservation of genetic diversity and adaptive potential in Canadian wildlife also involves a variety of initiatives, including captive breeding programs, seed and gene banks, and the designation of species at risk. Governments, ENGOs, museums, botanical gardens, zoos, and aquaria are among the institutions involved in the conservation of genetic diversity in wildlife.

Other successful achievements include integrated, ecosystem-based initiatives, restoration of degraded ecosystems, legislation for the protection of species at risk, habitat stewardship programs, invasive alien species programs, sustainable resource management and a variety of ecosystem, species and genetic research and assessment initiatives. For example, the national regime for the protection of species at risk includes a national accord, a ministerial council, federal, provincial and territorial legislation, status assessments and listing processes, and recovery and habitat stewardship programs. Also, in response to the growing threat of invasive alien species, the federal government, working in cooperation with its provincial and territorial counterparts, developed an Invasive Alien Species Strategy for Canada in 2004. The aim of the IAS Strategy is to establish coordinated policy and a management framework (a product has been the Guidelines for the Control of Ballast Water Discharge from Ships in Waters under Canadian Jurisdiction).

Initiatives concerning the conservation and use of traditional knowledge include the Northwest Territories’ Policy on Traditional Knowledge, the Nunavut Inuit Land Use and Ecological Knowledge Database, and the Inuit Knowledge of Bowhead Study. The establishment of co-management boards as a result of land claims agreements has played a major role in developing and getting recognition for traditional knowledge. Co-management regimes now relate to wildlife, lands, waters, environmental impact assessment and planning.

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

The Federal Sustainable Development Strategy (FSDS) adopted in 2010 includes a number of biodiversity-related goals and targets and will be updated in 2013. The FSDS will be a key mechanism for advancing, as well as tracking and reporting, the federal contribution to Canada’s domestic biodiversity goals and targets. In addition, the Government of Canada is currently engaging with partners and stakeholders on the development of a National Conservation Plan (NCP). An NCP could help advance Canada’s domestic biodiversity goals and targets by building on existing successes as well as identifying opportunities to encourage innovation and further stewardship on lands in production.

All provincial and territorial governments have integrated biodiversity into government initiatives, using a variety of policies, strategies, legislation and voluntary approaches. Canadian initiatives regarding biodiversity issues deal with key sectors such as federal, provincial and territorial government, urban areas, Aboriginal peoples, academic and scientific institutions, environmental non-governmental organizations , industry and business, and stewardship.

Economic and legal incentives including environmental impact assessment are also well established. For example, as part of Canada's Species at Risk Act, the federal government established the Habitat Stewardship Program, which allocates up to $13 million per year to projects that conserve and protect species at risk and their habitats, engaging citizens in conservation projects. Another example is Canada’s Natural Areas Conservation Program, started in 2007 and targeted for non-profit, non-government organizations, which contributes to the securing of ecologically sensitive lands. Through a federal contribution of $225 million to the program, 336 properties, totalling more than 103,600 hectares, have been acquired resulting in the population of 74 species at risk.

At the national level, the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment provides a formal mechanism for intergovernmental discussion and coordinated approaches to regional and national environmental issues, including water demand and use management, the regulation of municipal wastewater effluents, and water quality. Regarding public awareness, universities, research institutes, museums, zoos, aquariums, and botanical gardens play an important role in biodiversity education and are some of the best places to explore biodiversity issues.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Across the country, Conservation Data Centres provide biodiversity data for management and planning. Reports on the general status of more than 1600 Canadian wild species are now produced every five years, with the first having been released in 2000. NatureServe Canada, a network of eight independent conservation data centres covering all ten provinces and the Yukon Territory, increases the quality, standardization and accessibility of this data. Conservation Data Centres conduct biological inventories to find and document populations of rare species, study and classify vegetation communities, analyze critical conservation issues, provide customized information products and conservation services, and make their data widely available to the public via the Internet.

In addition, Parks Canada has a comprehensive science-based monitoring system in place to assess ecological integrity. For each major park ecosystem, a set of monitoring measures is chosen based on an understanding of ecosystem structure, ecological function and the stressors impacting on the ecosystem. Monitoring results are recorded in an information system that provides regular updates of each park’s ecological condition. Results are reported to the public in a state of parks report. Canada is also monitoring Arctic biodiversity through its participation in the Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program (CBMP), an initiative of the Arctic Council’s Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna Working Group. The CBMP is a mechanism for harmonizing and enhancing long-term biodiversity monitoring efforts across the Arctic in order to improve the detection of, and reporting on, significant trends and pressures. The resulting information will be used to assist policy and decision-aking at the global, national, regional and local levels.