History of Wildlife Conservation and Management
The first European explorers and settlers in North America found wildlife in abundance. This wealth was recognized as having immediate commercial value, with FISHERIES and the FUR TRADE being the first widespread exploitive activities. As further exploration revealed the vast, sparsely populated expanse of land, it was believed that natural resources were unlimited; hence, there was no apparent need to practise CONSERVATION.
Wildlife, fish and timber were free for the taking for personal use, or could be converted into a monetary return. The practical result of this attitude became apparent in the latter half of the 19th century. WAPITI once roamed to their eastern limit in Ontario. Land development and uncontrolled harvest had extirpated them in that area by 1850. The GREAT AUK disappeared in the early 1800s and the wild turkey by 1902 (see GAME BIRDS), but only with the extinction of the once abundant PASSENGER PIGEON was there sufficient concern to cause the passage of wildlife conservation laws. While concern and consequently protective legislation developed in eastern Canada, western and northern Canada were still held to be boundless frontiers. Wapiti rapidly diminished on the prairie; by 1890 only scattered, remnant populations remained throughout their former western range. In the 1820s BISON teemed in millions, defying counting, across the North American plains. Their numbers remained significant into the late 1870s but, by 1885, they were almost gone.
The people of Canada, however, still believed in the myth of unlimited land and wildlife. Government and citizens were preoccupied with economic prosperity, transcontinental railways and Confederation.
Wildlife enthusiasts of the 1880s solemnly predicted the extinction of most large North American MAMMALS, but the next 2 decades marked a significant turning point in wildlife history in Canada. Following Confederation and the CONSTITUTION ACT, 1867, a move was made to develop wildlife conservation and protection areas. The first national park in Canada, BANFF NATIONAL PARK (established in 1885), was not created to protect wildlife, although this became one of its significant functions. The concept led to the creation of Bison Recovery Park at Wainwright, Alta, and WOOD BUFFALO NATIONAL PARK, Alta and NWT.
The first BIRD SANCTUARY in North America (and perhaps the Western Hemisphere) was created at Last Mountain Lake (Sask) in 1887; however, the declaration establishing it remained essentially unrecognized until after passage of the Canada Migratory Birds Convention Act in 1917.
Land and population protection through park and sanctuary creation became a common solution, although not always without heated argument and dispute. Sanctuaries have been created by federal and provincial governments in key locations throughout the country. Some notable coastal island sanctuaries for seabirds have been declared on Bird Rocks (part of the ÎLES DE LA MADELEINE), PERCÉ ROCK and ÎLE BONAVENTURE in the Gulf of St Lawrence, while many inland sanctuaries have also been recognized. These areas were to protect against overharvesting but they have come to reflect protection of original habitats as well.
Between 1900 and 1960 considerable success was achieved in wildlife conservation. The banning of commercial killing of wildlife over vast areas, combined with favourable climatic trends, has allowed for dramatic recovery. Bison were returned from the brink of extinction. The WHOOPING CRANE population was protected from hunting, and its nesting and wintering areas have been safeguarded. Whitetailed DEER now flourish in regrowth forests and in fringe agricultural areas. Wapiti, aided by transplanted populations, have regained strength in the mountain regions and in the localized areas of the prairie that are associated with parks. SEA OTTERS have responded to protection from commercial overharvest. BEAVER have returned from dangerously low levels to become a problem species, causing damage where populations are not controlled. Through protection, northern tundra MUSKOXEN have shown a dramatic recovery, as have prairie grassland PRONGHORN.
Legislative Jurisdiction over Wildlife
Canada's Constitution assigns legislative responsibilities to the provinces and the federal government. The provincial list is considered to be exhaustive and so if a matter is not on that list, it will fall to the federal government. The federal "residual" power is the right to govern for "peace, order, and good government." Although the Constitution Act (1867) did not specifically mention wildlife, wildlife generally is considered to be part of the land, and accordingly falls within legislative authority over "property." Subject to the exceptions mentioned below, the Constitution gives provinces the right to manage wildlife on provincial land. By the federal government's residual power, and other areas falling under federal jurisdiction, the federal government has the right to manage wildlife on federal land, and to manage wildlife in other respects, such as interjurisdictional wildlife (ie, wildlife whose habitat extends between provinces and territories or internationally, such as some WOLVES or GRIZZLY BEARS). The exceptions concern fisheries, migratory birds and wildlife management laws that negatively impact Aboriginal rights and interests.
The Constitution expressly gives the federal government the right to legislate to manage fisheries, wherever they occur in Canada. Case law, however, has preserved the right of provinces to make game laws, such as setting fishing limits. Federal legislative authority over migratory birds is grounded in the 1916 Migratory Birds Convention between Canada and the United States. The Migratory Birds Convention and the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act (amended in 1994) primarily protect species by imposing closed seasons and prohibiting harming or taking nests or eggs without lawful authority.
The CONSTITUTION ACT (1982) "recognizes and affirms" existing Aboriginal and treaty rights in Canada. Existing Aboriginal and treaty rights may concern rights to hunt or fish and to otherwise use wildlife resources. Several cases confirm that neither the provinces nor the federal government may adversely impact such rights through wildlife management legislation unless specific and acceptable consultation and, where appropriate, accommodation has occurred. In many cases Aboriginal and treaty rights have been found to prevail over wildlife legislative provisions that interfere with them.
Wildlife Conservation and Management through Wildlife Laws
Wildlife conservation and management in Canada is a reflection of legislation that can be divided into 2 groups: one concerning fisheries and marine mammals and one dealing with other forms of wildlife. The Fisheries Act of Canada provides that all fisheries and marine mammals in Canadian waters are the responsibility of Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). The DFO actively protects and manages marine mammals (seals, whales, walrus, etc) and offshore fisheries. Marine fish and mammal populations are viewed primarily as a commercial resource. Legal harvesting seasons and quotas on lobster, salmon and other species reflect the continued monitoring of populations and harvest. Harvest management, together with pollution-control laws, is designed to maintain healthy, viable populations. The industry depends on the sustained yield of a quality product.
Provincial and territorial governments have active responsibility for inland freshwater fishes, subject to federal laws. Fishes are largely managed as a recreation resource for SPORTFISHING but also have significant commercial value. The Great Lakes and the larger lakes of the northern and prairie regions support sizable industries, including the export trade. Fishes and fisheries research is conducted by both levels of government, often in concert with various universities.
Birds, land mammals, AMPHIBIANS, REPTILES, etc, make up the second major group. Migratory bird conservation is managed in an unusual manner, being conducted co-operatively by federal and provincial governments under the authority of the Canada Migratory Birds Convention Act. This law also ensures international co-ordination. Other land-related wildlife is conserved and managed primarily by provincial laws when wildlife is on provincial land, and by the federal Wildlife Act when wildlife is on federal land.
Wildlife Protection through Species at Risk Legislation
Scientists estimate that Earth's plants and animals go extinct at a rate of about 100 species a day. To help address this troubling reality, a significant legislative development since the late 1970s is protecting, in contrast to conserving and managing, wildlife in Canada, through species at risk legislation. The purposes of species at risk legislation are to secure and promote the protection and survival of threatened and endangered species in Canada. Manitoba, Ontario, Québec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador have stand-alone species at risk legislation. The balance of the provinces and territories have wildlife conservation and management legislation or policies that contain provisions relating to species at risk. The federal Species at Risk Act (2002) applies to species at risk under federal jurisdiction and may be extended to those under provincial jurisdiction in limited circumstances. Assessment of species typically involves the COMMITTEE ON THE STATUS OF ENDANGERED WILDLIFE IN CANADA (COSEWIC), which encourages and commissions studies on rare and ENDANGERED ANIMALS or on species of unknown status.
International Wildlife Protection, Conservation and Management
International conventions (such as treaties) and international institutions also work to protect, conserve or manage wildlife domestically in Canada. In addition to the Migratory Birds Convention, already discussed, the Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears (1973), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora or CITES (1973), the Ramsar Convention (to protect wetlands and associated habitat; Canada signed on in 1981), the Agreement on the Conservation of the Porcupine Caribou Herd (1987) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (1992) are among the conventions that impose obligations on Canada relating to wildlife protection and management. International institutions - such as the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, a US, Canada and Mexico framework aimed at protecting and increasing waterfowl habitat; and Yellowstone to Yukon, a US and Canada initiative that seeks to ensure that wildlife and habitat continue to function in a biologically-integrated web in this region - also significantly contribute to wildlife protection, conservation and management in Canada.
Nongovernmental Conservation Organizations and Private Stewardship
Nongovernmental conservation organizations and individuals play an increasingly active role in wildlife management and general wildlife education. Public and nonprofit organizations such as the CANADIAN WILDLIFE FEDERATION, NATURE CANADA, DUCKS UNLIMITED (Canada), WORLD WILDLIFE FUND CANADA and the Nature Conservancy of Canada, at the national level, and their provincially-based affiliates, have played a significant role in concert with government conservation agencies (eg, the CANADIAN WILDLIFE SERVICE of Environment Canada).
Population surveys are conducted regularly on a wide variety of wildlife to allow management agencies to monitor population trends and distribution. Surveys may be conducted on the ground or from aircraft, often with the aid of photographic techniques. The harvest of wildlife is monitored and recorded for comparison with other population information, in an effort to ensure the maintenance of optimal populations. Less visible wildlife forms have defied accurate monitoring techniques. Sample counts, conducted mainly by volunteer conservation organizations, provide some insight into the well-being of these species. Stewardship tools, such as conservation easements, enable private landowners to protect wildlife and other BIODIVERSITY values on privately-owned land.
Recovery of wildlife, primarily from 1920 to 1970, reflected societal concern that demanded active management programs. However, populations have returned only to those areas that remain suitable for their production. Habitats suitable for population production have been the key ingredients of conservation programs. Populations will not return where land has been modified from its natural state through agriculture or through industrial and urban development.
While many forms of wildlife are more abundant now than they were in 1870, a number of species have continued to decline to threatened levels or are in danger of extinction. Wetland drainage permanently removes the habitat required by many species. POLLUTION of rivers and estuaries renders them unfit for wildlife survival. ACID RAIN from industrial effluent stacks, automobiles and urban areas continues to sterilize vast tracts of the land and waterways of eastern Canada. Marine birds and mammals increasingly face the threat of offshore oil spills and general pollution of the oceans. The direct threat of uncontrolled harvest, so devastating in the 19th century, has been replaced by the indirect, insidious but permanent threats of environmental degradation that were characteristic of the 20th century. If society wishes to maintain wildlife in its variety and abundance in the 21st century, a place for wildlife must be maintained in land-use planning, ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT and legal obligation.
The uses and value of wildlife to society are varied. Wildlife is one part of the equation which, together with vegetation and the nonliving ENVIRONMENT, constitutes the "balance of nature," ie, the set of complex natural processes on which human survival depends. A country fit for wildlife is a country fit for people. Wildlife is a direct source of food and other products for many Canadians. While this value is most apparent in northern regions, it is also significant in southern Canada. Coastal and inland commercial fishing, based on naturally-reproducing populations, is a significant industry. The wild FUR INDUSTRY provides a direct source of income for thousands, representing the highest continuing economic return of any resource in mid-northern regions. These harvest uses not only give direct economic return but, provided their management is biologically sound, also keep populations in balance with their food supply, preventing overpopulation and dramatic losses from starvation and disease.
Wildlife is a basic component of outdoor recreation and part of the national heritage of all Canadians. Wildlife reflects the condition of the environment and constitutes a "barometer" for measuring environmental change. Throughout Canada, wildlife is the legal property of all Canadians. Its ownership is entrusted in law to the stewardship of the various governments. Sound protection, conservation and management of all wildlife are thus the rightful concern and responsibility of all Canadians.
Author GORDON R. KERR Revised: ARLENE J. KWASNIAK
J. Alexander Burnett, A Passion for Wildlife: The History of the Canadian Wildlife Service (2003); Canadian Institute of Resources Law, Canada Wildlife Law Occasional Paper Series (2006); Janet Foster, Working for Wildlife: The Beginning of Preservation in Canada (1978, revised 1998); Tina M. Loo, States of Nature: Conserving Canada's Wildlife in the Twentieth Century (2006).
Links to Other Sites
Parks Canada, the gateway to Canada’s natural and cultural heritage. Search their extensive website for information on specific parks and click on "Parks Canada's 3-D Tours" for a close-up virtual tour of Canada’s National Historic Sites and Parks across the country.
World Wildlife Fund Canada
The official website of the World Wildlife Fund Canada. Check out the "Polar Bear Tracker," "Living Planet City," and other interactive features that show individuals can take part in environmental conservation efforts.
Endangered Species in Endangered Spaces
An informative website about rare and endangered plants and animals in the Thompson-Okanagan region of British Columbia. Click on the menu at the left side of the page for information about specific species. From the Royal British Columbia Musuem.
Metro Toronto Zoo
Climb into this website to find out about the animals that make their home in the Metro Toronto Zoo. Also check out the latest news about their environmental conservation and educational programs.
Ducks Unlimited Canada
All Ducks Unlimited organizations conserve, restore and manage wetlands and associated habitats for North America’s waterfowl. These habitats also benefit other wildlife and people.
Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board
View one of the very informative maps from this online atlas devoted to the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq caribou range. Includes maps of caribou populations within the Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary and discussion papers about implementing measures that would protect local caribou herds. From the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board.
Porcupine Caribou Management Board
The website for the Porcupine Caribou Management Board. Check out the information on the caribou population, migration patterns, and more.
Canadian Boreal Initiative
The Canadian Boreal Initiative is working with a wide range of conservation organizations, First Nations, industry and other interested parties to link science, policy and conservation activities in Canada's boreal forest.
My Century - Maurice Strong
This BBC site features a discussion with Maurice Strong about the topic of sustainable development (fourth item on the list).
The website for the WILD school program. Find out about participating in hands-on wildlife surveys and other fun learning activities from the Canadian Wildlife Federation.
An extensively illustrated guide to wildlife species found in British Columbia. Covers bats, birds, beetles, bugs and much more. Also features an insect glossary and notes about invasive species. A biogeographic initiative of the Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, UBC.
The Montréal Biodôme invites you to take a virtual tour of its ecosystems.
NatureServe Canada provides scientific information about Canada’s species and ecosystems to help guide effective conservation action and natural resource management.
Bird Studies Canada
The website for “Bird Studies Canada,” an organization dedicated to preserving wild birds and their habitats. Search this site for the latest information on bird sightings and populations, checklists and maps, species at risk, and more.
Nature Conservancy of Canada
The website for the Nature Conservancy of Canada, a private, non-profit organization working for the direct protection of Canada's biodiversity through the purchase, donation or placing of conservation easements on ecologically significant lands.
Hunters at the Margin
Read the Introduction to "Hunters at the Margin," a book that focuses on issues concerning early efforts at wildlife management in Canada. From the website for University of British Columbia Press.
The Arctic Portal is the Internet gateway for numerous international programs about environmental and economic issues in the Arctic.
Polar Bears International
The website for Polar Bears International, an organization dedicated to the conservation of polar bear populations and their habitat. Offers everything you want to know about polar bear research, biology, and behavior.
Convention on Biological Diversity
An extensive resource about international policies and initiatives related to environmental conservation and biodiversity. Click on "International Year of Biodiversity" for news about special events on biodiversity.
The website for CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which monitors international trade in wild animal and plant species. Check out the programs related to conservation of vulneralble fauna and flora.
Yellowstone To Yukon Conservation Initiative
The website for the Yellowstone To Yukon Conservation Initiative, an international organization that seeks to preserve and maintain the wildlife species and habitats in the mountainous region from Yellowstone National Park to the Yukon Territory. Features territorial maps, wildlife profiles, and descriptions of related environmental issues.
Wildlife Habitat Canada
The website for Wildlife Habitat Canada, a national conservation organization established in 1984 by Environment Canada, provincial wildlife agencies and conservation organizations. Check out "WHC Updates" for the latest information on conservation programs across Canada.
North American Waterfowl Management Plan
Click on the links to access the latest news about Canadian programs devoted to the management of waterfowl populations and related ecosystems. Part of the international North American Waterfowl Management Plan.
Canadian Forces Base Suffield
This site highlights the biodiversity found within the boundaries of Canadian Forces Base Suffield, which is the largest remaining intact block of undisturbed native prairie habitat. Well documented with numerous maps. From the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.
Government of Alberta: Land Reference Manual
Click on the links for information about Alberta's numerous provincial parks, wildland parks, recreation areas, ecological reserves, natural areas, and rangelands.