WWF Canada's Plan To Tackle Wildlife Loss, Climate Change

by Jennifer Smith April 22, 2019

Toronto, April 22, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- TORONTO, April 22, 2019 - New research from World Wildlife Fund Canada reveals opportunities for governments at all levels in Canada to site new protected areas and other conservation measures where at-risk wildlife need it most. In addition, this new research maps Canada’s carbon-rich forests, soils and peat bogs storing significant amounts of carbon, highlighting opportunities to safeguard currently unprotected spaces to help keep the climate in balance.

In the face of widespread wildlife loss in Canada and climate change that has Canada warming at twice the global rate, WWF-Canada’s new nation-wide Wildlife Protection Assessment: A National Habitat Crisis identifies historical gaps in essential wildlife habitat protection and opportunities to protect areas that benefit biodiversity while slowing climate change, an exacerbating driver of wildlife loss. The assessment shows:

  • 84 per cent of habitats with high concentrations of at-risk species (at least 10) are either inadequately or completely unprotected.
  • At the same time, Canada’s carbon sinks (that sequester and store carbon) are either inadequately or not at all protected: 77 per cent of habitats with high levels of soil carbon and 74 per cent of habitats with high levels of forest biomass lack protections.

Cutting-edge scientific analysis

To find the gaps in Canada’s protected area network, WWF-Canada created a tool that assessed ecological representation, a key component of Canada’s 2020 commitment under the Convention on Biological Diversity that speaks to the need to represent the full range of physical habitats within a protected areas network to effectively safeguard wildlife. Criteria include size, coverage, intactness, connectivity with other habitats, freshwater shorelines and elevation. 

To identify national high priority areas for protection, WWF-Canada then compared areas with inadequate or no protections with areas of high priority – those that are home to high concentrations of at-risk species, store substantial carbon in soil or forest biomass and/or are climate refuges. 


Megan Leslie, president and CEO of World Wildlife Fund Canada, says:

“This research gives us a whole new way of thinking about protected areas and other conservation measures to address the twin problems of wildlife loss and climate change at the same time. Canada is actively working toward the international target of 17 per cent protection for terrestrial space and inland waters. Now with this new research, governments at all levels will also be able to prioritize those areas that do double-duty for wildlife and climate.”

James Snider, vice president of science, research and innovation for WWF-Canada, says:

“By using the best available data to map carbon for soils, peat bogs and forest biomass, we are able for the first time to present a conservative estimate of the power of nature in Canada to help keep climate change in check – while providing benefits for wildlife. Nature could be one of the most powerful tools in the fight against climate change, and it’s been largely overlooked.”

Where are protections needed most?

Some of Canada’s least protected areas are the most important for at-risk species, climate adaptation and carbon storage. Based on this assessment, five regions in particular should be prioritized for protections.

  • With high levels of soil carbon and forest biomass, important climate refuges and high numbers of at-risk species (including barren-ground caribou), Yukon and Northwest Territories have the highest proportion of unprotected physical habitats in the country.
  • British Columbia’s Okanagan is inadequately protected despite being a hotspot for at-risk species (including the pallid bat and desert nightsnake), a potential climate refuge and having high levels of forest biomass.
  • Prairie grasslands, one of the most threatened ecosystems in the world where some habitats are home to up to 30 at-risk species including the swift fox and Sprague’s pipit in Canada, are mostly inadequately or not at all protected.
  • Habitats in southern Ontario and southern Quebec, home to high concentrations of at-risk species like the snapping turtle, are almost entirely inadequately or not at all protected.
  • New Brunswick’s Saint John River watershed is virtually unprotected despite being home to many at-risk species (including wood turtles and shortnose sturgeon) and having significant soil and forest biomass carbon stores, as well as climate refuges.

Key findings from the national, provincial and territorial assessments:

  • Protected areas are not large enough to maintain biodiversity. Only 19 per cent of Canada’s physical habitats have protected areas that adequately meet the recommended size requirements to support wildlife.
  • We are not protecting the free movement among large regions that allows animals to find food and mates. Connectivity between 79 per cent of physical habitats is either inadequately or not at all protected.
  • Freshwater ecosystems and wildlife are unprotected. 91 per cent of physical habitats do not have adequate protection of shorelines.
  • Protections in the maritime provinces in particular are too small and disconnected to support biodiversity. New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island have the worst ecological representation in the country.
  • Protected areas in Canada’s north are high quality but are too few and far between. The northern territories and Newfoundland and Labrador have the highest percentage of physical habitats with no protection (between 62 and 73 per cent).


Though Wildlife Protection Assessment: A National Habitat Crisis focuses on both wildlife habitat needs and opportunities to slow climate change, which is a driver of wildlife loss, WWF-Canada recognizes that protected areas provide important social and cultural benefits as well. WWF-Canada is supportive of the creation of parks for these and other reasons. To have maximum benefit for wildlife, however, new protected areas should:

  • Focus on habitat for at-risk or vulnerable species;
  • Extend protections to include lakes, rivers and wetlands;
  • Safeguard areas with high carbon storage potential to slow climate change while providing habitat;
  • Set restrictions within protected areas to maintain the integrity and value of the space.

For habitats in southern Canada, where high landscape fragmentation means that large, uninterrupted protected areas are increasingly difficult achieve, we need to consider other high-standard effective conservation measures, including on private lands, to provide important connectivity.

Notes for media:

  • WWF-Canada’s Wildlife Protection Assessment can be found at
  • An executive summary is available here
  • Priority places and wildlife photos as well as maps are available upon request

Who funded the Wildlife Protection Assessment?

Funding for WWF-Canada’s Wildlife Protection Assessment: A National Habitat Crisis came from over 100,000 individual Canadians who donated in support of WWF-Canada’s wildlife conservation work all across the country.

Wildlife loss in Canada

WWF-Canada’s 2017 Living Planet Report Canada: A National Look at Wildlife Loss found that 50 per cent of monitored vertebrate wildlife in Canada are in decline, on average by a staggering 83 per cent. The report also found that from 2002 to 2014, populations of species at risk protected through the federal Species at Risk Act fell on average by 28 per cent. Habitat loss and fragmentation is the top driver of wildlife loss in Canada.

About World Wildlife Fund Canada

WWF-Canada creates solutions to the environmental challenges that matter most for Canadians. We work in places that are unique and ecologically important, so that nature, wildlife and people thrive together. Because we are all wildlife. For more information, visit

For further information

Rebecca Spring, senior communications specialist,, +1 647-338-6274

Rebecca Spring

Jennifer Smith
Jennifer Smith