|Parks and Protected Areas
National Wildlife Areas and Migratory Bird Sanctuaries
What is a National Wildlife Area?
National Wildlife Areas (NWAs) are established and protected under the Canada Wildlife Act. To be considered for designation as a NWA, a site must contain “nationally significant” habitat for migratory birds, support wildlife or ecosystems at risk, or represent rare or unusual wildlife habitat or a biogeographic region.
Some of Canada's best wildlife habitat has been set aside in a network of 51 NWAs and 92 migratory bird sanctuaries that span all provinces and territories. This protected areas network is managed by Environment Canada and is critical to Canada's efforts to conserve biodiversity.
What is the difference between a National Park, a National Wildlife Area and a Migratory Bird Sanctuary?
National Wildlife Areas are owned by the federal government and conserve essential habitat for migratory birds, species at risk and other wildlife.
Migratory Bird Sanctuaries include a mix of public and private lands, and generally only focus on protecting birds and their breeding grounds during the nesting season.
National Wildlife Areas and Migratory Bird Sanctuaries in Canada do many things:
Limit the effects of climate change by protecting carbon stores, allowing plant and animal species time to adapt to a changing climate.
Provide a refuge for species at risk. More than half of these areas provide a home for species at risk of extinction, such as polar bears, monarch butterflies, and burrowing owls. Ontario's Long Point NWA alone is home to 31 species at risk. They also protect Canada's most important migratory bird habitat, including critical nesting areas, migration staging ares, and coastal seabird islands.
National Wildlife Areas and Migratory Bird Sanctuaries Face a Crisis
National Wildlife Areas are part of a federal protected areas network that conserves some of Canada’s most important wild spaces for our wildlife, but the health of these areas is at risk from neglect. NWAs are left largely unmanaged. Enforcement of environmental laws is sporadic. Wildlife research is only conducted regularly in a handful of locations. Worst of all, Canada is missing out on important opportunities to grow the network.
At the heart of this crisis is a lack of funding. Environment Canada, the federal manager of the NWA network, lacks even the basic level of funding to properly manage existing protected areas.
In addition to lack of funding, these natural areas are open to other major threats, including deforestation, oil and gas development, urbanization, invasive species, pollution, harmful public uses and climate change.
What Needs to be Done
Nature Canada has called on the Government of Canada to:
• Announce a funded plan to grow and manage Canada’s network of National Wildlife Areas and Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, including updating its legal and policy framework.
• Immediately announce that Canada will protect its boreal and arctic ecosystems by establishing interconnected networks of protected areas and implementing regional land-use plans in the Northwest Territories before approving any large-scale industrial projects. Canada should set a goal of protecting a minimum of 50 percent of its intact wild areas as part of comprehensive land-use planning initiatives for intact areas.
• Invest $175 million over the next five years and $35 million annually thereafter to establish 21 new NWAs and provide the effective capacity to manage this protected areas network.