Criteria for ecological corridors in Canada

Thank you to all who responded to the survey on the draft criteria between November 7, 2023 and January 5, 2024. The comment period is now closed. Input received will inform the finalization of the criteria before a final version is released in 2024.

Parks Canada launched the National Program for Ecological Corridors in April 2022. The program aims to create links between protected areas and other natural habitats. These natural links allow species to move, interact, and find food and habitat. Ecological corridors also help to halt and reverse biodiversity loss and to adapt to climate change. Parks Canada is identifying criteria and mapping priority areas for the creation of ecological corridors. We are also supporting conservation action on the ground.

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Developing a shared approach

Creating a shared understanding of ecological corridors is important to:

  • build support for ecological connectivity conservation
  • advance best practices for protecting ecological networks

Parks Canada is collaborating with numerous experts, Indigenous partners, other levels of governments, and stakeholders to build an approach to identify and recognize ecological corridors in Canada. This includes criteria for ecological corridors in Canada, a framework by which we can:

  • work collaboratively and effectively
  • inform decisions about where to support the creation of ecological corridors
  • recognize corridor initiatives that contribute to ecological conservation networks
  • ensure ecological corridors are managed/stewarded to maintain, enhance and restore connectivity

Collaborative process

Since March 2022, Parks Canada has held numerous workshops and meetings with conservation leaders, scientists, experts, national and regional conservation organizations, provincial and territorial governments and Indigenous partners to gather knowledge and perspectives on the Criteria for Ecological Corridors in Canada.


Definition of ecological corridors

To guide this work, Parks Canada defines ecological corridors in a similar way as the International Union for Conservation of Nature (PDF, 5.5MB). We have adapted the definition to be more inclusive and to better reflect the reality that Indigenous peoples have been stewarding the lands and waters since time immemorial:

“A clearly defined geographical space that is governed and managed over the long term to maintain or restore effective ecological connectivity while sustaining Indigenous stewardship values

(modified from IUCN, 2020)

Learn more about Indigenous Stewardship Values, and Parks Canada’s engagement with Indigenous peoples on ecological corridors

Ecological corridors are not protected areas. Rather, they form part of ecological networks for conservation along with:

  • Protected Areas (PAs)
  • Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs)
  • Other Effective area-based Conservation Measures (OECMs)

Interconnected networks of PAs and other natural areas are important for biodiversity conservation. This is especially true in the face of climate change. Ecological corridors help species adapt by allowing them to move from one area of habitat to another. They also provide vital ecosystem services to humans, such as food, clean air, and water, as well as social benefits like sustainable livelihoods and opportunities to connect with nature.


Criteria

The criteria for ecological corridors in Canada are aligned with the IUCN adapted definition. Each criterion is intended to evaluate important elements of the definition (bolded in the definition above). Corridors will often be created on lands and waters with a patchwork of ownership, governance and management. The corridor-scale criteria are intended to evaluate the entire corridor vision and stewardship plan. The property-scale criteria are intended to evaluate how each property (or aggregation of properties) contributes to corridor goals, based on their governance and management/stewardship characteristics.

Criteria at-a-glance

Summary of criteria for ecological corridors in Canada
Corridor-scale criteria Property-scale-criteria
Where
Corridors are spatially-defined
Why
Corridors have documented goals, objectives, and outcomes
How
Corridor lands and waters meet the governance and management criteria
Geographic space Corridor goals to: maintain or restore ecological connectivity; and honour and sustain Indigenous Stewardship Values Management/stewardship intent
Publicly available map Effective means
Link between PAs, IPCAs, OECMs and/or unprotected natural habitat Corridor objectives Governing bodies and decision-makers
Outcomes (including co-benefits) Long-term

Criteria description

A more detailed description of elements mentioned in the criteria at-a-glance section above. Additional guidance providing further details and examples will be available in 2024.

Summary of criteria for ecological corridors in Canada
Criterion Intended effect Description and rationale
Where and why (corridor-scale criteria)
Geographic space
Corridors are delineated on publicly available maps and build ecological networks for conservation
The corridor is delineated such that it links protected and conserved areas, and/or unprotected natural habitat, and guides the implementation of measures in support of corridor goals and objectives.
  • Ensuring that corridor mapping is publicly available supports:
    1. implementing conservation measures;
    2. accounting and reporting;
    3. identifying relevant governing bodies and decision-makers;
    4. enhancing transparency;
    5. raising public awareness of the corridor.
  • Corridor delineations should reflect the needs and characteristics of the species, ecosystems and/or stewardship values relevant to the corridor objectives and desired outcomes. It may be pragmatic to utilize existing mapped ecological boundaries (i.e. watersheds) or anthropogenic boundaries (i.e. a property line). To address sensitivities associated with delineating a corridor, coarse-scale or “fuzzy” boundaries are acceptable.
Goals, objectives and outcomes
Corridor goals and objectives are documented
Ecological connectivity is maintained or restored, and Indigenous Stewardship Values are honoured and sustained, where applicable.
  • Clearly documented goals and objectives provide a roadmap and facilitate collaborative action for the achievement of corridor outcomes, while also providing a basis for evaluation and monitoring.
  • Goals for an ecological corridor are defined as the broad or overarching reason pursued by an organization in creating the corridor. The primary goal should be to maintain or restore ecological connectivity and wherever possible, to honour and sustain Indigenous Stewardship Values. Corridor objectives are specific, measurable and advance the goal, and corridor outcomes are the results of achieving the objectives.
How (property-scale criteria)
Management/Stewardship intent
The management approach is described and documented.
Management/stewardship intent is compatible with corridor goals and objectives.
  • The management/stewardship intent of the mean or mechanism associated with the property does not have to be strictly aligned with the corridor goals and objectives; however, it must not be in conflict.
  • Expression of intent is a clearly communicated statement or set of objectives for the property found in a mechanism being used to manage/steward the site – such as legislation and regulations, management plans or statements, easements or servitudes, stewardship agreements or other means.
  • In the absence of an explicit statement, management/stewardship intent can also be inferred from other related documentation or evidence, such as websites, supporting materials or other documentation deemed relevant.
Effective means
Means are in place and provide the ability to prevent, control or manage/steward what occurs within the corridor.
Only activities that are compatible with the corridor goals and objectives occur and are effectively managed/stewarded.
  • Means must exist to enable decision-makers to prevent incompatible activities and manage/steward activities compatible with the corridor goals and objectives. Examples of legal means include Indigenous law, legislation, bylaws, policy instruments and contracts. Other effective means include non-legal tools such as voluntary agreements, incentive programs, negotiation and influence, and recognized traditional rules.
  • The nature and scale of an activity, the objectives for the property and the governing authority’s ability to manage activities will determine whether the activity should be excluded, controlled, and/or managed. Incompatible activities need not be entirely excluded from ecological corridors, but they must not be present in properties deemed to meet the criteria.
Governing bodies & decision-makers
Decision-makers apply the means and act in a manner that is compatible with the corridor goals and objectives.
Governing bodies and decision-makers have the ability to apply effective means to ensure that only activities compatible with corridor goals and objectives occur.
  • Having effective means is not enough to ensure that only compatible activities occur. Governing bodies and decision-makers must be able to apply them, and act in a manner that is compatible with corridor goals and objectives.
  • All relevant governing bodies and decision-makers must be identified, and where they exist, track records of success or failure of decision-makers in using the means should be considered.
  • Decision-making models and tools should be documented and described, including processes and approaches that address issues of transparency, accountability, participation and equity in decision-making.
Long term
Long-term means are in place and in effect year-round.
Corridor goals and objectives are maintained year-round and over the long term.
  • Means do not need to be permanent but should persist over the medium to long-term.
  • Measures that only provide protection during a specific seasonal timeframe do not, on their own, achieve corridor goals and objectives. In some cases, seasonal arrangements may contribute to a management/stewardship regime that, in combination with other means, provide for the year-round achievement corridor goals and objectives.

Download the PDF version of the Criteria for ecological corridors in Canada (PDF, 3 MB)

The need for Criteria for Ecological Corridors in Canada

Agreed-upon definitions and criteria are important to create a shared understanding and build support for ecological connectivity conservation and corridor recognition in Canada, and advance best practices for protecting ecological networks.

In addition, because corridors should not replace the establishment of new or expanded protected and conserved areas, having criteria in place can help determine if an ecological corridor is the right conservation tool to achieve the desired conservation outcomes or if other recognition or designation should be pursued.

Who these criteria are for

Evaluating potential ecological corridors against the criteria can be done by anyone.

Typically, conservation organizations, or voluntary groups and associations already leading a corridor initiative would have an interest in evaluating how their project meets the criteria. Evaluations can also help identify where potential improvements could be made to strengthen the governance and management mechanisms in place to achieve corridor goals and objectives.

Similarly, any individual, organization or group wanting to start a corridor initiative can use the criteria as a tool to build a solid plan. This includes documenting where and why a corridor is needed, and how corridor lands and waters are/will be managed to achieve the corridor goals.

Criteria focussed on governance and management

Sound governance and management are important to achieve connectivity outcomes, especially in the context of ecological corridors, which include diverse jurisdictions and stakeholders. The property-scale criteria help ensure there are effective means and clear decision-making processes in place across the corridor to enable and sustain the implementation of measures in support of the corridor goals.

Ecological considerations will vary for each corridor, based on the needs and characteristics of the species, ecosystems and stewardship values relevant to the corridor. As such, corridor-scale criteria are not prescriptive in terms of ecological considerations but require the identification of specific connectivity objectives and desired connectivity outcomes.


Recognition of ecological corridors

Meeting the criteria

A corridor could be recognized by Parks Canada as contributing to ecological networks for conservation if it meets the criteria. Details of the recognition process, as well as supporting material are still being developed and will be released at a later date.

While the recognition model is still in development, Parks Canada is considering a tiered approach where corridors that meet certain thresholds could achieve increasing levels of recognition. This would facilitate the participation of new initiatives and encourage corridor projects to move through increasing levels of compliance to criteria.

Recognizing ecological corridors that contribute to strengthening the network of protected and conserved areas will help:

  • promote good stewardship practices on a variety of land tenures
  • raise awareness of the importance of ecological corridors to maintain, enhance and restore connectivity for effective conservation of biodiversity
  • inspire action for the creation of additional ecological corridors

Parks Canada’s approach

Parks Canada’s approach to recognizing corridors is derived from the approach to identify and recognize Protected Areas (PA) and Other Effective area-based Conservation Measures (OECM) in Canada, although it was modified in response to engagement with Indigenous and non-Indigenous partners and stakeholders. The approach also aligns closely with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Guidelines for Conserving Ecological Connectivity through Ecological Networks and Corridors (PDF, 5.5 MB).

Parks Canada will not own or administer corridors but will collaborate with partners to:

  • advance corridor creation and stewardship
  • recognize and promote corridor initiatives on the ground

Funding

To date, Parks Canada has supported several corridor projects as pilots.

Additional funds are being allocated beginning in 2023 to Indigenous-led projects and to jurisdictions with corridor projects identified in Nature Agreements.

A funding framework for remaining funds available for ecological corridor projects to be allocated in 2024 and 2025 is being finalized. Please check the National program for ecological corridors for future updates.


Frequently asked questions

What is the difference between Protected Areas, other-effective area-based Conservation Measures (OECMs), and ecological corridors?

Protected areas and OECMs both have conservation of biodiversity as their primary purpose, while the primary purpose of ecological corridors is the conservation of ecological connectivity.

The IUCN Guidelines for Conserving Connectivity state: “Protected areas and OECMs are the fundamental core elements of conservation and of any ecological network. By definition, they must conserve in situ biodiversity and may also conserve ecological connectivity. On the other hand, ecological corridors must conserve connectivity. Depending on their condition and management, ecological corridors may also conserve in situ biodiversity, but this is not a requirement.”

What are Indigenous Stewardship Values?

Indigenous Stewardship Values refers to a broad spectrum of topics of importance or significance to Indigenous peoples based on Indigenous knowledge and perspectives. Indigenous Stewardship Values should be defined and identified by local Indigenous communities. They could include things such as traditional hunting and trapping routes, gathering practices for traditional medicines, and migration routes of species of cultural significance.

Why have Indigenous Stewardship Values been added to the definition of ecological corridors?

Parks Canada is committed to advancing reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, which involves inclusive approaches to conservation. This includes the recognition, respect, and inclusion of Indigenous views, cultures, knowledge, and special connections with lands and waters.

Engagement with various Indigenous and non-Indigenous partners led Parks Canada to adapt the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s definition of an ecological corridor to better reflect Indigenous-led conservation efforts by including Indigenous Stewardship Values. These values often align with and support connectivity conservation goals. In addition, much research shows that Indigenous stewardship on traditional lands and waters supports the sustainable management of natural resources in many regions of the world.

What is considered “Unprotected natural habitat”?

Unlike Protected Areas, Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas, and Other Effective area-based Conservation Measures, which are formally recognized for their biodiversity conservation outcomes, the term “unprotected natural habitat” refers to areas with documented and recognized ecological and cultural values but are not protected or conserved. Examples include, but are not limited to, Key Biodiversity Areas, Biosphere Reserves, Important Bird Areas, and other sites that are not under formal protection.

Do ecological corridors contribute to Canada’s commitment to protect biodiversity and conserve 25 percent of land and inland waters by 2025, and 30 percent by 2030?

While the creation of ecological corridors may not directly create new protected or conserved areas, it will contribute to the effective management of existing and new areas, thereby helping address the dual crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. However, in some cases, evaluation of lands and waters within a corridor may lead to the identification of additional protected and conserved areas that could count towards Canada’s biodiversity commitments.

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