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Protected areas in boreal Canada: a baseline and considerations for the continued development of a representative and effective reserve network

Andrew, M.E., Wulder, M.A. and Cardille, J.A. (2014) Protected areas in boreal Canada: a baseline and considerations for the continued development of a representative and effective reserve network. Environmental Reviews, 22 (2). pp. 135-160.

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Boreal forests maintain regionally important biodiversity and globally important ecosystem services, such as carbon storage and freshwater resources. Many boreal systems have limited anthropogenic disturbances and are preserved, in effect, to date largely by their harsh climates and remoteness. As of 2011, almost 10% of Canada is subject to some manner of formal protection, with 4.5% of this protected area found within the boreal zone. The management of existing parks and protected areas (PPAs) is shared amongst many federal, provincial, and territorial jurisdictions. Although there are currently low levels of anthropogenic development in some portions of the boreal zone (especially the north), if expansion of protected areas is of interest, there are challenges to traditional PPA networks that may be more prominent in the boreal zone than elsewhere: (1) the boreal zone is home to charismatic mammal species with area requirements much larger than typical PPAs; (2) the boreal zone is characterized by natural disturbance regimes that impact large areas; and (3) projected changes to climate for the boreal zone are among the greatest in the world, creating temporal considerations for conservation planning exercises. There is currently no PPA assessment specific to boreal Canada. To address this lack of an assessment, we developed a conservation gap analysis of the current PPA system with respect to a variety of environmental surrogates (ecozones, land cover, vegetation productivity, and landscape structure). The amount of formally protected land varied within each surrogate, with few commonly reported features meeting national or international conservation targets. Furthermore, few reserves met the areal requirements that have been previously recommended to protect large mammals or accommodate the disturbance regimes present. We also discuss considerations and implications of area-based versus value-based protection objectives. While recognizing that there are still scientific challenges around understanding and evaluating the effectiveness of PPAs, based upon our review and assessment, the following considerations should inform conservation options for the boreal zone: (1) representation of the distribution of natural features within the PPA network; (2) effective maintenance of habitat requirements and spatial resilience to both cyclical and directional changes in spatial patterns through large, connected reserves; and (3) implementation of sustainable forest management practices (where applicable) throughout the broader landscape, as traditional on-reserve protection is unlikely to be sufficient to meet conservation goals. The Canadian boreal is unique in possessing large tracts of inaccessible forested lands that are not subject to management interventions, thereby offering functions similar to protected lands. The question of how to more formally integrate these lands into the existing PPA network requires further consideration. Further, the important temporal role of landscape dynamics in designing an effective PPA needs to be further studied as well as development of a better understanding of design needs in the context of a changing climate.

Publication Type: Journal Article
Publisher: NRC Research Press
Copyright: © 2013 Published by NRC Research Press
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