20.1 Trends in Terrestrial Protected Areas and Conservation Areas

Last Updated: 
June 11, 2015

This indicator tracks the amount of land set aside for conservation purposes in terrestrial protected areas and conservation areas, including freshwater. Marine protected areas are reported in indicator 20.3 - Trends in Marine Protected Areas.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature defines a protected area as "a clearly defined geographic space, recognized, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values1". This definition was applied in selecting protected areas for this report.

The geo-referenced data for this indicator is obtained from the NWT Protected Areas Stategy; Natural Resources Canada; Canada Centre for Remote Sensing;  Atlas of Canada; NWT Centre for Geomatics; Gwich’in Land Use Planning Board; Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada Comprehensive Claims Branch; Sahtu GIS Project; Sahtu Land Use Planning Board; and, Environment and Natural Resources. The GNWT compiled the data and calculated each reported indicator value.

NWT Focus

Through the Sustainable Development Policy, established in 1997, the GNWT recognizes the need for conservation areas to maintain special values related to wildlife and wildlife habitat; unique or representative ecosystems; prime forests; productive agricultural soils; and,  heritage, recreational, tourism, scientific and aesthetic resources2.

The NWT Protected Areas Strategy, established in 1999, is a partnership among communities, governments, environmental non-governmental organizations and industry. The partners work together to establish protected areas across the NWT3. The goals of the NWT Protected Areas Strategy are to identify and protect:

  • Special natural and cultural areas of the NWT; and,
  • Core representative areas within each ecoregion of the NWT, in which resource based development will not be permitted.

An ecoregion is an area defined by similar climate, vegetation, geology and other ecological patterns. There are 46 different ecoregions in the NWT4. For trends in ecological representation see indicator 20.2 - Trends in Ecological Representation. The NWT Protected Areas Strategy does not set a target for the percentage of land that should be protected.

Settled land claims increase capacity and clarify the process for local decision-making, which facilitates local stewardship. In areas with settled land claims, regional land use plans have been prepared. Regional land use plans specify which land use activities are allowed in a given area. Generally, regional land use plans designate some areas where development is prohibited. These areas are Conservation Zones. An approved land use plan is legally binding on all parties. Legislation requires land use plans be reviewed every five years and they can be changed at that time. There is an approved land use plan in place for the Gwich’in Settlement Area and Sahtu Settlement Area, pursuant to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, and an additional land use plan on Tlicho private lands5,7. A land use planning process is underway in the Dehcho Territory8.

Protected areas and conservation areas are key components in an overall network of ecosystem conservation, which  serves the long-term interests of NWT residents and all Canadians. These are key tools for conserving biodiversity, ecological processes and special natural and cultural values. Reporting on protected areas and conservation areas reflects actions society has taken to maintain a healthy and productive environment.

Core protected areas have the highest level of protection and are the foundation of a healthy ecosystem conservation network. They must be:

  • ecologically intact by having the highest level of protection and maintaining a natural state of perpetuity;
  • large enough to be resilient to natural variations and disturbances; and,
  • effectively managed and monitored.

Conservation areas protect various natural and cultural values and help achieve long term maintenance of ecosystem and biodiversity integrity by providing complementary but less restrictive protection than core protected areas.

Current status and trend

The NWT has several protected areas including lands administered by federal, territorial and Aboriginal governments. They differ in their management plans and   type of protection. 

There are currently 188,200 km2 of land (including fresh water) in the NWT in core protected areas and Conservation Areas (13.8% of the NWT land base; Table 1 and Figure 1). This includes National Parks/Park Reserves, one National Historic Site, Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary, Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, areas under Land Claim Agreements, Territorial Natural Environmental Parks, Gwich'in Territorial Recreational Park, Pingo Canadian Landmark and conservation areas through approved land use plans.

The amount of land in the NWT in core protected areas and conservation areas has increased by 90,900 km2, or 6.6% of the NWT land base, since 2007. Major changes include:

  • establishment of Saoyú / ʔehdacho National Historic Site;
  • expansion of the Nahanni National Park Reserve; 
  • establishment of Nááts’ihch’oh National Park Reserve;
  • approval of the Sahtu Land Use Plan; and,
  • approval of the Tlicho Land Use Plan.

Amount and percentage of land in the NWT in established protected areas and conservation areas.

  December 2014 December 2007
Type of area Size
% of NWT
land base
% of NWT
land base
Core Protected Areasa 125,000 9.2 67,300 5.0
Conservation Areasb 63,200 4.6 30,000 2.2
Total 188,200 13.8% 97,300 7.2
  • a - National Parks, National Park Reserves, Saoyú ʔehdacho National Historic Site, Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary, Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, and two areas under land claim agreements.
  • b - Territorial Natural Environment Parks, Gwich'in Territorial Recreational Park, Pingo Canadian Landmark, water protion of Husky Lakes, and approved land use plans.

Existing protected areas

Established protected areas and conservation areas larger than 10 km2 in the NWT (December 2014).

Established protected areas and conservation areas larger than 10 km2 in the NWT (December 2007).

Conservation planning is underway to increase conservation in the NWT. Protected areas are moving through both the Protected Areas Strategy and the National Parks process. Land use plans are being approved or being drafted in three regions of the NWT, which include zones providing for protection of lands in those regions.

Looking forward

The Protected Areas Strategy's Five-Year Action Plan was released in 2005 with the goal of reserving a network of culturally significant and ecologically representative protected areas prior to or concurrent with the development of the proposed Mackenzie Valley Pipeline9. To build on the Mackenzie Valley Five-Year Action Plan, the Protected Areas Strategy released the Establishment Action Plan 2010-2015 in June 2010 with the goal of enhancing the implementation of the Protected Areas Strategy in a co-ordinated and co-operative way10. As sites move through the Protected Areas Strategy process, there needs to be continual co-operation among various stakeholders. This coordination and co-operation must happen at both the working group level, before establishment, and government level during establishment and continues after establishment as sites move towards management and monitoring.

Twenty-three areas have been identified under the NWT Protected Areas Strategy. Of these, nine areas remain active and one site has been permanently protected. Some of the areas have interim protection andt no new development permits can be issued for a specified period of time.

In addition to areas proposed under the Protected Areas Strategy, Parks Canada has identified an additional area of interest for one new National Park. It is has interim protection. Land use plans have been developed for the Gwich'in Settlement Area, the Sahtu Settlement Area and on Tlicho settlement lands. A  plan is being developed for the Dehcho Territory.

Figure 3 shows all the areas in the NWT currently being considered for conservation. These areas are at various stages of discussion and some are under interim protection. They may not all become protected areas or conservation areas and boundaries illustrated are subject to change. New areas may also be identified.

Some other areas are covered by special designations, such as Community Conservation Plans, Heritage Rivers, and Territorial Historic Sites, which give guidance for how the land should be managed but do not offer legislated protection.

Areas in the NWT that are either established or being considered for conservation as of December 2014 through land use planning, the Protected Areas Strategy and the National Parks process. Boundaries illustrated are subject to change.

Looking around

A National Protected Areas Status Report published in 2006 ranked the NWT 5th of the 13 provinces and territories in Canada in terms of the percentage of land protected11. Some areas under interim protection were included in that report’s calculations. An update to the status report is currently underway.

NWT information for this indicator is used by the following organizations and programs:

Canadian Protected Areas Status Report by Environment Canada


Conservation Areas Reporting and Tracking System of the Canadian Council of Ecological Areas. Reported Every year.

Find out more

Technical Notes

The individual areas included in statistics are given in the following table. Banks Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary No. 2 is not included because it overlaps with Aulavik National Park. The Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary is not included because it does not legislate land protection. All sizes in this report are approximate; sizes >100 km2 have been rounded off to the nearest 10 km2.

Sizes of Protected Areas and Conservations Areas included in area calculations. 

Area name Km2 inside the NWT
Core Protected Areas  
Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary 21,420
Aulavik National Park 12,200
Tuktut Nogait National Park 18,180
Wood Buffalo National Park 9,340
Nahanni National Park Reserve 30,000
Nááts’ihch’oh National Park Reserve 4,850
Saoyú / ?ehdacho National Historic Site 5,565
Ezôdzìtì 1,380
Anderson River Delta Migratory Bird Sanctuary 1,040
Banks Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary No. 1 20,150
Cape Parry Migratory Bird Sanctuary 2
Kendall Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary 620
Luge dek'ale' Tue (Kelly Lake) 270
Conservation Areas  
Gwich'in Conservation Areas 5,775
Gwich'in Heritage Conservation Areas 130
Natural Environment Parks 45
Gwich'in Territorial Park (Recreation Park) 90
Doi T'oh Territorial Park and Canol Heritage Trail Reserve 940
Pingo Canadian Landmark 15
Water portion of Husky Lakes Area 2,130
Sahtu Conservation Areas 30,720
Dèk'èasiì?edaà wehoodia (Habitat Management Area, Tlicho Land Use Plan) 280
Gowhadó Yek'e t'ii ke (Traditional Use Area, Tlicho Land Use plan) 5,520
Tlicho Nawoo Ké Dét'ahot'ìi (Cultural Heritage Area, Tlicho Land Use Plan) 16,660
Whexlaxodiale (Land Use Exclusion Area, Tlicho Land Use Plan) 980

Area calculations are affected by the source, scale and projection of the base data and the protected area data used. In this report, only established protected areas and conservation areas are included. Areas with interim land withdrawals are excluded. For these reasons, there may be differences in numbers between this and other reports.

All sizes were calculated using the Albers equal area projection, NAD 83 datum, 1st standard parallel: 62 degrees N, 2nd standard parallel: 70 degrees N. Geospatial data were from the following sources:

  • NWT Boundary: Natural Resources Canada, Canada Centre for Remote Sensing, The Atlas of Canada. 2005. National Scale Frameworks Administrative Boundaries, Canada. 1:1 million scale. Government of Canada, Ottawa, ON. 
  • Waterbodies: Natural Resources Canada, Canada Centre for Remote Sensing, The Atlas of Canada. 2003. National Scale Frameworks Hydrology - Drainage Network, Canada. 1:1 million scale. Government of Canada, Ottawa, ON. 
  • National Parks and Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary: Northwest Territories Center for Geomatics. 1995. 1:250,000 scale. Government of the Northwest Territories, Yellowknife, NT.
  • Northwest Territories Protected Area Strategy. 2008. 1:1 million scale. Environment and Natural Resources, Government of the Northwest Territories. Yellowknife, NT. 
  • Gwich’in Conservation Zones and Heritage Conservation Zones: Gwich’in Land Use Planning Board. 2003, Revised 2010. 1:250,000 scale. Gwich’in Land Use Planning Board, Inuvik, NT.
  • Ezôdzìtì: Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Comprehensive Claims Branch. 2003. Dene/Métis Land Selection Office, Yellowknife, NT.
  • Kelly Lake and Doi T’oh (CANOL Trail) Territorial Park Reserve: Sahtu GIS Project and Sahtu Land Use Planning Board. 2007. Sahtu GIS Project, Norman Wells, NT.
  • Husky Lakes and Liverpool Bay: Northwest Territories Protected Areas Strategy. 2008. 1:1 million scale. Environment and Natural Resources, Government of the Northwest Territories, Yellowknife, NT.


Found an error or have a question? Contact the team at NWTSOER@gov.nt.ca.


Ref. 1. Dudley, N., ed. Guidelines for applying protected areas management categories. 2008, IUCN: Switzerland. x+86pp.

Ref. 2. Government of the Northwest Territories. 2005. Sustainable Development Policy. Yellowknife, NT. Environment and Natural Resources, GNWT.

Ref. 3. Northwest Territories Protected Areas Strategy Advisory Committee. 1999. Northwest Territories Protected Area Strategy: A Balanced Approach to Establishing Protected Areas in the Northwest Territories.

Ref. 4. Ecosystem Classification Group. 2007-2013. Ecological Regions of the Northwest Territories. Environment and Natural Resources, GNWT. 

Ref. 5. Tlicho Government. 2012. Tlicho Wenek'e - Tlicho Land Use Plan. Tlicho Government: Behchoko, NT. 

Ref. 6. Sahtu Land Use Planning Board. 2013. Sahtu Land Use Plan. Fort Good Hope, NT. 

Ref. 7. Gwich'in Land Use Planning Board. 2003. Nành Geenjit Gwitr'it T'igwaa'in, Working for the Land - The Gwich'in Land Use PlanInuvik, NT. p. i-66.

Ref. 8. Dehcho Land Use Planning Committee. 2006. Respect for the Land: The Dehcho Land Use Plan. Final Draft Plan - May 2006. Fort Providence, NT. 

Ref. 9. Northwest Territories Protected Areas Strategy Secretariat. 2003. Northwest Territories Protected Areas Strategy Mackenzie Valley Five-Year Action Plan (2004-2009): Conservation Planning for Pipeline Development

Ref. 10. NWT Protected Areas Strategy Steering Committee. 2010. Establishment Action Plan 2010-2015: Fulfilling the Promise of the Northwest Territories' Protected Areas Strategy. Yellowknife, NT.

Ref. 11. Environment Canada. 2006. Canadian Protected Areas Status Report 2000-2005. Government of Canada.