20.2 Trends in protecting ecosystems

Last Updated: 
October 9, 2015

This indicator tracks the degree of ecological representation in current protected areas in the NWT.

Ecological representation is a conservation planning approach that looks at protecting what is unique and also what is common in core protected areas. This  ensures  portions of all ecosystems in the Northwest Territories (NWT) are protected in core protected areas. It is done on an ecoregion scale.

An ecoregion is an area of land considered to have a distinctive regional climate, physcal features, vegetation, and soil. A total of 45 ecoregions have been identified in the NWT for conservation planning (see Map 1). These conservation planning ecoregions were organized based on the revised Ecosystem Classification for the NWT1.

This indicator measures the progress towards protection for key selected habitat features (land cover types, physiographic units) and for key selected features (see Technical Notes below) in each of the 45 ecoregions in the NWT.

Text and analsysis for this indicator is obtained from the Conservation, Assessment and Monitoring Division, ENR.

Ecoregions for Conservation Planning

Map 1: Ecoregions for Conservation Planning in the NWT.

NWT Focus

There are many reasons to protect areas of land and water. Sometimes areas are protected for cultural reasons, to protect habitat for a species at risk or  preserve scenic views. These are important but, in addition to this site-specific approach, there is a broader approach to conservation planning. Ensuring ecosystems within protected areas are representative of the wide variety of ecosystems in the NWT is a good way of protecting biodiversity and maintaining ecosystem resiliency in a changing world. It is a preventative conservation planning approach to protecting biodiversity. By protecting samples of  all habitats and ecosystem in a region, the majority of the 30,000+ species in the NWT can be protected and most  can be prevented from becoming at risk of extirpation. It also helps protect the natural ecosystem processes keeping us, the land and water in good health by -allowing animals to migrate, plants to distribute seeds and water to flow.

This was recognized in the NWT Protected Area Strategy (NWT PAS) signed in 1999. The goal was to identify and protect core representative areas in each ecoregion in the NWT. Most recently the GNWT listed ecological representation network planning as a northern tool to advance land interests and achieve northern priorities in the Land Use and Sustainability Framework (2014) as a way to inform decisions about the use of the land.

Current status and trend

Ten of the 45 conservation planning ecoregions in the NWT have reached at least a moderate level of ecological representation within core protected areas.

Map 2 shows the degree of ecological represeation in each ecoregion of the NWT. As datasets of various different landscape features are used for the analysis, the results are shown on the maps as average representation of all landscape features in an ecoregion.

Mean ecological representation by ecoregion achieved by established core protected areas

Map 2: Degree of ecological representation.

There are two ecoregions where ecological representation is fully met and two where a very high degree of representation has been met. Samples of all or most landscape features of these ecoregions are protected in the Nahanni and Naats'ihch'oh National Park Reserves, the Tuktut Nogait and Aulavik National Parks and the Banks Island No. 1 Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

There are two ecoregions in which a high degree of ecological representation has been met. Samples of landscape features in these ecoregions are protected in Wood Buffalo National Park and the Thelon Game Sanctuary.

Currently 22 of the 45 ecoregions of the NWT have no core protected areas.

Looking around

The concept of ecological representation is applied to protected areas planning across Canada and the globe.

Internationally, the Convention on Biological Diversity has set what is called Aichi Target 11, which includes a reference to ecological representation. It states:

"By 2020, at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water, and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscapes and seascapes."2

The target sets the foundation for protected areas planning across the world.

Parks Canada has embodied representativeness in the objective for National Parks. Listed in the National Park System Plan the objective includes "To protect for all time representative natural areas of Canadian significance in a system of national parks...". Canada is considered to have 39 terrestrial natural regions and the goal is to represent each of those in a National Park. So far, 24 natural regions are represented by the 38 national parks and national park reserves in the system.3

Ecological representation is also a component of planning for a national network of marine protected areas. The National Framework for Canada's Network of Marine Protected Areas defines 12 broad ocean bioregions, and aims to estbalish marine protected areas in each bioregion.4 See indicator 20.3 for more information on marine protected areas in the NWT.

In Ontario, ecological representation is written as an objective in legislation. The Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act, 2006, states "The purpose of this Act is to permanently protect a system of provincial parks and conservation reserves that includes ecosystems that are representative of all of Ontario's natural regions..."5. The province of Ontario is divided into 14 ecoregions, then subdivided into 71 ecodistricts. For planning the parks system in Ontario, targets include (but are not limited to) establishing one park and at least one wilderness zone in each of Ontario's 14 ecoregions, one natural environment park no less than 2,000 hectares in size in each of Ontario's 71 ecodistricts, and at least one representative waterway class park in each of Ontario's 71 ecodistricts6.

Saskatchewan is another Canadian juridiction that is basing its protected areas planning in part on ecological representation. The approach of the Saskatchewan Representatives Areas Network is to represent the province's biological diversity found within Saskatchewan's 11 ecoregions by providing protection to at least one very large (>100,000 ha) and several smaller representative areas in each ecoregion7. The intention is that complete ecosystems are preserved, along with unique features.

Looking forward

Currently, there are proposed conservation areas in many ecoregions of the NWT. If these areas become designated as core protected areas, it will increase ecological representation in NWT and provide connectively between the ecoregions protected by current core protected areas. Additionally, as defined by the Land Use Sustainability Framework, the GNWT is developing a plan to identify, prioritize and fill gaps in ecological representation. Decisions about the use of the land will be informed by this planning8.

Find out more

Technical Notes

Ecological representation aims at protecting samples of all landscape features in a region to help protect the majority of species. Therefore, degree of ecological representation indicates how well samples of all landscape features are represented in core protected areas.

The degree of ecological representation for an ecoregion was determined using a site selection software (MARXAN)9 and Geographic Information System (GIS) analysis. First, an ecoregion was analyzed in a broad sense, where the ecoregion is sub-divided into small landscape features or landscape elements based on physiographic units (combinations of physiographic characteristics such as elevation, climate, geology, topography and latitude) and vegetation types (such as spruce forest, tall shrubs, marsh or bog). These landscape elements form the basis for a coarse-scale ecological representation analysis. The site selection software is then used to assess how well portions of each landscape element are protected by core protected areas in each ecoregion. If portions of 90% or of all the landscape elements in a given ecoregion are protected within core protected areas, then ecological representation for that ecoregion is fully met. If samples of fewer landscape elements are protected within core protected areas, then the degree of ecological representation for a given ecoregion is lower. If there are no core protected areas in an ecoregion, that ecoregion has no ecological representation.

Ideally the ecological representation analysis would also assess the landscape at a finer scale to ensure that special features within those broad areas are not missed in the coarse-scale analysis. Special features are rare, unique or sensitive features. In the NWT, data on finer level special features data that covers the whole NWT is mostly lacking, so that we are limited to focusing mainly on coarse-scale ecological representation analysis and looking at finer level data individually where it is available. Special features data that has been collected in the NWT includes amphibians and reptiles, beaches and beach ridges, deltas, eskers, areas of glacial refugia, karst features, hot and warm springs, mineral licks, plants and lichens, waterfalls and rapids.

The percentage of ecoregions within core protected areas has been reported in the past, however this was not a clear indication of whether or not samples of all landscape features have been represented and thus is no longer being reported here.

See indicator 20.1 - Trends in Territorial Core Protected Areas and Conservation Areas for a definition of core protected areas and what areas are included in this analysis. Only core protected areas are included in this analysis.

For some more technical information on how ecological representation goals were set, see Methods for Identifying Potential Core Representative Areas for the Northwest Territories Protected Area Strategy: Terrestrial Coarse Filter Representation Analysis10. A more current report on the methodology used to identify potential new core protected areas is being prepared and a link to this report will be added once it is available.

A State of Conservation Areas Network Report is in progress and a link to this report will be added once it is available.


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