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Why it matters

Nature provides the essentials of life: biological systems clean the air and water, and provide food. Natural ecosystems also underpin economic activity such as pulp, timber, fishing and recreational activities.

In 2010, Canada supported the 2011–2020 United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity Strategic Plan, a globally aspirational, non-binding, flexible framework of goals and targets to halt the loss of biodiversity, and committed to developing domestic biodiversity targets adapted to the Canadian context.

Canada's renewable natural resource industries comprise an important part of the Canadian economy. An estimated 80,000 Canadians make their living directly from fishing and related activities, and seafood is one of the largest commodity exports. Canada's forest industry employs about 236,000 people, largely in harvesting, milling, processing and manufacturing jobs. The Canadian agriculture, agri-food and agri-based products sector generates more than 2 million jobs and over 8% of GDP. Tourism is also important to the Canadian economy, with Parks Canada sites alone receiving more than 20 million person-visits annually, resulting in visitors spending $2.7 billion and supporting more than 41,000 jobs.

The government works with provinces and territories to monitor and conserve wildlife, habitat and ecosystems, and to manage Canada's biological resources. In 2011, the government announced its commitment to develop a National Conservation Plan through engagement with a broad range of stakeholders. This plan will work towards conserving Canada's natural spaces, connecting Canadians with nature, connecting habitats and ecosystems through stewardship efforts, and encouraging actions to restore degraded ecosystems and recover species at risk.

Wildlife and ecosystem/habitat conservation and protection

Canada contains large areas of intact ecosystems. Many are globally significant, notably: 30% of the world's boreal forests; 20 to 30% of freshwater wetlands and grasslands; vast Arctic, coastal and marine areas; and many lakes and rivers. These ecosystems support a diversity of life with more than 70,000 known species that perform critical roles, such as maintaining the healthy functioning of ecosystems on which humans and all other organisms depend for water and air purification, fertile soil, pollination, and many other benefits. Maintaining healthy populations of species is important, particularly in species that have experienced serious population declines as a result of pressures on their habitat. In some cases, this has resulted in species being protected under Species at Risk Act. As of 2011, 616 species of animals and plants in Canada were classified as "Endangered," "Threatened," or of "Special Concern" under SARA.

Ecosystems and the species that are part of them face many pressures. Agricultural, urban and industrial developments have put pressure on Canada's ecosystems, leading to the loss, fragmentation and degradation of habitat, particularly grasslands, wetlands and southern forests in Canada. Human action is the leading cause of biodiversity loss around the world.

Other threats such as climate change, pollution and invasive alien species affect Canada's ecosystems and wildlife. Climate change leads to shifts in growing seasons and changes in the range of species, among other effects, which will lead to economic and ecological impacts. For example, partially as a result of milder winters and warmer summers that increase climatic suitability for infestation, the range of the mountain pine beetle is expanding in forests of western North America. The beetle outbreaks have cascading effects on other wildlife species and forest fire patterns. Invasive species act as predators, competitors, parasites, hybridizers, and diseases to Canada's native and domestic plants and animals.

Spills of hazardous substances into the environment from industrial or transportation-related accidents can cause immediate and often prolonged damage to the environment and human health. Every year there are around 20,000 spills of hazardous substances in Canada, although the vast majority are minor spills with a minimal impact on the environment. While larger spills occur much less frequently, they are very expensive to clean up and can have devastating effects on the environment, local economies and human health.

Protection of ecologically valuable areas and stewardship of working landscapes is key to preserving habitat and wild species. Protected areas 1and other conservation measures can help protect terrestrial and marine environments from future degradation, protect resilience to stressors such as climate change, and/or restore lands and oceans to a more natural state.

Biological resources

Sustainable management and harvest of Canada's forestry and fisheries resources protect species from overexploitation or poor management practices. Overexploitation of a resource can lead to economic and social hardship, such as the collapse of the Atlantic cod fishery in the early 1990s. Other industrial activities, such as mining, transportation, hydroelectric dams and oil/gas extraction, and climate change may also place pressure on Canada's economically valuable natural resources.

1 A protected area is defined by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as a clearly defined geographical 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 values.

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