About the Program


Voluntary activities are clearly making a difference in habitat protection, the recovery of species, and the preservation of biodiversity. The Habitat Stewardship Program (HSP) started in 2000, as one of three pillars in Canada’s national strategy for the protection of species at risk. The other two pillars are the National Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk, endorsed by the provinces and territories, and the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Under the SARA, stewardship is the first step in protecting critical habitat. Hundreds of stewardship projects are underway across Canada, many of them funded by the HSP. The program directs funds where they are needed most and into the hands of people who can make a difference--those who work on Canada's lands and waters and who care about this country's natural legacy.

The HSP helps Canadians protect species at risk and their habitats and prevents other species from becoming a conservation concern. The program fosters land and resource use practices that maintain the habitat necessary for the survival and recovery of species at risk, enhancing existing conservation activities and encouraging new ones. Since 2000, the program invested over $127 million to support 2 178 local conservation projects, benefitting the habitat of more than 400 species at risk.   These projects have in turn leveraged an additional $ 303 million for a total investment of over than $ 400 million in stewardship projects to support the recovery of species at risk.  The program has established over 300 partnerships with Aboriginal organizations, landowners, resource users, nature trusts, provinces, the natural resource sector, community-based wildlife societies, educational institutions and conservation organizations. Since its inception, the HSP has contributed to the legal securement of approximately 150 000 ha of habitat. Every year, on average, an additional 200 000 ha are protected through direct actions taken by landowners, land managers, or conservation agencies. The program reaches more than a million people every year through outreach and education activities.

The program helps implement the SARA and now, in light of additional federal investments under the National Conservation Plan, works to keep healthy species healthy. The Species at Risk Stream gives a higher priority to activities that support species listed under the Act as endangered and threatened, and a lower priority to activities that aid species listed as of special concern. The Prevention Stream fosters stewardship projects aimed at preventing priority species, other than species at risk, from becoming a conservation concern. Under this latter stream, all species not listed under the SARA are eligible and national priorities are identified annually.

Priority landscapes that have been targeted by the Species at Risk Stream include

  • the Garry oak (Quercus garryana) ecosystem of southern Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, and Fraser Valley of British Columbia, which is home to more than 20 species at risk nationally;
  • the tallgrass prairie and aspen parkland region of Manitoba, where habitat protection efforts benefit plant and bird species at risk, such as the small white lady's-slipper (Cypripedium candidum) and Sprague's Pipit (Anthus spragueii);
  • the Upper Thames watershed of southern Ontario, where 37 species at risk are under threat from development and aggregate land use;
  • the St. Lawrence Lowlands of southern Quebec, where the Missisquoi Bay wetlands are the last large sanctuary for the spiny softshell (Apalone spinifera); and
  • the coastal limestone barrens of Newfoundland's Great Northern Peninsula, which house dozens of plant species at risk, including at risk Salix and Braya species.

To ensure efficient use of limited resources, the HSP is a "targeted" program. Regional and national planning partners establish the overall program and priorities, then specific projects are developed and funded. The HSP is administered by Environment Canada and managed cooperatively with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Parks Canada Agency. Activities that respond to regional priorities are coordinated by five regional implementation boards: Pacific and Yukon, Prairie and Northern, Ontario, Quebec, and Atlantic. Members of these boards represent the three responsible departments, as well as provincial, territorial, conservation, and other stakeholder interests.

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What Is Stewardship?

Stewardship refers to the wide range of voluntary actions that Canadians take to care for the environment, ranging from conserving wild species and their habitats directly, to improving the quality of habitat by mitigating human impact. These types of conservation activities, particularly those that protect habitat, are essential to the recovery of species at risk. They are also instrumental in preventing other species from becoming at risk.

Some of the ongoing stewardship activities supported by the HSP include:

  • installing nest boxes in Ontario and Quebec for several species of birds, including the Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea) and the Barn Owl (Tyto alba);
  • monitoring marine mammal populations and protecting important habitats from disturbance along the Atlantic, Arctic, and Pacific coasts;
  • developing selective fishing methods to ensure that fish and other aquatic species at risk are not caught accidentally in nets set for other species;
  • involving Aboriginal communities in the conservation of declining fish species in British Columbia; and
  • sponsoring community-based projects in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island to restore riverbanks and prevent soil erosion.

Partnerships are the key to making stewardship a successful conservation tool in Canada. Federal and provincial governments encourage action by providing scientific information, technical assistance, and economic incentives. Non-governmental organizations help private landowners and concerned citizens identify and implement effective stewardship activities. Many other partners are also involved, including resource users, fishers, Aboriginal organizations, educational institutions, and community organizations.

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Program Goals and Objectives

Protecting habitat and contributing to the recovery of species at risk as well as preventing species from becoming a conservation concern are the HSP's main goals.

The Species at Risk Stream focuses on results in four main areas:

  • Important habitatFootnote1 for species at risk recovery is secured or otherwise protected.
  • Important habitat for species at risk recovery is improved (restored/enhanced) and/or managed to meet species’ recovery needs.
  • Threats to species at risk and/or their habitat that are caused by human activities are stopped, removed and/or mitigated.
  • Project benefits are sustained over time by engaging Canadians (landowners, resource users, volunteers) to participate directly in activities that support the recovery of species at risk.

Starting in 2014-15, the Prevention Stream focuses on the very same results as the Species at Risk Stream but with a focus on species of interest beyond those listed under the SARA.

In addition to the above objectives, the program aims to achieve a minimum of 1:1 leveraging on funds that it invests so that, for every $1 provided by the HSP, at least $1 is raised by project recipients. This leveraging can take the form of either financial or in-kind resources (volunteered labour, products or services). Partner funding and other support broaden the scope of projects, improve on-the-ground results, and strengthen the public and private collaboration that is essential to involving all Canadians in stewardship activities for species both at risk and not at risk.

By stimulating the creation of a larger pool of funds and the formation of partnerships, the HSP is able to fund activities that support its core objectives.

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Footnote 1

The program defines “important habitat” as habitat that is considered as candidate for Critical Habitat or habitat that is important for the species but that is not actually identified in a recovery strategy/action plan/management plan.

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