Ontario’s parks and protected areas
Learn about Ontario’s parks and protected areas and how they are created.
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Climate change poses a serious threat to Ontario’s natural areas. Conservation of these areas can play an important role in mitigating and adapting to climate change.
Through the Made-in-Ontario Environment plan we will protect and enhance our natural areas and greenspace, support conservation efforts, develop adaptation strategies and promote the importance of healthy natural spaces for future generations to use and enjoy.
Protected areas are defined to protect natural and cultural features, maintain biodiversity and provide opportunities for compatible recreation.
These areas may contain:
- old-growth forest
- lakes, rivers and wetlands
- archaeological sites or other cultural values
- habitat for rare or endangered plants and animals
Protected Areas Working Group
We have established a working group of conservation experts to identify opportunities to protect and conserve more natural areas that will enhance the province’s natural diversity and provide more recreational opportunities for people to enjoy the outdoors.
Working group members are drawn from the private sector, non-governmental organizations and Indigenous communities.
The working group will provide their recommendations to the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks in a number of areas, such as identifying opportunities and how to address barriers to increasing protected and conserved green spaces, including how public-private partnerships could be used to further advance conservation efforts.
The working group members are:
- Peter Kendall (Chair), Executive Director, Schad Foundation
- Andre Vallillee, Environment Program Director, Metcalf Foundation
- Chris McDonell, Chief Forester, Rayonier Advanced Materials
- David Flood, General Manager, Wahkohtowin Development GP Inc
- Geoff Burt, CEO, Consecon Foundation
- George Ross, former Deputy Minister of Northern Development, Mines, and Research and Innovation and Consumer Services
- John Beaucage, Principal, Counsel Public Affairs and former Chief of Wasauksing First Nation
- John Snobelen, former Minister of Natural Resources
- Lorne Johnson, Vice-President, Ivey Foundation
- Lynette Mader, Manager of Provincial Operations, Ducks Unlimited
- Mike Hendren, Vice-President (Ontario Region), Nature Conservancy of Canada
- Paul Genest, Senior Vice-President, Power Corporation
Types of protected areas
Protect significant natural and cultural features in the province while supporting Ontario’s economy. Regulated under the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act, they are important for outdoor recreation, scientific research and environmental monitoring, and education.
Protect significant natural and cultural features while providing opportunities for a variety of compatible traditional activities (e.g. fishing, hunting, trapping). Regulated under the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act, they are also important for scientific research and environmental monitoring.
Established to preserve areas in their natural state to protect flora and fauna, these areas are regulated under the Wilderness Areas Act. Research and educational activities may be carried out to help improve local knowledge about historical, aesthetic, scientific or recreational values.
Dedicated protected areas in the Far North
Through community-based land use planning in the Far North, First Nations and Ontario are working together to identify dedicated protected areas. These areas will help protect the unique ecology and boreal environment of the region. They will also ensure the region’s resources contribute to a more prosperous, healthy and sustainable future for its communities.
Under the Far North Act, dedicated protected areas can be either:
- unregulated designations in community-based land use plans
- regulated under the Far North Act or the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act (PPCRA)
Privately protected areas and other area-based conservation measures
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), defines privately protected areas as protected areas managed by:
- private citizens
- non-governmental organizations
- for-profit owners
- research entities
- religious entities
Some areas are protected by other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs). These are geographically defined areas that aren’t considered protected areas but are managed in a way that provide positives and sustained long-term outcomes for:
- in-situ conservation of biodiversity
- ecosystem functions and services
- cultural, spiritual, socio-economic, and other locally relevant values
Ontario’s protected areas summary statistics
|Provincial protected area||Number||Hectares||% of Province|
|Regulated provincial park||335||7,421,848 ||6.9%|
|Regulated conservation reserve||295||1,515,687||1.4%|
|Dedicated protected area - regulated under PPCRA||5||349,481||0.3%|
|Dedicated protected area - Non-regulated||4||879,970||0.8%|
|Area of natural and scientific interest (Crown land)||3||3,948||<0.1%|
|Total provincial protected area||653||10,171,772||9.4%|
|National protected area||Number||Hectares||% of Province|
|National urban park||1||4,551||<0.1%|
|National marine park||1||11,350||<0.1%|
|National marine conservation area||1||1,088,000||1.0%|
|National wildlife area||10||5,414||<0.1%|
|Migratory bird sanctuary||8||31,880||<0.1%|
|National capital commission area||16||8,242||<0.1%|
|Total national protected area||42||1,355,008||1.3%|
|Privately protected area||Number||Hectares||% of Province|
|Total privately protected area||714||67,122||<0.1%|
|Other effective area-based conservation measure (OECM)||4||4,277||<0.1%|
|Total privately protected area and OECM||718||71,339||<0.1%|
|Total protected area||Number||Hectares||% of Province|
|Total national, provincial, and privately protected area||1,413||11,598,178||10.8%|
How protected areas are chosen
Protected areas are selected and designed based on their ecological, geological and cultural heritage features.
Provincial parks and conservation reserves are selected using specific criteria. Areas with the best examples of a feature are rated provincially significant. Areas with next best examples may be considered regionally or locally significant. A similar framework for representing Ontario’s aquatic ecosystems has yet to be developed.
Specific targets have been set to represent:
- land-based ecosystems
- geological features
- Ontario’s cultural heritage
Site selection is guided in part by policy commitments based on park class.
You can find more information on building a protected area system and the criteria used to select and design protected areas in the State of Ontario’s Protected Areas Report.
Ecological land classification system
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry uses an ecological land classification system to define natural regions by their ecological features. Ecological units are created on the basis of bedrock, climate, physical geography and corresponding vegetation.
This landscape classification enables planners and ecologists to organize ecological information into logical integrated units to support landscape planning and monitoring. It applies to many areas of provincial business, including:
- protected area identification
- wildlife habitat definition
- forest management planning
- relevant to municipal land use planning
Areas of natural and scientific interest
Areas of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSIs) are areas of land and water containing unique natural landscapes or features. These features have been scientifically identified as having life or earth science values related to protection, scientific study or education.
There are more than 1,000 ANSIs totaling over 460,000 hectares in Ontario. Most are located on private land.
ANSIs complement provincial parks and conservation reserves by conserving significant features through means other than regulation.
Types of Areas of Natural and Scientific Interest
There are 2 kinds of ANSIs:
Earth science ANSIs
Are geological in nature and contain significant examples of bedrock, fossils, landforms or ongoing geological processes.
Life science ANSIs
Represent biodiversity and natural landscapes. They include specific types of forests, valleys, prairies, wetlands, native plants, native animals and their supportive environments. Life science ANSIs contain relatively undisturbed vegetation and landforms and their associated species and communities.