Protected areas

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.

We are taking action to 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 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 were drawn from the private sector, non-governmental organizations and Indigenous communities.

The working group was convened to 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 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

Provincial parks

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.

Find a provincial park

Conservation reserves

Protect significant natural and cultural features while providing opportunities for a variety of compatible traditional activities (for example, fishing, hunting, trapping). Regulated under the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act, they are also important for scientific research and environmental monitoring.

Find a conservation reserve

Wilderness areas

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, municipally 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
  • corporations
  • for-profit owners
  • research entities
  • religious entities

Learn about privately protected areas

Municipally protected areas are lands owned and managed by municipalities or local governments.

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

Learn about OECMs

Ontario’s protected areas summary statisticsfootnote 1
Provincial protected areaNumberHectares% of Provincefootnote 2
Regulated provincial park3377,425,543footnote 36.9%
Regulated conservation reserve2961,517,6951.4%
Dedicated protected area - regulated under PPCRA5349,4810.3%
Dedicated protected area - Non-regulated4879,9700.8%
Wilderness area11838<0.1%
Area of natural and scientific interest (Crown land)33,948<0.1%
Total provincial protected area65610,177,4759.4%
National protected areaNumberHectares% of Provincefootnote 2
National park5205,5700.2%
National urban park14,551<0.1%
National marine park111,350<0.1%
National marine conservation area11,088,0001.0%
National wildlife area105,415<0.1%
Migratory bird sanctuary832,632<0.1%
National capital commission area169,553<0.1%
Total national protected area421,357,0711.3%
Non-Provincial/national protected and conserved areaNumberHectares% of Provincefootnote 2
Private other effective area-based conservation measure (OECM)33,328<0.1%
Municipal OECM3977<0.1%
Total private and municipal OECM64,305<0.1%
Total non-provincial/national protected and conserved areafootnote 4952254,821<0.2%
TotalsNumberHectares% of Provincefootnote 2
Total provincial, national and non-provincial/national1,65011,789,36710.9%

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

Learn about the ecological land classification system

Learn about ecozones and ecoregions

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.