Canadian Treaties, Laws, and Policies Addressing Migratory Birds

Canada has provincial, federal, and international laws, policies, and treaty obligations bearing upon migratory birds. This document does not summarize provincial laws to any extent, but it is worth noting that the provinces and territories retain a good deal of control over the implementation of migratory bird conservation, and many guidelines are provincially and territorially specific.

International Treaties
Canada is signatory to several international treaties and conventions bearing upon migratory birds and bird habitat.

Migratory Birds Convention Act (1994)

The most significant and longstanding convention is the Migratory Birds Convention Act (1994) between the United States and Canada. Initially signed in 1916 (with the United Kingdom on behalf of Canada), the Act was amended in 1994 to account for Aboriginal and treaty rights.

  • The Act’s purpose is to ensure the “long-term conservation of shared species of migratory birds for their nutritional, social, cultural, spiritual, ecological, economic, and aesthetic values” through cooperative management, regulation of harvesting, protection of habitat, and sharing research.
  • The Act is administered by the Canadian Wildlife Service under Environment Canada. It applies to migratory birds across Canada, whether on federal or provincial lands.
  • Prohibits the possession, buying, selling, exchange or transfer of a migratory bird or nest. Addresses permitting, hunting restrictions, the introduction of non-indigenous migratory bird species, generally prohibits pollution.
  • The Migratory Bird Sanctuary Regulations are also passed under the Act, which prescribes areas for bird sanctuaries and their governance.
  • Note that earlier versions of the Act distinguished between “good” birds (especially songbirds) considered beneficial to humans and birds that were considered vermin or harmful (such as hawks, owls, crows, and cormorants). The latter were left under provincial jurisdiction. See the Redpath Museum’s site for details.
The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands

The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitats) is “an intergovernmental treaty which provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. There are presently 158 Contracting Parties to the Convention, with 1831 wetland sites, totaling 170 million hectares, designated for inclusion in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance”.

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) (1975)

CITES is an international convention that controls international trade in specimens of selected species. All import, export, re-export and introduction from the sea of species covered by the Convention has to be authorized through a licensing system. Divides species into three lists: species threatened with extinction (of which trade is permitted “only in exceptional circumstances”); species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but “in which trade must be controlled in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival”; and species that are protected in at least one country, which has asked other CITES Parties for assistance in controlling the trade.

UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) (1992)

Canada was the first industrialized country to sign and ratify the CBD. Its objectives are the conservation of biodiversity; the sustainable use of biological resources; and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources. As a result of the CBD, Canada developed the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy (1995) and implemented the Canadian Biodiversity Information Network (CBID) in 1996.

Programs and Policies
There are various policies and programs administered in Canada that bear upon migratory birds and involve international partnerships. Although not conventions or treaties, they nevertheless impact upon migratory bird management.

Program for the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF)

CAFF is a “working group” administered by the Arctic Council, created in 1996 as an intergovernmental forum for promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States, with the involvement of Arctic Indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants on common Arctic issues, in particular issues of sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic. Member states are Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russian Federation, Sweden, and the USA, and the Council also includes representatives from Indigenous groups like the Inuit Circumpolar Council.

CAFF emphasizes Indigenous involvement and the economic value of species more than other bird conservation programs or agreements. The Program’s objectives include monitoring Arctic biodiversity, conservation of Arctic species & their habitats, investigating the establishment of protected areas, conservation of nature outside protected areas, and integration of conservation objectives & measures for economic development.

North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI) (1998)

NABCI is the result of an agreement between Canada, Mexico and the United States, concluded in order to facilitate the conservation of North American native bird species. It involves strategies and initiatives to better coordinate conservation efforts and build on existing conservation structures.

North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP) (1986)

NAWMP was launched in 1986 with the signing of an agreement between Canada and the United States. Mexico joined the program in 1988. The Plan provides a policy framework for analysing North American waterfowl issues. It sets out a number of objectives relating to waterfowl habitat and populations, with a focus on conserving and expanding wetland areas.

Domestic Laws Addressing Birds
As in the United States, prior to the 1960s and 70s hunting was perceived to be the major threat to wildlife. Since then, habitat destruction has become a greater threat and an emphasis on conservation through habitat preservation has emerged.

The Canada Wildlife Act (1973)

The Canada Wildlife Act allows for the creation, management and protection of wildlife areas for wildlife research activities, or for conservation or interpretation of wildlife. Its purpose is to preserve habitats “that are critical to migratory birds and other wildlife species, particularly those that are at risk”. Its regulations prohibit all activities that could be harmful to species or their habitat, unless a permit has been issued permitting the activity.

Canadian Envionmental Protection Act (CEPA) (1998)

CEPA is “an Act respecting pollution prevention and the protection of the environment and human health in order to contribute to sustainable development”. It was initially passed in 1988 and was amended in 1998 to address biodiversity more directly. The main focus of CEPA is pollution prevention and the management of toxic substances.

Endangered Species Acts

Several provinces have Endangered Species Acts (with varying levels of force) but there is no federal Act unifying federal approaches to endangered species.

Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act (WAPPRIITA)

This Act addresses international and interprovincial trade in wildlife and plants and prohibits traffic of endangered species. It also manages the trade of less threatened species through permits and addresses the introduction of undesirable species into Canada. It goes beyond species listed in CITES.

The Canada Oceans Act (1997)

The Canada Oceans Act addresses Canadian authority over economic zones in Canada’s coastal regions, but also outlines an ecosystems-based approach to marine resource management (the “Oceans Management Strategy”) that allows for the creation of Marine Protected Areas for the conservation of marine resources (including those of economic interest and those that are endangered) and areas of high biodiversity.

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