Protected and Conserved Areas

Manitoba's Protected Areas Initiative is a government program dedicated to working together with others to build a network of protected and conserved areas that contains the tremendous biological diversity and unique natural features found across the province.

Manitoba has a wealth of diverse landscapes ranging from rare grasslands to vast boreal forest, and rich wetlands to pristine arctic tundra, with abundant freshwater lakes and a marine coastline. Our natural areas support complex communities of plants and animals. This biodiversity is essential for maintaining healthy ecosystems, resources, and human well-being.  

More than just pretty places, protected and conserved areas are natural solutions to climate change. They are one of the most effective ways to conserve biodiversity in a changing climate, even though the ecological communities found within them may change dramatically over time. They provide essential services, giving us clean air and water, and can help protect our communities during extreme weather events like storms, floods, and wildfire brought about by climate change. 

Protected and conserved areas can be places for people to enjoy the wonder of exploration, and the peace and solitude of nature. They provide safe havens for plants and animals to persist, adapt in, or migrate to as habitats change with the climate. Protected and conserved areas play an important role in carbon dynamics, storing carbon in plants, soils and peatlands and releasing it through natural processes. Healthy ecosystems can store more carbon more consistently over time than developed areas. They are a natural legacy for future generations.

Protected and conserved areas are important for research and education. They provide invaluable conservation benchmarks required to support sustainable resource management practices. They are a fundamental cornerstone of Manitoba’s sustainable future.

Manitoba's long term commitment to establish a network of protected areas began in 1990, when the province became the first jurisdiction in Canada to commit to protecting examples of all of its diverse landscapes. Since 1990, Manitoba's network of protected areas has grown to recognize other types of conserved areas and has increased from 350,000 hectares to just over 7.2 million hectares today, or approximately 11.1% of Manitoba.

What are protected areas?

Areas included in the network of protected and conserved areas must meet international standards set by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and be supported by legislative or other effective measures. Manitoba reviews new sites before they are added to the network to ensure they meet the criteria for reporting these sites nationally through the Canadian Protected and Conserved Areas Database (CPCAD), and internationally to the IUCN.

A protected area is 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.

The rights of Indigenous Peoples are respected in protected areas which generally remain available for hunting, trapping, fishing, and other traditional practices.

Protected areas in Manitoba include land, freshwater, or marine areas identified for the purpose of biodiversity conservation where logging, mining, hydroelectric development, oil and gas development, exploring for and harvesting peat, and other activities that significantly and adversely affect biodiversity are prohibited by law or other effective means.

An other effective area-based conservation measure (OECM) is a geographically defined area other than a protected area, which is governed and managed in ways that achieve positive and sustained long-term outcomes for the in situ conservation of biodiversity, with associated ecosystem functions and services and where applicable, cultural, spiritual, socio-economic, and other locally relevant values.

Both protected areas and OECMs must result in effective in situ biodiversity conservation to be included in the network. This does not mean that OECMs have lower standards than protected areas. It means that they meet the criteria in different ways.

While protected areas require a primary objective for biodiversity conservation, OECMs do not. Rather, the way an OECM is managed must result in effective biodiversity conservation outcomes, regardless of the reason for the site’s existence.

Manitoba is using the pan-Canadian Decision Support Tool (DST) to screen a site to determine if it meets criteria to be added to the network of protected and conserved areas. For help and support using the DST, please contact us at

Types of Protected and Conserved Areas

Manitoba’s network of protected and conserved areas currently includes the parts of provincial and federal designations in Manitoba that meet criteria for protected areas, lands owned by municipalities, private lands owned by land trusts, and areas recognized as other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs).

Legal designations included in the network today are:

It will take more than provincially and federally protected and conserved areas to complete the network of protected and conserved areas in Manitoba.

Lands owned or managed by Indigenous Peoples, municipal governments, and land trusts may also be included in the network. While existing provincial or federal legislation may not work in these cases, other means may be used to protect them.

What is important is that they meet criteria for protected areas or OECMs.

In southern Manitoba, most of the land is privately owned and the remaining natural areas support species at risk. Having the ability to protect private and municipal lands that are still in their natural state gives us a way to conserve habitat that benefits species by allowing them to move safely across the landscape.

Land Trusts are organizations who acquire private land through purchases and donations for the purposes of conserving and enhancing natural ecosystems, wildlife and fisheries habitat, and plant or animal species.  These lands can help provide connectivity between other protected and conserved areas in landscapes where much of the land has been converted from its natural state.

Since 2004, lands owned by Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) and Manitoba Habitat Conservancy that meet protected and conserved areas reporting criteria have been included in Manitoba’s network of protected and conserved areas.

The mission, values, objectives and policies of these organizations along with their land management practices for individual sites can help decide if they meet criteria for inclusion in the network.

The Government of Manitoba has signed Memorandums of Agreement (MOAs) with NCC (2004, updated 2009) DUC (2006), ensuring an additional level of commitment by these organizations to ensure their lands meet Manitoba’s protected area standards. While MOAs are not required, lands included in these MOAs meet best practice for protected areas because the subsurface rights for all lands added to the MOAs must be withheld from disposition by the owner.   

Municipalities maintain parks and conservation areas for the benefit of local residents and these areas can provide connectivity between other protected and conserved areas. Municipal lands that conserve biodiversity may meet protected and conserved areas reporting criteria through a combination of local bylaws, management plans, and policies.

The Government of Manitoba signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the City of Winnipeg (2007) to explore opportunities for including city natural lands in the network of protected and conserved areas.

Parts of the Assiniboine Forest, Little Mountain Park, and the Living Prairie Museum are examples of City of Winnipeg sites included in Manitoba’s network of protected and conserved areas.

Ecological Representation

The goal of Manitoba’s Protected Areas Initiative is to create a network of protected and conserved areas that represents the full range of biodiversity found across Manitoba’s 16 ecoregions. 

How do we know where to focus our work when information about the species found here and their distribution across the province is incomplete? We assess the ecological representation of biodiversity in the network using a surrogate for biodiversity called enduring features.

Enduring Features are a collection of landscape types, each characterized by a unique combination of soils and surficial geology, or landforms.

All biological organisms share a connection to the landscapes where they live.  Unlike plants and animals, soils and landforms are more stable and endure over geologic time.  The combination of enduring features, or geodiversity in an area determines the diversity of the biological communities in an area.

When an ecological process such as fire passes through an area, the local biodiversity may temporarily change. However, there is potential for the area to return to its previous state because the soils and landforms remain in place.

As the climate continues to change over the long term, plant and animal species may shift their ranges. The enduring features will be stable, providing spaces for species to adapt in, and move to as the environment transforms in the future.

Representation is the term used to describe the proportion of each enduring feature that is included in the network within an ecoregion and the confidence that the biodiversity is likely to be maintained over time.  In Manitoba, representation is assessed as adequate, moderate, partial, or not captured.

The Ecoregion Representation map of Manitoba's enduring features gives an indication of where the job of establishing protected areas is complete and where more work needs to be done. The Protected Areas Initiative periodically conducts a gap analysis to evaluate representation as we undertake protected areas planning on a regional basis.

Establishing Protected Areas

Manitoba selects areas for protection through a scientific process based on sound ecological principles and criteria using scientific data, and local and Indigenous knowledge.

The province works with Indigenous communities throughout the protected areas planning process. Industry and other stakeholder involvement allows for the sharing of information on potential developments and economic opportunities that are considered during the protected areas decision making process. 

People influence the environment, and cannot be separated from it. Public input is an important part of the protected areas planning process. All of these discussions help form a foundation of general agreement for protected area proposals by finding a balance between conservation needs and resource commitments ensuring our collective economic prosperity and ecological integrity.

Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) encourages the global recognition of the biodiversity conservation value of areas conserved by Indigenous Peoples and local communities, calling them Indigenous Peoples and Community Conserved Areas (ICCAs).

Through Pathway to Canada Target 1, an Indigenous Circle of Experts (ICE) was brought together to explore how Indigenous led conservation could be recognized in Canada. The ICE developed the term Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs). The following description of the term is included in the Pathway One with Nature report:

“IPCAs are lands and waters where Indigenous Peoples have the primary role in protecting and conserving ecosystems through Indigenous laws, governance and knowledge systems. Culture and language are the heart and soul of an IPCA.”

While IPCAs can vary in terms of governance and management objectives, they must be:

  • Indigenous-led
  • represent a long-term commitment to conservation
  • And elevate Indigenous rights and responsibilities

An IPCA may or may not meet protected area or other effective area-based conservation measure (OECM) criteria, based on the purpose set for it by the Indigenous Peoples leading its development.

You can read more about IPCAs and find the Indigenous Circle of Experts report on the Pathway website.