Home | Back | Next
Ecological Framework of Canada
Defining the Framework


The objective in the revision and application of the framework is to facilitate the integration of data that various jurisdictions and agencies maintain in a manner that is useful to as many interests and stakeholders as possible. One way to meet this challenge and evaluate information is to view the framework as a directory and the ecological units as a comprehensive set of information folders. It becomes a common ground to build a profile and understanding of Canada's ecosystems (see Part II: Introduction,Government of Canada 1996). The folders then allow different agencies and jurisdictions as well as individual researchers and managers to contribute to this process. Today's governments and other groups cannot afford to start from scratch to build an ecosystem information base, they have to rely on existing expertise, information holdings and monitoring networks.

For most managers and decision makers, one framework in which to make all decisions would be the ideal, but particular issues and questions will demand the use of other spatial frameworks (Gray et al. 1995;Jarvis et al. 1995). At a minimum, the ecological framework will have to operate closely with administrative/jurisdictional and watershed frameworks.

Applications of the framework at national and regional levels are not new. Earlier versions of ecozones, ecoprovinces, ecoregions and ecodistricts have been used for State of the Environment reporting, assessing and ranking cumulative threats to wildlife habitat, evaluating protected areas, climate change studies, acid rain assessments, distribution of rare and endangered species, and as a framework for ecosystem representativeness (Rubec 1992). Some current applications of the framework, and developments to integrate important national data sources, are discussed in the following sections of the report.

Reporting Applications

The revised ecozones and ecoregions are being used now to analyze and prepare the contents for the third national State of the Environment Report to be released in 1996 and in some ongoing provincial and territorial reports.

Indicators relative to the terrestrial component of the framework are being developed for forestry and agricultural sectors. Natural Resources Canada (Canadian Forest Service) is employing the framework to develop indicators of forest disturbance and biodiversity as well as the preparation of the annual state of forests report to parliament through the use of the Canadian Forest Inventory (CanFI) database.

The Canadian Forest Inventory (CanFI) database has been integrated through GIS with the terrestrial ecozones and ecoregions (Lowe et al. 1995). CanFI is one of the very few national databases that provide information on forest cover and can in the future incorporate other pertinent forest ecosystem attributes. This recent integration allows CanFI to analyze related or aggregated data by terrestrial ecozone and ecoregion. This extends, but does not replace, CanFI's earlier regional abilities to work by province and territory or by forest region and section (Rowe 1972).

Selected land use attributes in the agricultural census have been linked through the soil landscape polygons to ecodistricts, ecoregions and ecozones. Indicators of soil degradation risk, water contamination risk, changes in agricultural land use and agricultural greenhouse gas balances are currently under development (Acton 1994;McRae and Lombardi 1994). Using these links to census data, model algorithms may be applied at various levels of detail depending on the application, and results can be displayed at any appropriate level of the framework. The census data has been used to characterize the nature and intensity of agricultural land uses within the various levels of the framework in Ontario (Jarvis et al. 1995). Ecoregions have been used to isolate areas for the interpretation of environmental quality (Jarvis et al. 1995). Data from the Soil Landscapes of Canada and the Agriculture census for 1981 and 1991 have been used to assess two important factors affecting water quality: manure production and pesticide use.

The framework is being used by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) and Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) to organize and report information requirements at the broad ecozone level. Under CEAA, all environmental assessment projects that have a federal government interest are recorded in the Public Registry by ecozone (Canadian Environmental Reporting Agency 1994). CEPA requires individuals or companies applying for permits for import and application of microbial pesticides to provide certain information for ecological risk assessments by ecozone.

Protected areas strategies developed by both government and nongovernment organizations are being structured on an ecosystem, rather than political jurisdiction basis. The Canadian Wildlife Service, together with Habitat Canada is using the framework to characterize major habitat areas and to develop strategies to ensure their protection. The Canadian Council on Ecological Areas (CCEA) uses the framework to facilitate the achievement of its goal of establishing and maintaining a comprehensive network of protected areas representative of Canada's ecological biodiversity (Gauthier et al. 1995). Their strategic framework uses the ecoregion as the coarsest scale at which candidate ecological areas should be evaluated (gap analysis) for inclusion in a Canadian system of representative areas (Gauthier 1992).

Monitoring Applications

Monitoring the effects of management practices requires baseline information on ecosystem properties as well as changing conditions of ecosystems. The framework stratifies the country into various levels of ecological uniformity. For monitoring purposes this facilitates the allocation or linking of sites to a standard ecological hierarchy, thereby minimizing sampling variance and increasing our ability to extrapolate results for areas with similar properties.

The Canadian Forest Service has accepted the framework as a template to ensure that its biodiversity network research is representative of broad-scale national diversity. Currently, Environment Canada and the Canadian Forest Service are working to integrate data from the Acid Rain Network Early Warning System (ARNEWS), the Long Range Transported Airborne Pollutants (LRTAP) monitoring network with the framework to enhance monitoring and interpretation of changes in forest biodiversity. In a related initiative, Environment Canada is working with the federal/provincial CFIC, for which the Canadian Forest Service acts as Secretariat, to catalogue forest permanent sample plots (PSPs) across the country by ecological mapping units. Thousands of these plots exist and are regularly monitored by both industry and provincial and territorial agencies. They are sources of invaluable baseline data useful in the understanding and analysis of forest condition and change.

The Research Branch of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada operates a network of soil benchmark monitoring sites under representative farming systems in all provinces in Canada. The resultant data are linked to the ecological framework for summary and subsequent modelling applications.

Canada's Green Plan called for the establishment of a long term monitoring and assessment capability to study resources at risk, ecosystem response and the impact of major disruptions to ecosystems (Government of Canada 1990). By 1994 the Ecological Monitoring and Assessment Network (EMAN) was established with a coordinating office supported by Environment Canada (Ecological Monitoring Coordination Office 1994,1995). The network is decentralized and open to all who want to participate. Participants include organized networks such as the ARNEWS and Soil Benchmark monitoring sites previously identified. The network is designed to encourage scientists to concentrate their work at specific sites within the ecological framework using an ecosystem approach. Its goals are directed to overcome the lack of continuous, uniform long term measurement records available to assess the sustainability of ecosystems.


These examples of applications and efforts to integrate information illustrate the value of having a framework that correlates across all political boundaries and provides several levels of generalization nationally. Results of site monitoring, environmental assessment or inventories can be compared with data from similar ecosystems in other parts of the country, and can be reported at a variety of scales. The framework is now being applied to sectoral issues. It provides a neutral ground to allow the integration of data from agencies that have different mandates on diverse aspects of the environment. The framework is a useful strategic tool to plan for assessments, research, structure or modify monitoring networks, reporting and communication of ecological concepts. The process of ecological classification and mapping is iterative. As we learn more about the functions and processes of ecosystems through site-specific monitoring, advances in research and their applications, we improve the framework and thereby the quality of our management responses to problems and issues (Hughes et al. 1994) (There is no bibliographic reference for Hughes).