The Protected Areas Act recognizes that:
- Protected Areas support current and future generations;
- The Government must recognize and respect Aboriginal and Treaty rights;
- “…cooperative and collaborative governance with Indigenous governments and organizations is desirable for all protected areas;”
- Decision-making regarding Protected Areas must use the best available information, including Indigenous knowledge and values, local and community knowledge, and scientific knowledge;
- Protected Areas planning must account for climate change considerations;
- Protected Areas must “contribute to efforts to conserve biodiversity, ecological integrity and cultural continuity regionally, nationally and internationally;” and
- Protected Areas must be managed using the precautionary principle.
The purpose of the Protected Areas Act is to protect biodiversity, ecological integrity, and cultural continuity through the creation of permanent Protected Areas for present and future generations.
Cabinet can create a Protected Area through regulation. Cabinet may only decrease the size of or cancel a Protected Area if Indigenous governments or organizations agree with this decision or if the lands are found to be Aboriginal title lands.
Generally, the creation of a Protected Area requires an Establishment Agreement with one or more Indigenous governments or organizations in the designated area.
The Establishment Agreement may lay out management roles, permitted and restricted activities, governance rights and obligations, and permitted Aboriginal rights activities. This agreement may also address other issues of importance to each party.
It should be noted that Cabinet has the power to establish a Protected Area without an Establishment Agreement in exceptional circumstances, where “irreconcilable differences” arise during negotiations and an Agreement cannot be reached.
The Government of Northwest Territories notes that the Protected Areas Act is “designed to be flexible in order to ensure the unique needs and features of each individual Protected Area can be addressed through the establishment and management processes.” Overall, “the Regulations and Management Plans for each Protected Area detail what activities can happen where, when, and under what conditions.”
Each Protected Area must have a management plan that includes:
- Conservation and management objectives;
- Permitted activities;
- Indicators and baseline data collection to measure progress towards objectives;
- Management actions;
- Review processes; and
- Climate change considerations.
Subject to the Establishment Agreement, the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources (“the Minister”) is responsible for managing Protected Areas. To support this management, the Minister can enter into funding agreements and/or create a Management Board for a Protected Area.
Based on the recommendation of an Indigenous government or organization or Management Board, the Minister can also create an Advisory Board to provide advice regarding the management of Protected Areas.
The Minister must also create a Protected Areas registry that provides information about candidates and established Protected Areas to the public.
The Protected Areas Act sets out a process to nominate an area for protection. An Indigenous government or organization can nominate an area for protection.
The nomination package must include the following information:
- A summary of the area’s values;
- A description of how protecting the area would support the purpose of the Act;
- A map of the area; and
- If the area includes private lands, the consent of private landowners.
Once an area has been nominated, the Minister must consider it “without delay.”
A proposal will be considered by the Minister if the proposed Protected Area is entirely on public lands, or where the consent of private landowners has been obtained, and the proposed Area meets the purpose of the Act.
If the Minister chooses to reject a proposal made by an Indigenous government or organization, they must provide the government or organization with written reasons explaining their decision.
On the Minister’s recommendation, the Executive Council can approve a proposal for a candidate Protected Area if the following criteria are met:
- The proposed Protected Area supports the purpose of the Act;
- The Government has discharged its duty to consult;
- The proposal contains sufficient information to protect the area;
- The consent of private landowners has been obtained, if applicable; and
- The area will be sufficiently protected.
The Minister must review a candidate Protected Area at least once every five years until it is either removed from the registry or established as a Protected Area.
A candidate Protected Area can only be removed from the registry if the nominating Indigenous government or organization no longer supports its protection or if protecting the lands no longer supports the purposes of the Act.