Endangered Species in Canada: Federal Programs & Funding

This article is the third in a series, with the first article being An Introduction to Endangered Species in Canada, and the second, Endangered Species in Canada: The Federal Government. This article will focus on the federal government yet again but will look at federal programs and projects relating to species at risk. To find any important definitions, please see An Introduction to Endangered Species in Canada.

Federal Programs & Funding

There are a number of federal programs and funding opportunities that have been established in an effort to back up the legislation discussed in the previous article, and to help in the carrying out of recovery efforts. A few of these programs include the Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk (HSPSR), Aboriginal Fund for Species at Risk (AFSAR), and the Canada Nature Fund (CNF). 

The Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk (HSPSR)

The Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk (HSPSR) was established in 2000 to provide funding for projects submitted by Canadians, that would contribute directly to the recovery objectives and population goals of species at risk (as per Schedule 1 of SARA), and prevent others from becoming conservation concerns. The funding for HSPSR is administered by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), and supports land-based stewardship projects. Alternatively, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is responsible for administering the HSPSR for aquatic stewardship projects.

The objectives of the HSPSR program include: 

  • Supporting habitat projects benefiting species at risk & preventing others from becoming a conservation concern;
  • Enabling Canadians to become actively involved in stewardship projects for species at risk, will result in tangible & measurable conservation benefits; and
  • Improving the scientific, sociological & economic understanding of stewardship as a conservation tool.

As well, the aim and expected results of the HSPSR include the successful conservation and protection of Canada’s wildlife species, recovery of Canada’s species at risk, and engagement of Indigenous peoples in conservation efforts. In order to be eligible, proposed projects must target the following species:

  • Species listed on Schedule 1 of SARA (except those listed as extirpated) and/or
  • Species that have been assessed by COSEWIC as endangered, threatened, or of special concern but have not been listed on Schedule 1 of SARA

As well, project activities must take place on private land, Crown land, or lands under the administration & control of the Commissioner of Yukon, the Northwest Territories or Nunavut, or Indigenous lands across Canada. Up to 20% of the available funds will be directed towards that target species not listed on Schedule 1 of SARA, but assessed by COSEWIC as endangered, threatened, or special concern. The majority of program funds (approximately 80%) will be directed to projects targeting those species listed on Schedule 1 of SARA. Priorities within these eligible species have been established for various regions in Canada and can be found here. Those interested in funding should consult the list to determine if their proposal could have a higher chance of success for approval. Those eligible to receive HSPSR funds include:

  • Canadian NGOs
  • Community groups
  • Indigenous organizations & communities
  • Individuals
  • Private corporations & businesses
  • Educational institutions
  • Provincial/Territorial/Municipal governments
  • Provincial Crown corporations

However, federal departments, agencies, and Crown corporations are not eligible to receive HSPSR funds. When it comes to the projects, there are a number of eligibility requirements, such as geographic location.

Those species categorized as priority species were selected in an effort to align with the Government of Canada’s Pan-Canadian Approach to Transforming Species at Risk Conservation in Canada. This new Pan-Canadian Approach represents a shift from a single-species approach to conservation to one that focuses on priority places, species, sectors, and threats through more multi-species and ecosystem-based efforts and collaborative partnerships. The priority species were selected based on their likelihood to benefit from stewardship activities and including those that may not benefit from other ECCC funding sources.

HSPSR funding is available in a range. The minimum funding request suggested for new and multi-year projects is $25,000 and project funding usually ranges from $25,000 to $100,000 per project, with projects extending over more than 1 year, to a maximum of 2 years. However, there are requirements for Indigenous and non-Indigenous applicants as well. Non-Indigenous applicants are required to obtain a minimum of 1:1 matching contributions ($1 confirmed match for $1 HSPSR funding). Alternatively, Indigenous applicants are required to obtain a minimum of 0.20:1 matching contribution ($0.20 confirmed match for $1 HSPSR funding).

Selection Criteria & Evaluation Process

Projects under HSPSR are selected based on the following criteria:

  • Whether they meet all eligibility requirements (applicants, species & activities)
  • The extent to which they address HSPSR program priorities & ability to leverage a minimum of 1:1 on funds for non-Indigenous applicants ($1 confirmed match for $1 HSPSR funding) & a minimum of 0.20:1 on funds for Indigenous applicants ($0.20 confirmed match for $1 HSPSR funding)

Lastly, the evaluation process requires each proposal to undergo a technical evaluation by the region HSPSR coordinator to confirm its eligibility of it. Proposals meeting the eligibility requirements are then prioritized for funding based on their alignment with program objectives, such as program priorities, and program and project administration criteria. The application period for projects beginning in 2021/2022 was open from January 19, 2021, to March 2, 2021.

Aboriginal Fund for Species at Risk (AFSAR)

The protection of species at risk in Canada depends on meaningful collaboration with Indigenous Peoples and organizations. The Aboriginal Fund for Species at Risk (AFSAR) was originally established in 2004 to support the development of an Indigenous capacity to participate in the implementation of SARA. The Act recognizes the crucial role Indigenous Peoples play in the conservation of wildlife and the need to consider Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) in the assessment of which species may be at risk, in addition to the development and implementation of protection and recovery measures (see Figure 1). As well, the fund supports projects that work to proactively prevent species (other than species at risk) from becoming conservation concerns. 

Figure 1 – TEK Components

The objectives of AFSAR are to:

  • Support & promote the conservation, protection & recovery of target species & their habitats on Indigenous lands or traditionally used territories; and 
  • Support the engagement & cooperation of Indigenous Peoples in the conservation & recovery of the target species, their habitats & SARA processes

ECCC administers AFSAR funding to support terrestrial stewardship projects and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is responsible for administering AFSAR aquatic stewardship projects. Any applicants looking to pursue aquatic AFSAR projects should contact the appropriate aquatic regional coordinator at DFO. 

All Indigenous communities and organizations located in Canada are eligible for funding, including: 

  • Indigenous not-for-profit & for-profit organizations
  • Territorially-based Indigenous groups
  • District councils, Chief councils & Tribal councils 
  • Traditional appointed advisory committees
  • Indigenous corporations 
  • Indigenous partnerships & groups
  • Indigenous research, academic & educational institutions
  •  Indigenous cultural education centres
  • Indigenous land/resource management authorities
  • Indigenous cooperatives 
  • Indigenous societies 
  • Indigenous boards & commissions 
  • Other organizations (Indigenous & non-Indigenous) if mandated by one of the above eligible recipients 

The expected results of the funding and its projects include Canada’s wildlife and habitat being conserved and protected, species at risk being recovered, and Indigenous Peoples being engaged in conservation. The application period for projects commencing in 2021/2022 was open from January 19, 2021, to March 2, 2021, and is now closed.

Canada Nature Fund

Figure 2 – Canada Nature Fund

The Canada Nature Fund (CNF) supports the protection of Canada’s biodiversity through the establishment of protection and conservation areas and through initiatives that help to recover species at risk. The Fund is available to not-for-profit and Indigenous organizations, provinces and territories, and others.

The Spaces Stream

The Spaces stream of the CNF provides resources working to enable partners to drive progress towards Canada’s biodiversity commitments. This stream presently consists of 2 core elements:

  1. The Pathway to Canada Target 1 Challenge – supports the creation of protected areas on provincial, territorial, municipal, and Indigenous lands.
  2. The Natural Heritage Conservation Program – supports the creation of protected areas on private lands.

Through these programs, the CNF supports actions towards:

  • Achieving Canada’s goal of conserving 25% of Canada’s lands, inland waters & oceans by 2025 & working toward 30 percent of each by 2030
  • Enhancing the integrity & connectivity of Canada’s network of protected & conserved areas
  • Establishing new Indigenous protection & conservation areas to support Indigenous engagement in conservation
The Pathway to Canada Target 1 Challenge

In August 2019, the MECC announced funding for a series of Challenge projects, including the establishment of up to 27 Indigenous protection and conservation areas. With the announcement came the first in a series of 67 conservation initiatives launching in every province and territory. These projects are supported by the $175 million federal Canada Nature Fund’s Target 1 Challenge, to expand a connected network of protected and conserved areas across the country. More information can be found on the map of Challenge projects.

The Natural Heritage Conservation Program

The Natural Heritage Conservation Program is fully funded by the CNF to enable a coordinated pan-Canadian approach to private lands and interest in land acquisitions to establish new protection and conservation areas.

In April 2019, the MECC announced that the program would be administered by the Nature Conservancy of Canada, in partnership with Ducks Unlimited Canada, Wildlife Habitat Canada, and a number of other regional and local land trusts represented by the Canadian Land Trusts Working Group. The Government of Canada committed to an investment of $100 million over four years, through the Natural Heritage Conservation Program (from April 1, 2019, to March 31, 2023).

Under the Program, annual funding for the land trust portion of the program is available through a call for proposals for the Land Trust Conservation Fund, administered by Wildlife Habitat Canada. As well, the program will establish at least 200,000 hectares of newly protected lands and fresh water, especially in southern Canada. The program will also contribute directly to Canada’s goal of doubling the number of protected lands and oceans. More information can be found on the Wildlife Habitat Canada website.

The Species at Risk Stream

As part of the Pan-Canadian Approach to Transforming Species at Risk Conservation in Canada, the federal government announced their investment of $155 million over a 5-year period to help protect both terrestrial and aquatic species at risk.  Under this stream, partners contribute to the protection and recovery of species at risk, and another biodiversity for priority species, places and sectors. Through innovative, multi-species and ecosystem-based initiatives, CNF supports priorities for action, while working to build relationships with Indigenous communities and other levels of government, in addition to organizations, industry, and other resource users. 

Priority places have been identified through nomination by community members. The community-nominated priority places are found outside of the 11 priority places that are currently identified under the Pan-Canadian Approach to Transforming Species at Risk Conservation in Canada. The current selection of priority places are located across 9 provinces and territories, in areas of high biodiversity that have the potential to benefit a large number of species at risk. 

Canada Nature Fund for Aquatic Species at Risk (CNFASAR)

Figure 3 – Protecting Aquatic Species at Risk

CNFASAR is part of Canada’s Nature Initiative, launched in May 2018, and is working to provide $55 million over 5 years to support projects helping to recover aquatic species at risk – targeting 2 priority marine threats and 7 freshwater priority places. 

The objective of CNFASAR is to slow the decline of aquatic species at risk and enable improvements in species recovery via the injection of targeted funding activities working to address priority threats and spaces. In order to accomplish this, the fund seeks to:

  • Align with the broader integrated federal approach to conserving biodiversity;
  • Achieve protection, recovery actions and reporting that support the conservation and stewardship of species at risk;
  • Promote strategic and lasting collaboration with and between Indigenous Peoples, stakeholders, and other interested parties; 
  • Leverage capacity, expertise and resources through collaboration and engagement; and 
  • Demonstrate outcomes that are transparent, measurable, timely, and align with the Government’s conservation policy priorities. 

 For more information, visit Canada Nature Fund for Aquatic Species at Risk.


The funding and programs discussed within this article are all significant contributors to Canada’s protection and recovery efforts in terms of species at risk. Without such programs, our nation’s progress on goals such as the Sustainable Development Goals would be severely lacking. In recent years, the protection of these species has become more of a priority for Canada. This is evident in the federal government’s willingness to establish such programs and fund such opportunities. These programs, in conjunction with the legislation and rules discussed in Endangered Species in Canada: The Federal Government, are integral to the country’s progress.

The next article in this series will be similar to the second, except it will focus on the legislation relating to the provincial government.

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