The National Parks of Canada encompass over forty protected areas, including National Parks, National Park Reserves, National Marine Conservation Areas, and one National Landmark. The National Park System includes 157 National Historic Sites, which, like the parks, are operated by Parks Canada.
The goal of the national park service is to create a system of protected areas which represent all the distinct natural regions of the country. Parks Canada–the governing body for the system–has developed a plan identifying 39 different regions it aims to represent. As of 2005, Parks Canada reports that the system is over 60% complete. Canada’s parks are managed to first protect the ecological integrity of the park, and secondarily to allow the public to explore, learn about and enjoy Canada’s natural spaces.
Parks referred to as National Park Reserves will become National Parks once outstanding land claim issues have been resolved. Parks with this designation include Pacific Rim, Kluane, Nahanni, Gwaii Haanas and Torngat Mountains. As of 2005, feasibility studies have been undertaken for establishing further national parks in four areas: Wolf Lake in Yukon, South Okanagan-Lower Similkameen in British Columbia, Manitoba Lowlands (north-western Lake Winnipeg) and Mealy Mountains in Labrador.
National Marine Conservation Areas (NMCAs) are a relatively new addition to the park system. These areas have a different mandate than their terrestrial counterparts. They are designed for sustainable use, although they usually also contain areas designed to protect ecological integrity. Canada’s two NMCAs are found in Ontario (Fathom Five) and Quebec (Saguenay-St. Lawrence).
Jasper National Park – Jasper National Park is the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies, spanning 10,878 sqkm (4200 sqmi). It is located in the province of Alberta, to the north of Banff National Park and west of the city of Edmonton. The park includes the glaciers of the Columbia Icefield, hot springs, lakes, waterfalls and, of course, mountains. Wildlife in the park include elk, caribou, moose, mule deer, white-tailed deer, mountain goat, bighorn sheep, grizzly bear, black bear, beaver, Rocky Mountain pika, hoary marmot, gray wolf, mountain lion, and wolverine.
Wood Buffalo National Park – Wood Buffalo National Park, located in northeastern Alberta and southern Northwest Territories, is the largest national park in Canada at 44,807 km². The park was established in 1922 to protect the world’s largest herd of free roaming Wood Bison, currently estimated at more than 5,000. It is the only known nesting site of whooping cranes.
The park ranges in elevation from 183 metres (600′) at the Little Buffalo River to 945 metres (3,100) in the Caribou Mountains. The park headquarters is located in Fort Smith, with a smaller satellite office in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta. The park contains one of the world’s largest fresh water deltas, formed by the Peace, Athabasca and Slave Rivers. It is also known for its karst sinkholes on the Northwest Territory side. The national park is also located directly north of the Athabasca Oil Sands.
Wood Buffalo National Park contains a large variety of wildlife species, such as moose, black bear, wolf, lynx, brown bear, snowshoe hare, sandhill crane, Wood Buffalo, ruffed grouse, and the garter snake, which form famous communal dens within the park.
Wood Buffalo Park contains the only natural nesting habitat for the critically endangered whooping crane. Known as Whooping Crane Summer Range, it is classified as a Ramsar site. It was identified through the International Biological Program. The range is a complex of contiguous water bodies, primarily lakes and various wetlands, such as marshes and bogs, but also includes streams and ponds.
This area was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 for the biological diversity of the Peace-Athabasca Delta, the world’s largest inland delta, as well as the massive population of wild bison.