Science and stewardship

Investing in the next generation, Weston Family Prairie Grasslands Initiative, advances in conservation technology and protecting species at risk

Investing in the next generation’s leaders in conservation science

The Weston Family Conservation Science Fellowship Program supports and trains graduate students conducting Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) priority research so that they can become next-generation leaders in applied conservation science. Research by fellows supports the conservation and management of important natural areas and biological diversity across Canada.

Fellowships are advertised for specific research projects, specifying whether the fellowship is for a PhD or MSc. The first cohort of fellows began their studies in fall 2020.

Emily Trendos and Zachary Moore

Emily Trendos, a PhD student at the University of Guelph, is studying the demography of an endangered butterfly in Ontario. The mottled duskywing inhabits prairie, alvar and savannah habitats and relies on New Jersey tea as a host plant. Emily’s work will help create self-sustaining populations of this butterfly to restore it to its historical range.

Zachary Moore is a master’s student at the University of Manitoba who is researching the impacts of grazing and habitat structure on grassland songbirds in southern Alberta. His aim is to inform best management practice recommendations to support the grassland songbird community in this region.

READ MORE: Weston Family Conservation Science Fellowship Program

First year of the Weston Family Prairie Grasslands Initiative

Our prairie grasslands roll like a green-gold tapestry across central Canada. A remnant of North America’s ancient Great Plains, they represent the rarest ecosystem on the planet. More than 70 per cent have been lost, and the fragmentation continues. Dwindling along with the grasslands are the species, the birds and the animals that rely on these native habitats.

Today, ranchers are Canada’s primary grassland stewards. But their love of the land cannot compensate for the severe economic pressures many face. Hardship can result in practices detrimental to biodiversity conservation and, in some cases, prompt the conversion of land to other uses. If we support grassland stewards, we also support long-term improvement of grasslands biodiversity.

As part of its almost $25-million Weston Family Prairie Grasslands Initiative to celebrate, steward and protect the unique and threatened ecosystem values of the prairie grasslands, the Weston Family Foundation in 2021 generously committed a total of $11,335,000 to NCC over five years in support of two initiatives a stewardship investment program and a carbon sequestration project.

Marsh Ranch, AB (Photo by Carys Richards/NCC)

The Weston Family Prairie Grasslands Initiative aims to achieve the following outcomes:

  • Provide up to 800 grants to achieve measurable conservation outcomes on up to 1.4 million hectares of private and privately managed grasslands in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
  • Register new conservation easements on more than 20,230 hectares of high priority grasslands, thus preventing conversion/fragmentation.
  • Foster the adoption of grassland carbon projects to provide sustainable revenue streams for ranchers who are delivering carbon sequestration and biodiversity conservation.

Second year of the conservation technology project

NCC is working with Carleton University to develop user-friendly, artificial intelligence (AI)-based tools to help prioritize the areas across the country that need conservation. The tool will also likely be one of the first in the country to help staff prioritize actions to care for properties once they are secured.

NCC also contracted the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy’s Center for Geospatial Solutions to assist with a multi-year technology strategy. The centre will develop recommendations for how NCC can use technology to manage our lands more effectively.

Protecting species at risk

Conserving habitat for almost one-third of Canada's most imperilled terrestrial and freshwater plants and animals

The Nature Conservancy of Canada has directly conserved habitat for almost one-third of Canada’s most imperilled terrestrial and freshwater plants and animals.

For reptiles, amphibians and birds, we have conserved habitat for more than half of Canada’s at-risk species.

Future inventories on our properties are likely to discover additional species from groups that are more difficult to identify. In addition to securing habitat, NCC also supports the protection of species at risk through stewardship activities, implementing recovery actions and participating on recovery teams.

Number of species at risk taxa that occur on NCC-owned properties

TaxaNumber of species at risk* for which NCC protects habitatTotal number of species at risk in Canada*
Clams, Snails & Other Molluscs1140
Fish (fresh water)11109
Insects & Spiders1473
Mammals (terrestrial)2144
Vascular Plants61207
Grand Total236675
*  Species at risk includes COSEWIC-assessed and SARA-listed (Schedule 1) taxa designated as endangered, threatened or special concern.  COSEWIC – Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. SARA – Species at Risk Act.

NCC has protected habitat along the Rivière aux Brochets in Quebec for the spiny softshell turtle, designated as endangered under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.

Spiny softshell turtle (Photo courtesy Zoo de Granby)

Indigenous collaborations

Building meaningful relationships grounded in mutual respect and supporting Indigenous connections to the land

Historically, while many national and international conservation efforts were effective at conserving and protecting biodiversity, they often came at the expense of Indigenous Peoples. Whether being forcefully expelled from their traditional lands, traditional livelihoods being ruined or family homes being lost, the ripples of those traumatic events still resonate with Indigenous Peoples.

Indigenous Peoples have stewarded their traditional territories since time immemorial, maintaining not only healthy ecosystems but also healthy people, economies and cultures. In this third year of implementing the Indigenous Conservation Engagement Framework (ICEF), we continued our efforts to build meaningful relationships grounded in mutual respect and the desire to achieve significant and durable conservation outcomes. Acknowledging that this work is a long-term journey that also reflects broader goals related to equity, diversity and inclusion, in 2020–21, NCC sought to engage with and support Indigenous Nations and communities in collaborative conservation while contributing to our capacity to build meaningful relationships and support Indigenous connections to the land.

Qat'muk. BC (Photo by Pat Morrow)

Highlights from the past year include:

  • supporting a variety of Indigenous-led conservation efforts occurring on Indigenous territories and across Canada;
  • supporting Indigenous Peoples’ abilities and rights to connect to their traditional territories in places where they overlap with lands managed by NCC; and
  • providing cultural competency training to all NCC staff in an effort to improve the organization’s ability to build meaningful relationships with Indigenous Peoples.


NCC continued to work with the University of Winnipeg to deliver virtual cultural competency training for our staff. A French language session was developed with Kiuna College, a First Nations post-secondary institution in Quebec, and offered to French-speaking staff.

By the end of May 2021, virtually all NCC staff, including interns, had received some form of cultural competency training, with 241 staff participating in training over the past year alone. Such training is now considered mandatory for NCC staff and is a part of our staff onboarding training.

Supporting Indigenous-led conservation efforts

Over the past year, NCC supported the leadership of different Indigenous Nations and communities as they undertook efforts to conserve and steward the lands and waters of their traditional territories.

NCC supported the Kebaowek First Nation in establishing the first component of an Anishinaabe Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area (IPCA) in the Kitchsibi (Ottawa River) waters by collaborating to acquire Fitzpatrick Island. The island has high cultural importance for the Kebaowek First Nation as well as high ecological importance. Both NCC and the Nation are working to transfer formal title of the Island to the Kebaowek First Nation. The island will form a central component of the Aki Sibi IPCA being developed by Kebaowek and other Algonquin communities.

In Saskatchewan, NCC has formed an Indigenous advisory group to help guide our approach to working in the Southwest Sandhills area. This is an area of high cultural importance that is also home to unique and rare ecosystems and species threatened by habitat loss, resource exploration and extraction, and invasive species. The advisory group has been helping shape our approach and priorities in the region, and especially how the organization will be engaging with local Indigenous communities in this important area.

Mount Edziza Conservancy (photo courtesy Skeena Resources)

In April 2021, NCC joined the Tahltan Central Government, Province of BC, Skeena Resources Limited and BC Parks Foundation in announcing the creation of the 3,500-hectare Mount Edziza Conservancy in northwestern BC. The five partners had worked together to remove outstanding mineral claims from an area of high biodiversity that is also sacred to the Tahltan, enabling its permanent protection for future generations. The creation of the conservancy in Tahltan Territory represents the first step in the multi-year Tahltan Stewardship Initiative, which aims to bring greater self-determination to the Tahltan Nation and support their land stewardship goals. This project was funded by the Province of BC, the Government of Canada through the Natural Heritage Conservation Program, the Wyss Foundation, MakeWay, the Wilburforce Foundation, MapleCross Fund, Sitka Foundation and the Leon Judah Blackmore Foundation.

Supporting Indigenous connections to their traditional territories

NCC also took steps in 2020–21 to better enable Indigenous connections to the lands we manage and change our approach to supporting culturally defining activities.

NCC supports the rights of Indigenous Peoples to hunt on their traditional territories, and recognizes the importance of this culturally defining activity. This year, we took steps to enable greater opportunities for First Nations, Métis and Inuit people to hunt on lands managed by NCC as well as improve the understanding of how Indigenous cultural heritage should be protected and managed.

NCC also worked to develop guidance on engagement with Indigenous Nations as well as how we can better respect the rights and responsibilities of Indigenous people when it comes to conserving and stewarding lands on Indigenous territories. NCC recognizes that this is an area of critical importance to Indigenous people and is actively working to better enable Indigenous engagement and leadership in conservation and stewardship.

NCC took steps in 2020–21 to better enable Indigenous connections to the lands we manage and change our approach to supporting culturally defining activities

Martina Escutin, Columbia Lake -Lot 48, BC (Photo by Cole Lord May)

Natural Heritage Conservation Program

A unique public-private partnership to accelerate the rate of private land conservation and support Canada's global commitments

With funds from the Natural Heritage Conservation Program (NHCP), NCC and our partners are contributing to Canada’s conservation goals, including species at risk protection. Launched in 2007, this partnership also helps communities adapt to the impacts of climate change by protecting and restoring lands to leverage nature-based solutions. The partnership encourages community conservation and supports the efforts of local donors to protect and care for the places they cherish — the lands that sustain prosperous communities.

NCC has successfully completed another year of partnership with the Government of Canada under the Natural Heritage Conservation Program (NHCP). In the past program year (April 1, 2020, to March 31, 2021), NHCP delivery partners have continued their ambitious work, conserving 28,907 hectares. The federal investment of $25 million was matched with more than $60 million in contributions raised from other sources. The NHCP is a unique public-private partnership to accelerate the rate of private land conservation in support of Canada’s commitment to protect 30 per cent of its lands and fresh waters by 2030.

Big Trout Bay, ON (Photo by Aiden Mahoney)

Since its launch in 2007, the partnership has supported NCC, Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) and Canada’s land trusts to expand existing networks of protected areas and create new ones, resulting in the:

  • conservation of nearly 60,000 hectares and over $800 million in matched funding from non-federal sources, leveraging a Government of Canada investment of nearly $400 million;
  • protection of more than 200 species at risk;
  • protection of natural areas within 100 kilometres of 95 per cent of Canadians; and
  • creation of natural connections: 96 per cent of NHCP-conserved properties are within 25 kilometres of other protected areas.

The NHCP also supports the work of local conservation organizations. Administered by Wildlife Habitat Canada (WHC), the launch of the Land Trusts Conservation Fund (LTCF) in 2019 was successful in disbursing more than $8.8 million in NHCP funds to the Canadian land trust community (as of March 31, 2021). This important sub-granting program was created and designed with important strategic input from both the Canadian Land Trust Working Group and WHC. Additionally, the NHCP funds have been used to support several Canadian land trust associations to aid in the development of capacity in the Canadian land trust community.

NCC is grateful to the many land donors and others who are helping us maximize the government investment for greater conservation impact.


Thank you for investing in nature

Against the backdrop of the global pandemic, Canadians proved how deeply they care about nature. Last year, more than 48,000 donors just like you came together to help save the lands and waters that sustain us all.

By choosing the Nature Conservancy of Canada, you have confirmed what we have long known to be true — that taking care of nature means taking care of ourselves and each other. Because when nature thrives, we thrive.

Thanks to each and every one of you for your investment in nature.

2020-21 was a landmark year for another important reason, too. Thanks to the generosity of more than 110,000 donors from coast to coast to coast, we completed the largest campaign for conservation in Canadian history, raising more than $750 million over eight years through the Landmark Campaign.

Conservation Volunteers event (Photo by NCC)

Together, over the course of the campaign, we:

  • expanded our network of protected areas by 115,000 square kilometres, more than one-and-a-half times the size of New Brunswick;
  • completed 540 projects and protected habitat for 130 species at risk, some of which are found nowhere else in the world; and
  • connected more than 300,000 Canadians to nature, 18,000 of whom rolled up their sleeves to help care for nature.

Today, we are continuing to build on this momentum to protect Canada’s natural spaces and assure our healthy future.

Thank you for joining us on this incredible, continuing journey of hope, health and conservation.

Connecting with Canadians

Helping Canadians connect with nature from coast to coast

At the Nature Conservancy of Canada, we believe that the more people experience, connect with and share their love of nature, the more support there will be for its conservation. All they need is the opportunity.

From hands-on volunteering to in-person and virtual events, our engagement programs provide Canadians with a diversity of opportunities to do just that.

NCC is committed to connecting with Canadians and to helping Canadians connect with nature.

Although we could not connect in person, we found new and creative ways to connect digitally. For instance, we modified our in-person events to offer them online through our NatureTalks series. In fact, we saw participants join us from across Canada, allowing us to connect with a wider-reaching audience.

Common yellowthroat (Photo by Blue Planet Archive / Alamy Stock Photo)

In total, we welcomed more than 21,300 participants at close to 275 virtual events. Highlights included:

  • Candid Canada: Tips for capturing nature on camera (October 2020; 1,131 registrants); and
  • Celebrating Migration – Return of Birds to Canada’s Flyways (April 2021; 1,246 registrants).

While in-person volunteer events were cancelled due to COVID-19 safety restrictions, our volunteers did join us, within the confines of the pandemic. In fact, almost 250 volunteers helped maintain our properties across the country.

Big Backyard Bioblitz (Photo by NCC)

Individuals across the country also came together virtually and gave their time to help NCC document the natural world through the inaugural Big Backyard Bioblitz. Together, 1,300 registrants observed 22,000+ species, with 56 per cent of those observations attaining the research grade level that aids science and conservation work. The most common observations included:

  • BC: hemlock looper moth
  • AB: Canada thistle plant
  • SK: Hunt’s bumble bee
  • MB: northern leopard frog
  • ON: monarch butterfly
  • QC: black spruce tree
  • NB: cross orbweaver spider
  • NS: tricoloured bumble bee
  • NL: fairy ring marasmius fungi
  • PEI: bunchberry plant
  • NWT: fireweed plant
L to R: Canada thistle (Photo by kwright44,; Hunt’s bumble bee (Photo by hipstermama,

Making Nature Investable Summit

On May 11, 2021, NCC hosted a virtual summit to highlight the critical need for additional private and public capital investment in nature across Canada. The summit was a first of its kind in Canada. Using international conservation finance examples, expert panellists and distinguished headline speakers, including Mark Carney, vice chairman of Brookfield Asset Management and United Nations special envoy for Climate Action and Finance, and Jonathan Wilkinson, former Minister of Environment and Climate Change, addressed the existing opportunities to scale-up investment in Canada’s vast natural landscapes.

More than 1,200 registrants joined domestic and international experts from all levels of government, finance, conservation, Indigenous and academic communities to discuss how private investment in privately protected areas can help accelerate the pace of conservation in Canada.

Making Nature Investable Summit panellists

We look forward to connecting with you, our community of supporters, donors and volunteers in-person, when it is safe to do so.

Sunset over Old Man on His Back, SK (Photo by Jason Bantle)