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Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations

Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs)

Northern Pigmy Owl

Wildlife Management Areas in British Columbia

The primary designation tool for conservation lands is the “wildlife management area” (WMA) under section 4 of the BC Wildlife Act.

Wildlife management areas may be designated by the Minister responsible for the Wildlife Act (now the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources) with consent from the provincial cabinet.

There are presently 28 WMAs in BC, ranging in size from the 17-hectare Coquitlam River WMA to the 122,787-hectare Todagin WMA. See the list of wildlife management areas for information on wildlife and habitat values and on other activities that may be taking place in specific WMAs. Other frequently asked questions about WMAs are answered below.

Vancouver Island Marmot
What is a WMA?

A WMA is an area of land designated under section 4(2) of the Wildlife Act for the benefit of regionally to internationally significant fish and wildlife species or their habitats. Conservation and management of fish, wildlife and their habitats is the priority in a WMA but other compatible land uses may be accommodated.

What Ministry is responsible for WMAs?

The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations has responsibility for the designation and day-to-day management of WMAs.

How does a WMA designation differ from a park?

A WMA is designated for the benefit of regionally to internationally significant fish and wildlife species or their habitats. Conservation and management of fish, wildlife and their habitats is the priority in a WMA but other compatible land uses may be accommodated. This may include limited or modified resource based activities.

Parks or protected areas established to protect biodiversity, natural environments and/or provide outdoor recreation opportunities. Commercial logging, mining and hydro-electric development are generally precluded by the legislation that governs their establishment and management of parks and protected areas.

What activities are allowed in a WMA? What activities are restricted?

Every WMA has different needs, and so regulation of activities will vary according to those needs. The priority is always the conservation and management of fish, wildlife and their habitats, so other uses need to dovetail to those priorities.

Designating a Wildlife Management Area provides the authority to allow the Ministry's Regional Manager to establish orders that prohibit or restrict certain activities in a WMA. Government may also make certain regulations respecting use or occupation of a WMA.

On a policy basis, WMAs are generally managed day-to-day through a management plan that helps establish the specific needs for that location.

Under what authority are WMA designations made?

A WMA is designated under section 4(2) of the Wildlife Act. A regulation is made by the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations with consent of cabinet. The land must be under the minister’s administration and not in a park, conservancy or recreation area.

Why would the ministry want to designate a WMA?

A WMA designation gives the ministry additional tools to manage the land and associated land uses including the ability to make orders and regulations. A WMA designation may allow for consolidation of several properties under a common management regime, which helps streamline land management decisions, and increase consistency. It also increases public awareness of the important wildlife values in the area by defining it as a single entity. This in turn can help to attract more research attention, resources or recognition of the related fish, wildlife or habitat values.

Where can a WMA be designated?

A WMA can be designated on any area of Crown land in the province that is not in a park, conservancy or recreation area. A WMA can also include privately owned land that is under long-term lease to the ministry.

Why would an area be considered for WMA designation?

There are various reasons why an area may be considered for WMA designation including:

  • An area’s fish, wildlife or habitat values are of regional to international significance.
  • Special management zones or objectives for wildlife, fish and their habitats have been identified in a local or regional strategic land use plan.
  • A need to conserve or manage important species and habitats while still allowing certain activities to continue which may not be allowed in a ‘park’ or ‘protected area’ designation.
  • A buffer zone or linkage for a core protected area is desirable.
What kinds of habitats may be suitable for WMA designation?

WMAs may be used to conserve or manage various habitats including:

  • Habitat for endangered, threatened, sensitive, or vulnerable species.
  • Habitat required for a critical life cycle phase of a species such as spawning, rearing, calving, denning, nesting, or winter feeding;
  • Migration routes or other movement corridors; and
  • Areas of especially productive habitat or high species richness.
Who has management authority in a WMA?
Rights granted prior to the WMA designation remain in effect. Activities that involve use of land or resources in a WMA require written permission from the appropriate regional manager under the Wildlife Act. The regional manager may establish orders that prohibit or restrict certain activities in a WMA. Government may also make certain regulations respecting use or occupation of a WMA.
How is use managed in a WMA?

The appropriate regional manager under the Wildlife Act may establish orders that prohibit or restrict certain WMA activities that may impact wildlife or habitat.  The ministry may authorize activities within a WMA or work with other statutory authorities to do so.  A management plan, developed in consultation with partners, First Nations, agencies, stakeholders and the public is used to help guide activities in a WMA.

How do WMAs differ from or complement other protected area designations?

While the priority for WMAs is to maintain or manage species and their habitats, other resource uses may sometimes be accommodated (e.g. forestry or mining). For this reason, WMAs are not part of the formal “protected area” designation under land use planning in British Columbia. The protected area designation includes parks, protected areas, ecological reserves, recreation areas and conservancies.

Wildlife Management Areas may also provide important buffer zones, habitat corridors or linkages between core protected areas.  Such linkages may be essential to enable movement of species during seasonal migrations or in response to short-term ecological variations or longer-term climate changes.

How will First Nations’ interests be considered?

First Nations may continue to exercise their aboriginal rights in WMAs but may be limited by conservation concerns and public health and safety legislation. First Nations interests will be accommodated within the management plan. Designation and management of WMAs is without prejudice to future land claim settlements.