Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs)

Wildlife Management Areas are part of the Conservation Lands Program. As of 2019, there were 31 Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) in BC, ranging in size from the 17-hectare Coquitlam River WMA to the 122,787-hectare Todagin WMA. Information about specific WMAs and their wildlife and habitat values is available in the list of wildlife management areas.

A Wildlife Management Area or 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.

WMAs are intended to help conserve important fish, wildlife and habitat values such as:

  • 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;
  • Areas of especially productive habitat or high species richness, and
  • Habitat that is highly valued for related consumptive or non-consumptive human uses it supports (e.g. subsistence, spiritual, recreational hunting and fishing, wildlife viewing).

A WMA can be designated on publicly owned, Crown land in the province that is not in a park, conservancy or recreation area. A WMA may also include privately owned land that the owner has leased to the Ministry. Land conservancy organizations such as The Nature Trust of British Columbia, for example, sometimes request that lands they own be included as part of a WMA under a long-term lease to the government.

WMAs may be designated by regulation of the Minister responsible for the Wildlife Act -- currently the Minister of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resources and Rural Development – with consent from the provincial cabinet.

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

A WMA designation will often consolidate different types of conservation lands under a common planning and management regime, which helps increase consistency and effectiveness of land management. The designation also gives the Ministry important tools to manage the land, such as the ability to make orders and regulations.

In addition, the consultation, planning and designation processes help to increase public awareness of the important fish, wildlife and habitat values in the area, and may attract scientific research, funding and other resources, or volunteer stewardship.

Conservation and management of fish, wildlife and their habitats is the priority in a WMA. However, unlike in a designated park or protected area, other compatible land uses may sometimes be accommodated in a WMA. A WMA management plan may support, for example, limited or modified resource-based activities.

WMAs comprise part of the broader spectrum of protected lands and waters designations in the province. WMAs may provide important buffer zones, habitat corridors or linkages between protected areas. Such linkages are sometimes essential to enable movement of species during seasonal migrations or in response to short-term ecological variations or longer-term climate changes. Other times, a WMA may serve as an important component of a local or regional strategic land use plan where special management zones or objectives for fish, wildlife and their habitats have been identified.

The designation of a new WMA and the development of a WMA management plan typically involve consultation or engagement between the Ministry and its partners, First Nations communities, affected stakeholders and the general public.

Conservation and management of fish, wildlife and their habitats is the priority in managing WMAs; therefore, other uses generally need to be compatible with this priority.

Under the Wildlife Act, the Regional Manager for the Ministry may establish orders that prohibit or restrict certain activities that may have impacts on wildlife or habitat, and government or the Minister may make regulations respecting use or occupation of a WMA. New activities that involve use of land or resources in a WMA also require written permission from the Regional Manager. Rights granted prior to the WMA designation remain in effect.

Management of individual WMAs is informed by a combination of considerations: Provincial legislation and policy guidance; the long-term WMA management plan for the site, and regional or site-specific regulations, policies, legal agreements and decision tools. Conservation management activities may also be adapted in response to new information, monitoring, natural events such as fires and floods, or other changes.

The Province recognizes and respects that First Nations have deep connections to their lands and are stewards of their traditional territories. The Province consults with First Nations when considering the creation of new WMAs, and WMA management plans are developed or updated in partnership with First Nations to ensure their interests are respected and that they can meaningfully exercise their Aboriginal rights in the context of shared conservation concerns and public health and safety legislation. The designation and management of WMAs does not affect either reconciliation discussions between the Province and First Nations or negotiations of land claims that may result in treaties or other agreements.