Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Geography & Environmental Studies


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Derek Armitage

Advisor Role

Dissertation Supervisor

Second Advisor

D. Scott Slocombe

Advisor Role

Dissertation Supervisor


Within Southern Ontario’s highly fragmented greater natural ecosystem, there remain numerous relatively small scattered areas which bear at least some resemblance to their former pre-European/Canadian settlement natural ecosystem. In their present state they serve as reservoirs of their particular ecoregion’s indigenous plant and animal species. In proportion to their limited spatial areas, degree of isolation, existing ecological integrity, and long-term ecological carrying capacity they are stores of natural capital, which is beneficial to both nature and society. They co-exist with Southern Ontario’s well developed socioeconomic/cultural system, on whose stewardship their long-term integrity is becoming increasingly dependent, which creates increased environmental stresses and demands on their natural.

During the nineteen-thirties, it became recognized that unless measures were put in place for checking the ongoing, non-sustainable, rate of natural resources extraction from the natural environment, and for checking the rate at which pollution was being injected into the environment, environmental disaster would be inevitable, as would be society’s ability to participate, to an acceptable degree, in the benefits of the natural world. As a consequence, a number of individuals and organizations became active conservationists, and in essence, the forerunners to the present-day Southern Ontario protected areas’ managers.

Protected area conservation management practices have slowly but continually evolved in line with the general perceptions, of a given time, about the various ecological and biophysical aspects of protected areas, about their cultural associations, and about the appropriate approach to their conservation management. By the late 20th century the traditional approach was typified as top-down selected species and single issues focused (Franklin 1993, Meffe & Carroll 1997). Current perceptions have been becoming centered on advances made during recent decades in understanding natural ecological self-organizing processes, ecological self-organizing integrity, and humans’ innate attachment to the ecosystems in which they exist, which together with ecosystem’s abiotic and biotic entities are an integral part.

In unison with advances made in understanding, conservation management has slowly and steadily moved away from a top-down, selected species and single issues approach toward a holistic ecosystem approach, including integrative and adaptive management with the capacity for holistically managing the ecological and socio-economic components of regions and conservation areas. Not unlike conservation management, protected area management involves three basic components. In this case they are the ecological component, the socioeconomic/cultural component, and the institutional component. The various on-site management agencies consist of government agencies, non-government agencies, stewardship co-management groups, and private landowners, whose stewardship responsibility is dictated by the official policies of the greater socioeconomic/cultural component. In Ontario the main small protected area conservation management policies come under the administration of the provincial Ministry of Natural Resources, in combination with the various municipalities’ bylaws, which are embedded within their provincially approved Official Plans.

This exercise was undertaken with consideration of the foregoing, and with the goal of investigating whether Southern Ontario's protected areas' on-site conservation management is, or could be, better served by taking advantage of the gains that have been made, during recent decades, in the understanding of the protected areas’ various biophysical and geophysical processes, about their cultural associations, and advances in conservation management. This research is based on review of the academic literature related to the development of protected areas management and science, a review of relevant management plans and policies for eleven southern Ontario small protected areas, and interviews with key managers and stakeholders for two in-depth case-studies of small southern Ontario protected areas. In an iterative process over the course of the research, several tools for assessment and management were developed: 1) a set of good small protected area management principles, on which evaluation criteria and sub-criteria of a protected area management practices framework are based, 2) testing the evaluation framework for evaluating the management policies of existing management plans of a sample of eleven Southern Ontario protected areas, 3) conducting case studies on two of the sample of eleven protected areas, and 4) conducting interviews with individuals with first hand practical experience in Southern Ontario protected areas conservation management, with emphasis on participants who have had first-hand involvement in the two detailed case studies.

This research was based on a limited, though broadly based sample of small protected areas in southern Ontario. Many of the cases did not have current management plans and other policy documents, which lead to some challenges in applying the management evaluation framework due to clear, and to be expected, incompatibilities between current BMPs and thirty year old BMPs. Seeking the views of community members and other citizens involved less formally in small protected areas management would also be interesting. These cases were all government-agency run, and it could be interesting to explore the approaches and experiences of NGO and private sector protected areas initiatives as well. A relatively standardized, closed ended set of questions and criteria were used in this study, and there is room for more in-depth and open-ended study of a range of additional cases.

The lessons of this research included the emergence of more holistic, adaptive conservation management of small protected areas, in spite of often limited policy and support for them. Application of these approaches is challenged by declining financial support for small protected areas management, and the often highly modified nature of such protected areas’ ecosystems and landscapes. On the positive side, there is clear commitment and knowledge of these ideas among many managers and policymakers, and examples of innovative collaborative and co-management approaches to conservation management of individual and networks of protected areas.

Convocation Year