Potential Spatial Overlap of Heritage Sites and Protected Areas in a Boreal Region of Northern Canada

Shawn J. Leroux
Fiona K. A. Schmiegelow
John A. Nagy
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Under article 8-J of the Convention on Biological Diversity, governments must engage indigenous and local communities in the designation and management of protected areas. A better understanding of the relationship between community heritage sites and sites identified to protect conventional conservation features could inform conservation-planning exercises on indigenous lands. We examined the potential overlap between Gwich'in First Nations' (Northwest Territories, Canada) heritage sites and areas independently identified for the protection of conventional conservation targets. We designed nine hypothetical protected-area networks with different targets for woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) habitat, high-quality wetland areas, representative vegetation types, water bodies, environmentally significant area, territorial parks, and network aggregation. We compared the spatial overlap of heritage sites to these nine protected-area networks. The degree of spatial overlap (Jaccard similarity) between heritage sites and the protected-area networks with moderate or high aggregation was significantly higher (p < 0.001) than random spatial overlap, whereas the overlap between heritage sites and the protected-area networks with no aggregation was not significant or significantly lower (p < 0.001) than random spatial overlap. Our results suggest that protected-area networks designed to capture conventional conservation features may protect key heritage sites but only if the underlying characteristics of these sites are considered. The Gwich'in heritage sites are highly aggregated and only protected-area networks that had moderate and high aggregation had significant overlap with the heritage sites. We suggest that conventional conservation plans incorporate heritage sites into their design criteria to complement conventional conservation targets and effectively protect indigenous heritage sites.