Canada's principal environmental agency is the Department of the Environment, established in 1971 and reorganized in 1979. Responsibilities of this department, also known as Environment Canada, include air and water pollution control, land-use planning, and wildlife preservation. Responsibility for maritime resources was vested in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans under the 1979 reorganization. Air pollution and the resulting acid rain pose a threat to lakes and forests in an area of eastern Canada about 2.6 million sq km (1 million sq mi). Canadian sources estimate that about 14,000 lakes in eastern Canada are acidified and another 300,000 lakes will remain in danger if adequate emission reductions are not implemented. As of the mid-1990s, acid rain had affected a total of 150,000 lakes throughout Canada. Waterfowl populations have already been depleted. About half the acid rain comes from emissions from Canadian smokestacks, but Canada has blamed US industry for 75% of the Ontario pollution.
Canada's rivers and ocean waters have been contaminated by toxic pollutants from agricultural, industrial, mining, and forestry activities. As of the mid-1990s, 50% of Canada's coastal shellfish areas were closed because of the dangerous levels of pollutants.
Canada has more than 90 bird sanctuaries and 44 National Wildlife Areas, including reserves in the western Arctic to protect waterfowl nesting grounds. In May 1986, Canada and the United States signed an agreement to restore the breeding habitat of mallard and pintail ducks in the midcontinental regions of both countries. The project, which spanned 15 years and cost C $1.5 billion, was meant to protect and improve 1,200,000 hectares (3,000,000 acres) of duck habitat in order to reverse the decline in waterfowl populations and raise the average annual fall migration to 100 million birds—the level of the 1970s. The project also called for the protection of waterfowl habitats in the lower Mississippi River and Gulf Coast region, and the black duck habitat in eastern Canada and the East Coast of the United States.
The annual Newfoundland seal hunt, producing seals for pelts and meat, drew the ire of environmentalists chiefly because of the practice of clubbing baby seals to death (adult seals are shot). Approval by the European Parliament of a voluntary boycott on sealskin imports undercut the market, and the Newfoundland seal catch dropped from about 1,400 in 1981–82 to 360 in 1982–83. In 1987, Canada banned the offshore hunting of baby seals, as well as blueback hooded seals.
Endangered species in Canada include the Vancouver Island marmot, eastern puma, wood bison, sea otter, right whale, St. Lawrence beluga, Acadian whitefish, mountain plover, piping plover, spotted owl, leatherback turtle, cucumber tree, Furbish's lousewort, Eskimo curlew, Kirtlands warbler, American peregrine falcon, whooping crane, and the southern bald eagle. As of 2001, from a total of 193 mammal species, seven are on the endangered species list. The list also includes five species of birds which are endangered. Canada is trying to protect its plant resources through the national Green Plan. Out of a total of 3,270-plus plant species nationwide, 40 are endangered. The longjaw cisco, the Labrador duck, and the great auk have become extinct.