More Species at Risk in Canada

Last week I wrote about attending the species assessment meeting of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife (COSEWIC) in Canada. The committee has released the results of its deliberations, and it has added 21 species (or species populations) to the list of species it has assessed as being at risk of extinction in Canada. With these new additions, there are now 577 wildlife species in various COSEWIC risk categories (endangered, threatened, special concern, and extirpated). See Globe and Mail article.

Newly assessed species include Snapping Turtle and Band-tailed Pigeon, two long-lived species whose demography (long life span, late age at first reproduction, low recruitment to the adult population) and threats (including harvesting and habitat loss for both species and road mortality for Snapping Turtles) have resulted in their classification as species of special concern. The Roundnose Grenadier, a marine fish of the east coast whose population declined 98% from 1974 to 1994, was declared endangered. The full results of the assessments are available here.What does this mean for wildlife in Canada? Species are facing mounting threats every day (habitat loss, pollution, climate change, etc.) and the ever increasing list of species at risk in Canada reflects that. There are also many other species in Canada that are likely at risk and have simply not yet been assessed by scientific experts. Undoubtedly we are losing species without even knowing about it, particularly in poorly-known taxonomic groups like arthropods.

Now that 21 new species have been identified as at risk, the next hurdle is to make sure each one is legally protected under the federal Species at Risk Act. The first step in the process toward full protection under the Act is for a species to be legally listed – a feat that is in no way assured, despite the COSEWIC assessment.

The government of Canada carries out socio-economic analyses of potential listing decisions, which can be biased towards the economic impacts of listing on industry, and fail to take into account the “full cost accounting” of a listing decision which includes equal consideration of the ecological value of protecting the species.

As we do with all species listed under the Act, we’ll be watching closely and urging swift action to grant the necessary protection of these 21 species to ensure their survival and ultimate recovery.