Starting Tuesday, I’ll be attending a meeting of experts as they assess the status of 21 Canadian species (and species populations) suspected of being at risk of extinction or extirpation.
The meeting is held by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), an independent expert committee that uses science and Aboriginal or community knowledge to identify and assess species at risk. Species that COSEWIC assesses as at risk are subsequently considered by the government for listing under the Species at Risk Act.
Twelve of the 21 species up for consideration are ones that COSEWIC will be assessing for the first time at this meeting. This includes Band-tailed Pigeon, which is North America’s largest pigeon and is found in Canada in British Columbia. Not to be confused with the introduced Rock Pigeon, the Band-tailed Pigeon is a native species, and frequently feeds on berries and seeds at the top of trees. Band-tailed Pigeons have experienced a steady population decline since the 1960s, and as a result the National Audubon Society considers them a watch-list species.
Nine species/populations are scheduled to be re-assessed by COSEWIC. The committee reviews the status of all assessed species every ten years, or more frequently if it believes that the status of species has changed. Species to be re-assessed at this meeting include the Lake Chubsucker (a freshwater fish found in Ontario, currently designated as Threatened), and five populations of both transient and resident Killer Whales from the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
The Northeast Pacific southern resident Killer Whale population, currently listed as endangered, is doing particularly poorly – there are only 83 animals left in this population which has declining birth rates and poor condition, possibly due to a shortage of the salmon that they feed on. Recently, a coalition of environmental groups launched legal action against the feds in order to get them to comply with their own Species at Risk Act and protect the critical habitat of these whales.
I will be attending the COSEWIC meeting in the role of “continuing observer,” a position that Nature Canada has held for four years. Nature Canada has a long history of involvement in COSEWIC – we were a founding member of the committee and sat at the assessment table for many years. We continue to be involved as an observer to ensure that the assessment process remains rigorous and unbiased, and to learn as much as possible about the assessed species so that we can fight for them to be added to the legal list of species given protection under the Species at Risk Act.