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Scientific committee fingers climate change in latest species at risk assessments
Polar bear by Regehr Eric, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
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Scientific committee fingers climate change in latest species at risk assessments

Alex MacDonald, click for contact informationAfter an unexpected delay earlier this month, the Committee on the Status of Wildlife in Canada, or COSEWIC, released its latest assessments of the status of species threatened with extinction in Canada. COSEWIC's assessments provide the scientific basis for the listing of species under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA), and for this reason they are often called "recommendations". The Committee, which is made up of scientists and wildlife experts from academia, the private sector, NGOs and government representatives, assessed the status of 19 species at its late November meeting here in Ottawa. Of the species reviewed, 4 were assessed as Endangered (e.g., Nuttall's Sheep Moth) , 9 as Threatened (e.g., Gray Fox, Louisiana Waterthrush),  and 5 as Special Concern (e.g., Flooded Jellyskin lichen). A British Columbia plant species, Giant Helleborine, was reassessed as Not at Risk. COSEWIC's report includes 'positive' news for 6 species that were reassessed as being in a lower risk category, including the Peary Caribou, found in Canada’s High Arctic, being downlisted from Endangered (assessed in 2004) to Threatened status, and the Lake Erie Watersnake going from Endangered (assessed in 2006) to Special Concern. But downlisting doesn't mean that the threats have disappeared, nor does it rule out the role of citizens in the conservation and stewardship of a species. In fact in some cases it is the very involvement of Canadians, through actions like expanded survey efforts, that sheds light on previously unknown occurrences or populations of a species at risk – thereby helping COSEWIC better understand its status in Canada. Image of a glacierWhile Canada's growing number of species at risk is newsworthy enough, the biggest and most timely news in COSEWIC's recommendations is the "recurring theme" among the species assessed: climate change. And climate change is not only a direct threat to some of these and other species at risk — COSEWIC notes that in some cases it is actually compounding the intensity of threats they already face, such as degrading wetland habitats or allowing destructive invasive species to expand farther northward over time. The delay in COSEWIC's climate change-linked release proved to be heraldic given the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, also known as COP21. Canada has shown ambitious leadership during these climate talks, widely considered to global leaders' last chance to get the planet on a 'reasonable' trajectory with respect to future climate impacts. Indeed, Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna announced during COP21 meetings on Sunday night that Canada would support a goal of just 1.5° C of future global warming coming out of the Paris Agreement. That support sends a strong signal that Canada is taking climate change seriously. This couldn't come at a better time, because it is almost too late. Ladybug on red maple leafI congratulate COSEWIC for using its latest species assessment report to draw attention to climate change*. At very least it importantly provides context and immediate relevance to what could be pessimistically dismissed as the 'routine', semiannual work of COSEWIC. But in the bigger picture this approach demonstrates how the effects of climate change have far-reaching policy and legal implications. On that note Nature Canada and other environmental groups recently issued a joint letter calling on the new federal government to provide better support to COSEWIC in carrying out its scientific responsibilities.  As well, we are asking that the government fill vacancies on COSEWIC’s Species Specialist Subcommittees, and reinstate its former policy of authorizing COSEWIC to recommend new COSEWIC members to the government. Action on these matters would support the renewed federal focus on the role of science in decision making. [caption id="attachment_24207" align="alignleft" width="300"]Peary Caribou standing on the frozen tundra; barren ground caribou; Arctic Peary Caribou, now considered "Threatened" in Canada based on COSEWIC's latest assessment.[/caption] Now that COSEWIC has delivered its species status assessments to Minister McKenna, a 'legal clock' has begun ticking down on an official response: a Response Statement must be published on the SARA Public Registry within 90 days. The Minister's Statement must indicate how she/he will respond to each species' assessment and how consultations with the affected governments and parties will be undertaken for each species; for example, the January 2015 Plains Bison Response Statement is available here. Once this indefinite consultation period has ended for each species, the Minister then presents COSEWIC's assessments, and her/his recommendations regarding them, to Cabinet and the Prime Minister, who then have nine months to decide to:

  1. Add the species to the 'official' list of species at risk in Schedule 1 of the SARA (this triggers legal protections);
  2. Decide not to add the species to the official list; or,
  3. Send a species assessment back to COSEWIC for more information or reconsideration.
You can find the detailed version of COSEWIC's November 2015 Wildlife Species Assessments here, including the rationale for the status assigned to each species. And once again, the Committee's latest press release entitled "Climate Change Matters for Species at Risk" can be found here. I encourage you to have a look at the release, which captures the cautious optimism of what may come out of COP21 Paris on Dec 11th while adding an important reminder that conserving our "species at risk and rich and valuable biodiversity" depends on all of us.
*In the interests of full disclosure, Nature Canada is one of the original NGO partners, including WWF Canada and the Canadian Wildlife Federation, that helped to establish COSEWIC. In recognition of this history, Nature Canada and the other groups have standing "Observer" status at the Committee's meetings. We do not participate in discussions or decision making at the meetings.
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Transfer of Govenlock Grasslands to Environment Canada Important Step towards Protection
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Transfer of Govenlock Grasslands to Environment Canada Important Step towards Protection

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE July 30, 2015 (Ottawa, ON) — The transfer of over 200 square kilometres of important short-grass prairie at Govenlock in southwestern Saskatchewan to Environment Canada is an important step towards protecting grasslands and threatened grassland wildlife says Nature Canada. “Congratulations to Environment Minister Aglukkaq, Environment Canada officials and the local ranching community in achieving this outcome” says Eleanor Fast, Executive Director of Nature Canada. “Transferring these lands to Environment Canada will now allow consultations to begin on establishing a National Wildlife Area to protect the Govenlock grasslands and the numerous species at risk that live there, while at the same time providing for continuing livestock production and respecting local community interests.” “This important decision should be part of a larger plan to conserve native grasslands—the most imperilled ecosystem in Canada” says Stephen Hazell, Director of Conservation and Legal Counsel. “There are tremendous opportunities to conserve native grasslands and grassland wildlife species at many of the other 182 community pastures that were formerly managed by the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration. For example, the Battle Creek and Nashlyn community pastures, which are adjacent to Govenlock and are of similar area and importance for nature, should also considered for special conservation management.” The government’s announcement is online at NewsWire. -30- About Nature Canada Nature Canada is the oldest national nature conservation charity in Canada. Over the past 75 years, Nature Canada has helped protect over 63 million acres of parks and wildlife areas in Canada and countless species that depend on this habitat. Today, Nature Canada represents a network of more than 45,000 members and supporters and more than 350 nature organizations across the country, with affiliates in every province. Nature Canada focuses on effecting change on issues of national significance including bird conservation,  citizen science initiatives, urban nature initiatives, building a national network of conservation organizations, building a network of volunteers to care for critical natural habitat sites across Canada and being a voice for nature at the federal level. Media contact: Stephen Hazell Director of Conservation and General Counsel 613 724-1908 (mobile) shazell@naturecanada.ca

4 Must-see National Wildlife Areas!
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4 Must-see National Wildlife Areas!

[caption id="attachment_16449" align="alignleft" width="150"]Alex MacDonald Alex MacDonald, Conservation Manager[/caption] Across Canada there are 54 legally protected parcels of land known as National Wildlife Areas. They range in size from under 1 hectare to over 263,000 hectares and span from coast, to coast, to coast.   These sites belong to all Canadians and collectively, alongside our Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, make up 12.4 million hectares of lands and seas managed by Environment Canada. But with so many sites, have you visited one of these amazing areas? It’s true that some are inaccessible, but even the 81% of us that live in urban areas are not far from some of these sites. And they’re one of Canada’s best kept nature secrets! To give you a taste of what adventure awaits, here are four great NWAs located in different parts of Canada, exposing visitors to different ecosystems and biodiversity. And keep an eye on our NatureHood events page (http://naturecanada.ca/tag/naturehood-events/)   to find out how Nature Canada is working with Environment Canada, under the National Conservation Plan, to connect Canadians to nature at these amazing sites over the next year!


 Alaksen National Wildlife Area:

Located on British Columbia’s Fraser River Delta, this NWA falls within a globally significant IBA and is a crucial migration stop-over and overwintering site for more than 1.4 million migratory birds each year. Flocks of Snow Geese exceed 25,000 birds at the beginning of October, and tens of thousands of shorebirds and dabbling ducks also seasonally frequent this exquisite site less than an hour from downtown Vancouver! Alaksen National Wildlife Area  

Vaseux-Bighorn National Wildlife Area:

At 812 hectares, the Vaseux-Bighorn NWA is home to a vast expanse of arid grassland, mountain and marsh habitats, suitable for the flagship species of the area, the California Bighorn Sheep. Home to at least 30 species at risk and situated in Canada’s ‘pocket desert’ in the Okanagan Valley, this NWA allows people to view the large mammals, rare birds and an amazing array of plants and animals found nowhere else in the country. Vaseux-Bighorn National Wildlife Area Vaseux-Bighorn National Wildlife Area Mountain Goat  

Last Mountain Lake National Wildlife Area:

Located in Saskatchewan, Last Mountain Lake NWA was the first protected bird sanctuary in North America and is only 2 years younger than Banff National Park. Home to Saskatchewan’s only migration monitoring station, over 280 different bird species pass through this important prairie wetland during migration, with 100 species breeding at the site as well. Visitors have full access to the NWA, including floating boardwalks, wildlife viewing towers and interpretive hiking trails, as well as opportunities for canoeing and kayaking around the lake. Last Mountain National Wildlife Area  

Prince Edward Point National Wildlife Area:

Found on the tip of the Long Point Peninsula, Prince Edward Point boasts records of more than 300 species of birds given its placement as a migration ‘bottleneck’ on Lake Ontario’s north shore. Over 31 at-risk species, including many birds, are found in this area where day-use visitors can birdwatch or see bird-banding (spring and fall only), watch for monarch butterflies, or just enjoy the rugged beauty of this windswept point. Prince Edward Point National Wildlife Area  
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Nature Canada Receives Award for its Efforts to Conserve Wildlife Habitat in Canada
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Nature Canada Receives Award for its Efforts to Conserve Wildlife Habitat in Canada

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="320"]Image of Alexander MacDonald holding up a Gold Leaf award Alexander MacDonald, Nature Canada's protected areas manager, holds up a Gold Leaf award[/caption] We're honoured to have been awarded the Canadian Council on Ecological Areas' Gold Leaf award for our efforts to conserve wildlife habitat in Canada. Alexander MacDonald, Nature Canada's protected areas manager, was on hand to accept the award at the Council's annual conference held in Ottawa on Wednesday. “We appreciate the recognition bestowed on our efforts by the members of the Council,” said Alexander. “Canada’s wildlife depend on a strong, well-managed network of national wildlife areas and migratory bird sanctuaries that protects vital habitat for birds and species at risk." Nature Canada received the award this year for its outstanding support to the conservation community and its sustained effort to raise awareness on national habitat conservation issues. For more than five decades Nature Canada has championed the completion of the national parks system and the development of a connected network of protected areas on land and at sea. In recent years Nature Canada has been a strong advocate for the establishment of national wildlife areas and greater protection of the Boreal Forest. Nature Canada is a member of the Boreal Forest Conservation Framework and the Northwest Territories Protected Areas Strategy, working to protect at least 50% of the Boreal in a network of large interconnected protected areas. At the conference, Nature Canada released its latest report, The Underlying Threat: Addressing Subsurface Threats in Environment Canada’s Protected Areas. The report offers solutions for protecting the natural resources below the land surface in the same way as the natural resources – like water, plants and other wildlife – on the surface. Subsurface land protection is important to the overall ecological integrity of new and existing protected areas. “There is tremendous potential for development of oil and gas, or mineral resources found beneath Environment Canada’s protected areas, and an urgent need for clear, up-to-date policies on what is and isn’t permitted,” said Alexander. “The current permitting system is not designed to manage subsurface resource exploration and development.” Unlike National Parks, the protections afforded national wildlife areas and migratory bird sanctuaries do not extend below the land surface to prevent development, exposing protected areas to a range of environmental problems, including habitat loss, soil contamination, and water pollution.

Welcome Peter Kent, Minister of the Environment
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Welcome Peter Kent, Minister of the Environment

Nature Canada congratulates Peter Kent on his appointment as Canada's new Minister of the Environment. We welcome Mr. Kent to a portfolio that offers many opportunities for success in 2011. The first opportunity will be to build on Jim Prentice's legacy and maintain the momentum towards completing Canada's systems of terrestrial and marine parks and protected areas. Mr. Kent will be able to draw on his experience as Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Americas) to follow through on Canada's commitment to tri-lateral cooperation with the United States and Mexico on continental wilderness conservation. Examples of immediate do-able steps include working with the Dehcho and Tlicho Dene to formally establish the Edehzhie National Wildlife Area in the Northwest Territories, and working with the Oikigtani Inuit Association to negotiate boundaries for Lancaster Sound National Marine Conservation Area.

Secondly, the Minister will need to work with the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to improve and accelerate the federal government's performance in implementing protection for Canada's ever-more-numerous species at risk. To date Canada has recognized over 600 species as being at risk of extinction, but has approved an action plan for recovery for only one species. The Minister should act quickly to ensure that the Government of Canada finally adopts a much-delayed suite of policies guiding implementation of the act.
Thirdly, the new Minister will face the challenge of convincing his cabinet colleagues to end the federal government's inaction on climate change. This will require a tidal shift to policies that effectively reduce Canada's greenhouse gas emissions. Related policies are also needed to rein in the many environmental impacts of the tar sands, and avert the looming environmental disasters associated with unconventional oil and gas development. Finally, in the context of the UN decade for biodiversity and the international year of the forest, we at Nature Canada hope to work with the Minister and both Environment Canada and Parks Canada on the development of an ambitious national conservation plan.
We look forward to meeting with Mr. Kent and helping Canada seize the nature conservation opportunities that we are so fortunate to have.

Do Canadians want protected ‘National Mining Areas’ instead of National Wildlife Areas?
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Do Canadians want protected ‘National Mining Areas’ instead of National Wildlife Areas?

On Friday, October 29th, the federal government made an unexpected decision to permit mineral exploration in a highly anticipated protected area in the NWT. The 14,250 km-squared area west of Great Slave Lake is called Edéhzhíe (Horn Plateau) and is slated to soon become a National Wildlife Area (NWA). Perhaps the federal government instead wishes to designate a protected National Mining Area... Edéhzhíe is both culturally and ecologically significant for the Dehcho and Tłįcho peoples, and is enshrined in Dene tradition and spirituality. The Horn Plateau is an important wetland stop-over along the Central and Mississippi migratory flyways, and is not surprisingly home to the Mills Lake Important Bird Area (IBA), known for globally significant numbers of Tundra Swan and other waterfowl, and continentally significant numbers of Greater White-fronted Goose. Edéhzhíe also provides habitats for several ‘at-risk’ species including boreal woodland caribou, wood bison and wolverine. It is known as a “food basket” in times of need within surrounding Mackenzie Valley communities. Despite its rich natural and cultural heritage, Friday’s decision marks a significant policy reversal - one that opens up Edéhzhíe’s subsurface to mining and oil & gas industry interests. This ultimately poses a threat to the ecological integrity of important lakes and wetlands and boreal forest habitats in this region. This surprising decision overturns a formal request by the Grand Chiefs of the Dehcho First Nation and Tłįchǫ Government that Environment Minister Jim Prentice designate the Edéhzhíe NWA and permanently protect the subsurface lands beneath it. Friday’s decision also ignores recommendations for the same surface/subsurface protections made in a 2009 report by the Edéhzhíe Candidate Protected Area Working Group. That Working Group consulted widely with stakeholders on options for the area, as part of the multi-stakeholder NWT Protected Areas Strategy. The 2009 report was submitted to the Dehcho First Nation, the Tłįchǫ Government and Environment Canada, the federal department responsible for establishing and overseeing NWAs. Nature Canada is very disappointed with the federal government’s decision on Edéhzhíe, which was made just two days before interim government protections on both the surface and subsurface lands of Edéhzhíe were about to expire - after more than a decade of being retained. The decision was recommended by Minister John Duncan of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC; PC number 2010-1360), the federal department holding significant jurisdiction over resource management and social and economic development north of 60°. It should be noted that Minister Duncan's decision on Edéhzhíe was made indirectly: he recommended that only surface land withdrawals be 'renewed' for the area, instead of rights to both surface and subsurface lands. It's easy to get lost in the details. It's worth noting here that in 2009 the Edéhzhíe Working Group recommended a final boundary for the NWA that was 57% of the original 25,000 km-squared study area. The excluded portions represent most of the areas of significant lead/zinc and gas potential within the study area. A 2009 mining industry newsletter laments that even this reduced boundary is too restrictive and prevents the industry from understanding the “true resource potential” of the area, particularly that of diamonds. Interestingly, the 2008 socio-economic assessment of the Edéhzhíe Candidate Protected Area, done by AMEC consultants for INAC, suggests it would be 10-20 years before any non-renewable resource developments could be operational in the area. Nature Canada's disappointment in the government's Edéhzhíe decision stems from three points: First, there are clear legislative options to protect both the surface and subsurface lands of Edéhzhíe through an NWA designation combined with an Order in Council (under the Territorial Lands Act). This is what many conservation groups and the Dehcho First Nation and Tłįchǫ Government want. The Canada Wildlife Act gives the Minister of Environment authority to establish and manage NWAs across Canada, but does not protect subsurface lands beneath those NWAs. This is a serious weakness of the Act and currently makes NWAs the ‘poor cousins’ of more strictly protected areas like National Parks. Minister Duncan’s inaction with respect to protecting Edéhzhíe's subsurface suggests that INAC is not willing to support options that respect the wishes of key stakeholders. More importantly, this surprising situation suggests that INAC is not comfortable communicating its true intent to stakeholders of the Edéhzhíe NWA. Second, this decision has very serious implications for the entire network of 54 NWAs across Canada. This is the first time the federal government has 'opened' a proposed or existing NWA to industrial development. It sends a clear message that NWAs are not off-limits to subsurface resource extraction, regardless of what local stakeholders, First Nations governments and Canadians say about how these areas should be managed and safeguarded over time. While Nature Canada awaits the federal government’s final decision on Cenovus’s proposal to drill 1,275 gas wells inside the CFB Suffield NWA, we are dismayed that the writing may already be on the wall. This is even more concerning given the presence of nationally endangered species in the grasslands of Suffield NWA. Friday’s decision also raises important questions about national parks that are potentially threatened by resource extraction within or just beyond their borders, such as the recently announced Sable Island National Park or the proposed Nááts’ihch’oh National Park Reserve. Third, we expected the federal government to respect the wishes of First Nations governments and the 2009 recommendations of the Edéhzhíe Working Group. We now question the government’s commitment to listen to First Nations and Aboriginal organizations and other stakeholders during future NWA designations through the NWT Protected Areas Strategy. This is particularly worrisome given that local communities in the NWT have shown support for subsurface protection in other candidate NWAs. While Friday’s decision opens the Horn Plateau’s subsurface to mining activity, interim protections on Edéhzhíe’s surface lands have been renewed until October 31, 2012. Please check back to follow Nature Canada's unfolding response to this story. The NWT Protected Area Strategy hosts an on-line album of Edéhzhíe photos you can view here. Photo 1: Mackenzie Valley, Jeff Wells Photo 2: Boreal Chickadee, Jeff Nadler Photo 3: Migrating Snow Geese, Stewart Marshall, Flickr

UPDATE – Version française – Your thoughts on the state of Environment Canada’s protected areas?
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UPDATE – Version française – Your thoughts on the state of Environment Canada’s protected areas?

Hello Readers! Bonjours lecteurs! Yesterday I posted information about a survey that Nature Canada is conducting to determine naturalists' and nature enthusiasts' views on the condition/state of Environment Canada's protected areas. To be more specific, I posted information on the English version of this survey. Mais, veuillez noter qu'il y a aussi une version française du sondage disponible içi. Once again, the French version of Nature Canada's survey is available here. Thanks for your interest! Merci infiniment de votre intérêt!

Your thoughts on the state of Environment Canada’s protected areas?
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Your thoughts on the state of Environment Canada’s protected areas?

Hello Readers! Have you ever visited one of Canada's National Wildlife Areas or Migratory Bird Sanctuaries? These sites make up Environment Canada's network of protected areas and complement our national parks system and provincial/territorial protected areas networks from coast to coast, to coast. Eventually, Marine Wildlife Areas will also make up Environment Canada's network, with the Scott Islands off of northern Vancouver Island slated as the first addition in 2012. Regardless of how you answer the above question, Nature Canada would like to know your views on National Wildlife Areas and Migratory Bird Sanctuaries. In fact, we're in the process of conducting of survey of naturalists and nature enthusiasts across Canada (and beyond) to better understand their views on the condition/state of these areas. Simply follow this link if you'd like to participate in the survey. Time to complete the survey shouldn't exceed 25 minutes and will vary depending on your level of familiarity with Environment Canada's protected areas. Nature Canada will use the results of this survey to inform a formal report on the state of Canada's National Wildlife Areas and Migratory Bird Sanctuaries (to be completed this fall). The report will build on previous work we've done on this theme, including Conserving Wildlife on a Shoestring Budget (2002) and Wildlife In Crisis (2004). Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about the survey and/or Nature Canada's protected areas program. Photo 1 - A. Teucher, CFB Suffield National Wildlife Area

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