Nature Canada Nature Canada Nature Canada Nature Canada Nature Canada Nature Canada Nature Canada Nature Canada Nature Canada Nature Canada
Chinook Salmon, American Bumble Bee and Black Ash Populations at risk of extinction say scientists
Photo by Meryl Raddatz.
News

Chinook Salmon, American Bumble Bee and Black Ash Populations at risk of extinction say scientists

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) is recommending changes to the status of species at risk following its semi-annual Wildlife Species Assessment meeting in Ottawa last week. “Nature Canada is very concerned that the Fraser River populations of Chinook Salmon, the American Bumble Bee, and Black Ash, among others, have been added to the growing numbers of species at risk in Canada” said Stephen Hazell, director of policy at Nature Canada.  “Nature Canada urges the government of Canada to proceed with the legal listings of species recommended by COSEWIC so that recovery strategies and action plans can begin as soon as possible.” The Black Ash, a tree that is common to swampy woodlands in Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador has been designated as Threatened. The Black Ash is susceptible to a number of pests (especially the invasive Emerald Ash Borer) and diseases. Due to its close proximity to rapidly expanding human populations, Black Ash is also threated by human development. Moving out to the West Coast of the country, the committee found 13 populations of Chinook salmon to be declining, with eight assessed as Endangered, four as Threatened and one as Special Concern. Only the large population that lives in the Thompson River is stable. The interconnectivity of ecosystems, and importance of all wildlife species is especially evident with this designation in that the Chinook Salmon are a critical food source for the Endangered Southern Resident Orca, that Nature Canada believes is in need of urgent emergency protection. American Bumble Bees are now listed as Special Concern in Canada. Threats to the American Bumble bee include habitat loss, pollution, mites and pesticide use. Since June, Nature Canada has been campaigning to ban the use of neonicotinoid insecticides (neonics) in Canada and are calling for the Federal Government to take swift and urgent action. This pesticide is currently used on farms, despite causing millions of pollinators, aquatic insects and other beneficial species to disappear in staggering numbers around the world. “COSEWIC’s science-based recommendations for designating wildlife species at risk under the Species At Risk Act is critical to their survival  and to protecting biodiversity and ecosystem protection”  said Ted Cheskey, Nature Canada’s naturalist director. The Polar Bear, with populations in Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and northern parts of Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador, was another species whose status was being considered by COSEWIC, and whose designation as Special Concern in 2017 did not change in this year’s assessment.


It isn’t all bad news however – there are actions that you can take today to help recover these species at risk , and many others, from coast to coast to coast:
  • Save the Turtles! Read up on what to do when you see a turtle crossing the road before heading to cottage country this Spring and Summer;
  • Say no to neonics and yes to birds and bees! Support the work we’re doing, along with 13 other environmental organizations, to ban the use of neonics in Canada, which is a deadly pesticide causing harm to birds and bees;
  • Use your voice for Orcas! Sign our petition and raise your voice to restrict Chinook salmon fisheries and protect the Endangered Southern Resident Orcas;
  • Become an advocate for nature! Join the nature nation to stay up-to-date with the important work we’re doing to protect the incredible wildlife species and landscapes from coast, to coast, to coast.
COSEWIC's next scheduled wildlife species assessment meeting will be held in April 2019 in St. John's, Newfoundlandand Labrador.

Precedent setting ruling to defend Species at Risk: Western Chorus Frog
News

Precedent setting ruling to defend Species at Risk: Western Chorus Frog

[caption id="attachment_37987" align="alignleft" width="150"] Andrea Lesperance, Student-at-Law.[/caption] This blog post was written by Andrea Lesperance, a Student-at-Law for Nature Canada. A fight to protect the Western Chorus Frog has resulted in a precedent-setting legal decision. This 2018 decision of the Federal Court has affirmed the Federal Government’s authority to issue emergency orders to protect the habitat of species-at-risk located on provincial lands. The decision affirms the federal government’s authority to protect at-risk species and their habitat and should future court decisions. This is important in a time where biodiversity, particularly species already at risk, are lost at an alarming rate.

What is the Western Chorus Frog?

The Western Chorus Frog is a small (approximately 2.5 cm long) brown, grey or olive tree frog with three dark lines along its back and one larger line on each side. It is is found in approximately 100 wetland locations divided into two populations: the Carolinian population of southwestern Ontario and the Great Lakes / St. Lawrence – Canada Shield population (GLSLCS) in regions of Ontario and Quebec. The GLSLCS population is threatened, mainly due to habitat destruction and fragmentation, particularly in suburban areas of southwestern Quebec. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzePgnIpUuk

What Legal Protections Have Been Put in Place?

In 2008, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) assessed the Western Chorus Frog GLSLCS population as Threatened. Subsequently, in 2010, it was listed as Threatened under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). However, the strongest habitat protections afforded by SARA did not apply to much of the GLSLCS population because the relevant habitat did not lie on federal land. Thus, in 2013, Nature Quebec asked the Minister of Environment to issue an emergency protection order for the La Prairie population of Western Chorus Frogs under SARA. The Minister refused to make the recommendations and so Nature Quebec initiated a judicial review in Federal Court, seeking mandamus; an order to the Minister to make the recommendation. In its 2015 decision, Québécois du droit de l’environnement v. Canada (Environment), 2015 FC 773, the Federal Court set aside the Minister’s refusal as unreasonable and ordered her to reconsider the decision. The Minister undertook an extensive information gathering process and concluded there was imminent threat to the recovery of the Western Chorus Frog. Thus, in July of 2016, the Federal government issued an emergency order to protect Western Chorus Frog habitat in La Prairie, Quebec. The emergency order prohibited, among other activities, the construction of infrastructure, structure or barriers on approximately 2 km2 of partially-developed land in the municipalities of La Prairie, Candiac and Saint-Philippe, Quebec. The prohibitions were intended to prevent the loss and degradation of essential Western Chorus Frog habitat and prevent activities which could harm the species.

Legal Precedent and Implications

This decision was contested by a housing developer, Groupe Maison Candiac, who had previously received authorization from the province to build a housing development on part of the 2 km2 at issue. The developer applied to the Federal Court have the emergency order invalidated on the grounds that
  • (1) the provision of SARA which enables the Minister to, within the emergency order, prohibit activities on non-federal land, is outside the constitutional jurisdiction of the federal government, or
  • (2) the emergency order is expropriation without compensation, which is prohibited by s. 952 of the Civil Code of Quebec and the common law rule of de facto appropriation.
In the resulting decision, Le Groupe Maison Candiac Inc. v. Procureur General Du Canada, 2018 CF 643, the Federal Court rejected these arguments, finding that the section of SARA which enables the federal government to prohibit activities on non-federal land via an emergency order is a valid measure of criminal law, which falls under the jurisdiction of the federal government. The Court found that the relevant section of SARA:
  • pursues the legitimate public purpose of environmental protection first recognized in R v. Hydro-Québec, [1997] 3 SCR 213,
  • does not impinge on areas of exclusive provincial legislative jurisdiction, and
  • has the attributes of a criminal law regime.
Further, the FC held that the concept of de facto appropriation does not affect the validity of the emergency order because Parliament had provided for a compensation mechanism for the losses suffered as a result of the emergency order within SARA but limited its scope to extraordinary consequences. Congratulations to Nature Quebec! Without their initiative, the emergency order and resulting decision may not have come about. This recent decision is important for Nature Canada’s Greater Sage Grouse Case An emergency order has only been used to protect a species at risk twice since SARA came into force in 2002. An emergency order was issued in 2013 to protect Greater Sage Grouse habitat on Albertan provincial lands. The sage-grouse has been listed as an endangered species under SARA and the Alberta Wildlife Act for some time, but was afforded little protection under these mechanisms. Recognizing these shortfalls, Nature Canada wrote to then-Minister of the Environment Peter Kent, urging him to issue an emergency order to protect the Sage-Grouse and its habitat. On December 4, 2013 the federal government issued the Emergency Order for the Protection of the Greater Sage Grouse (SOR/2013-202). Now, the City of Medicine Hat and LGX Oil and Gas have applied to the Federal Court for a judicial review of the decision to issue the emergency order. The City of Medicine Hat and LGX Oil & Gas have requested that the Federal Court strike down the emergency order and the authorizing provisions of SARA on the basis that they are outside the federal government’s constitutional powers and so they unlawfully infringe on exclusive provincial legislative authority. It is clear, based on the Western Chorus Frog case, that the federal government has the authority to prohibit actions in important sage-grouse habitat in order to protect the species, because this falls under the legitimate public purpose of environmental protection.
Signup for Email  

Want more nature news?

Discover more about the nature you love.


Barn and Bank Swallows Legally Listed as Threatened
News

Barn and Bank Swallows Legally Listed as Threatened

[caption id="attachment_31795" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Megan MacIntosh Megan MacIntosh, Purple Martin Project Coordinator[/caption] Not long after fall songbird migration wrapped up for another year, two familiar summer residents, the Barn Swallow and Bank Swallow, were officially listed as threatened species under Schedule 1 of the 2002 Species at Risk Act (SARA) in Canada. This moment came many years after COSEWIC, the scientific advisory committee, made the recommendation (2011 for Barn Swallow and 2013 for Bank Swallow). Nature Canada congratulates the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, the Honourable Catherine McKenna, for pushing these listings through. With natural habitat significantly altered over the past century, swallows, in an incredible demonstration of resilience, have adapted to rely on human structures for breeding habitat. As migratory birds, they are protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act (1994), and have been included in various multi-species action plans at historic sites and conservation areas across Canada. Provincially, Barn Swallow and Bank Swallow are listed as threatened in Ontario and endangered in Nova Scotia, and the Purple Martin, North America’s largest swallow, is listed as special concern in British Columbia. What does this mean? How can it be that the Barn Swallow, the most abundant and widely distributed species of swallow in the world, came to be threatened? Image of Barn Swallow Let’s start with the glaringly obvious bad news: Their populations’ are in trouble, and their disappearance is part of larger trend impacting songbirds – a distress signal from ecosystems widely out of balance. Over the past 40 years, swallows and other birds that rely on a diet of flying insects have undergone steeper declines than any other birds in Canada - some by more than 90%. While scientists are still working to understand more about the cause, threats such as climate change, use of pesticides, decreased insect prey availability, loss of wetland and foraging habitat, industrial activities, competition from invasive species, and increased predation pressure all play a role. If nothing is done, it is possible that we could lose these wonderful species, and with them, their beautiful songs as a symbol of spring. The good news is that SARA was enacted precisely for this purpose – to prevent the disappearance of species at risk. Through SARA, definitive actions and resources can be set in place to get these birds some of the special attention they need. For example, the government is now required to produce a federal recovery strategy for the Bank Swallow and Barn Swallow within 2 years of the date they were listed. A recovery strategy serves as a detailed management plan that includes an assessment of the species and its needs, identifies threats and critical habitat, and sets priorities and approaches towards stopping and reversing their decline. In the meantime, we cannot rely on this as our only plan.  For species so closely connected with humans, a strong stewardship effort is needed to help provide a safe place for swallows while they raise their young in our backyards. Anybody can help. Learn more about Nature Canada’s Purple Martin program, or discover resources by our partners at Bird Studies Canada. To see the full list of scheduled species to SARA, visit https://www.registrelep-sararegistry.gc.ca/default.asp?lang=en&n=24F7211B-1

Email Signup

Want more nature news?

Join our 50,000 nature lovers raising their voices for nature!

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back—Scientists propose more species to be listed as at risk
News

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back—Scientists propose more species to be listed as at risk

[caption id="attachment_22697" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Stephen Hazell Stephen Hazell
Director of Conservation
and General Counsel[/caption] On December 4, 2017 following several days of meetings in Ottawa, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) announced its recommendations for changes to listings of 44 wildlife species under the Species at Risk Act. The good news is that COSEWIC now considers that the Peregrine Falcon is no longer at risk of extinction throughout most of Canada thanks to a ban on the pesticide DDT and a captive breeding program. The bad news is COSEWIC recommends that a number of other species be listed as endangered, threatened or of special concern.  For example, COSEWIC recommends an endangered listing for eight of the 24 populations of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River. Two populations are recommended for threatened status and five populations for special concern status. Nine populations were stable or increasing and so were assessed as being Not at Risk. [caption id="attachment_14583" align="alignright" width="200"]Peregrine falcon Peregrine falcon[/caption] Two of three populations of Pacific Grey Whale using Canadian waters are also recommended for endangered status. These represent Grey Whales' last global stronghold. All three groups winter in Mexican waters, but move along the Canadian coast to spend the rest of the year feeding in different regions. A remnant population that summers along the Russian coast, and a second small group that feeds near Vancouver Island and adjacent waters, were both assessed as Endangered. The largest population, which travels along the Pacific coast to Alaska, was assessed as Not at Risk. Other species found to be at some level of risk:

  • Vancouver Lamprey, found in only three Vancouver Island lakes (Threatened)
  • Northern Saw-whet Owl brooksi subspecies, unique to Haida Gwaii forests (Threatened)
  • Quebec Rockcress, which grows only on certain Gaspé Peninsula limestone cliffs (Endangered)
  • Verna's Flower Moth, which is found exclusively in the Canadian prairies (Threatened)
  • Lumpfish, an Atlantic Ocean species fished for its caviar-like eggs (Threatened)
  • Dolphin and Union Caribou in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, which migrate across sea ice affected by climate change and shipping activity (Endangered).
Email Signup

Want more nature news?

Join our 50,000 nature lovers raising their voices for nature!

Liberals And NDP Agree To Speed Up Species At Risk Listings
News

Liberals And NDP Agree To Speed Up Species At Risk Listings

[caption id="attachment_22697" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Stephen Hazell Stephen Hazell
Director of Conservation
and General Counsel[/caption] Congratulations to Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna and BC NDP Member of Parliament Richard Cannings for agreeing to speed up listings of species at risk recommended by COSEWIC scientists. Cannings introduced a private member's bill C-363 that would close a loophole that the Canadian government has used for years to delay or deny protection for species deemed to be at risk. Under the Species at Risk Act, the advice to list a species comes from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), and the Minister has nine months to make a decision—to list or not—after receiving that advice.  Unfortunately, previous governments often did not respect these timelines such as for the listings of Barn and Bank Swallows which were delayed for many years until McKenna acted earlier this year. Bill C-363 proposed to amend the Act to make it clear that the clock starts when the advice is received. At a meeting of COSEWIC this week, Minister McKenna announced that the government would be enacting Mr.Cannings’ proposal in government policy. Nature Canada is delighted that the government and the NDP could work together to protect species at risk.

Email Signup

Join the Movement!

Sign up to learn how you can protect the nature you love.

5 Things You Didn’t Know about the Buff-breasted Sandpiper
News

5 Things You Didn’t Know about the Buff-breasted Sandpiper

[caption id="attachment_34104" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Sharlene Amalu Sharlene Amalu, Guest Blogger[/caption] This is written by guest blogger Sharlene Amalu. This is the Buff-breasted Sandpiper, also known as the Tryngites subrufivollis. It’s a small shorebird with an average length of only 18-20cm a yellowish-beige body and a brown to black backside and wings. This sandpiper has been listed as special concern in the Species At Risk Act (SARA) and the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) also assessed this species as special concern. Here are 5 things you didn’t know about the Buff-Breasted Sandpiper:

  1. The Buff-Breasted Sandpiper lives across Canada. The Buff-Breasted Sandpiper can be found in both the United States. In Canada, they live in all the Northern Territories, Western Canada, Ontario, and Quebec. However, they breed in regions located in the Arctic Hemisphere such as eastern Russia, Alaska, the Yukon and Northern Central Canada.
  2. Just like us, they need a vacation from winter. Buff-Breasted Sandpipers are snowbirds, migrating to warmer climates located mainly in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay as early as mid-June to early July while migrating back early February through to late March.
  3. They follow the motto of “one for all, and all for one”. The Buff-Breasted Sandpiper is known to change flight course when they realize one of their flock members is injured, which results in this species being vulnerable to hunting.
  4. Grand gestures are everything when finding a mate. When looking for mate in their Arctic breeding grounds, males form groups and use courtship displays to attract females also known as lek mating displays.
  5. Home is where the heart is. After finding a mate, the females usually lays eggs eggs in a nesting located away from the congregation of males and in a low-lying grassy or mossy area where the eggs hatch mid-July, hence non-breeding females migrate south earlier.
[caption id="attachment_34095" align="alignright" width="378"]"Buff-breasted Sandpiper" by Tim Lenz is licensed under CC BY 2.0 "Buff-breasted Sandpiper" by Tim Lenz is licensed under CC BY 2.0[/caption] Unfortunately, habitat loss has caused some serious problems for their mating season, their migration and their preferred living habitat. In their habitats of the Arctic where mating would likely occur is where mining developments have formed. The amount of garbage that accumulates from those developments also attracts more predators. Although the full impact on breeding is not fully known, it is definitely a concern. Their North and South American habitats for non-breeding are also being developed for newer settlements and farmlands with grazing patterns consuming the short grass habitat that they reside.  Pesticides also cause a range of symptoms from physiological impairment to death while changes in climate have resulted in irregular timing for breeding periods and food availability. What can you do? The Buff-Breasted Sandpiper is listed under Special Concern for COSEWIC and SARA and is protected under Canada’s federal Migratory Birds Convention Act (1994), and provincial/territorial legislation, however, their environment isn’t included. Do your part as an individual to mitigate climate change; make earth-friendly consumer choices to limit your greenhouse gas emissions. Want to learn more about the Buff-breasted Sandpiper? Check out our profile on this bird for more facts and background! 
Email Signup

Want more nature news?

Join our 50,000 nature lovers raising their voices for nature!

Canadian scientists call for greater effort to save Monarch butterflies as their status is reassessed under the Species at Risk Act
News

Canadian scientists call for greater effort to save Monarch butterflies as their status is reassessed under the Species at Risk Act

This blog was written by Pierre Sadik, our Senior Advisor, Species at Risk. The plight of the iconic and beautiful Monarch butterfly is still deteriorating as the Canadian government continues to lag its North American partners in helping Monarchs. In December of 2016 the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) reassessed the struggling Monarch under the federal Species at Risk Act and, based on the best available science and data, came to the conclusion that the Monarch butterfly is now a “threatened” species. This represents a dramatic deterioration in assessment status from COSEWIC's previous finding five years ago that the Monarch was only a species of “Special Concern”. Plant milkweed to protect monarch butterfliesCOSEWIC’s assessment will be formally considered by the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change under the Species at Risk Act in the fall of 2017. The Minister is likely to accept COSEWIC’s reassessment and move to formally list the Monarch under SARA as a “Threatened” species. And therein lies an opportunity. Re-classifying Monarch butterflies from Special Concern to the more serious category of Threatened will require the preparation of a federal Action Plan to try to ensure the survival and recovery of the species. One of the key items for the Minister to include in the Monarch butterfly Action Plan must be meaningful habitat protection here in Canada, including taking steps that finally match the commitment made by our North American partners in Monarch protection. Monarchs fly over 4,000 kilometres south to Mexico in the fall to overwinter. They breed on their return trip, and their great-grandchildren arrive back in Canada in spring. However, the fragile and tiny wintering grounds in Mexico, where Monarchs congregate, continue to shrink due to habitat loss. A similar jeopardy awaits Monarchs here in Canada, where these insects come for the breeding and nectaring habitat along our southern border. During the summer months, you can find adult Monarchs feeding on the nectar of wildflowers, while the caterpillars can be found feeding on milkweed plants. The primary threats facing Monarch in Canada include the widespread use of pesticides and herbicides throughout their breeding grounds, and the conversion of breeding and nectaring habitat. But milkweed, which is so essential for egg-laying for Monarchs, is not only considered an agricultural pest in many jurisdictions, but is actively suppressed under weed control regulations in Manitoba, Quebec and Nova Scotia (though it is noteworthy that the Ontario government recently removed Milkweed species from the Weed Control Act). The U.S., Mexico and Canada recognized the Monarch’s plight in 2014 when they commissioned a tri-national task force to examine the threats to Monarch butterflies. The U.S. government followed up in 2015 by committing $3.2 million to conserve Monarch habitats and expand national milkweed planting programs. Mexico continues to support population monitoring at overwintering areas in the Oyamel highland forests. Meanwhile, the Canadian government has not yet made any significant financial investment in protecting Monarch butterflies or their habitat. The pending Monarch Butterfly Action Plan under the federal Species at Risk Act is the last, best chance the federal government has to get serious about Monarch habitat protection.

Send a letter today urging Canada to act now and match the U.S. commitment of $3.2 million to Monarch Butterfly conservation. 

Email Signup

Want more nature news?

Discover more about the nature you love.

Results from the Annual COSEWIC Meeting on status of Canadian Wildlife catches our eye
News

Results from the Annual COSEWIC Meeting on status of Canadian Wildlife catches our eye

[caption id="attachment_21694" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Ted Cheskey Ted Cheskey
Senior Conservation Manager – Bird Conservation, Education & Networks[/caption] Each year, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) gathers to review the conservation status of wildlife species living in Canada that may be at risk of extinction. The committee consists of experts from across the country who review the most current information and best available scientific, community, and First People’s knowledge regarding each species on the agenda. After careful discussion, the committee votes to assign species one of the following statuses: Extirpated, Endangered, Threatened, or Special Concern, Not at Risk, or Data Deficient, the latter meaning that not enough information is available to make a decision. While these meetings are not open to the public due to the potential sensitivity of information about wildlife species discussed, COSEWIC grants a limited number of individuals within the conservation field permission to observe the proceedings. Nature Canada has had the privilege of holding “Observer Status” on COSEWIC for many years, meaning we can observe committee deliberations.  Nature Canada was instrumental in establishing the Federal Government’s Species at Risk Act, and we continue to push the government to officially schedule species that are recognized by COSEWIC. The lag time for scheduling is far too long for most species, adding to the risks of their demise. For example, the Barn Swallow was assigned Threatened Status by COSEWIC in 2011 but has yet to be scheduled by Environment Canada. Most recently, Nature Canada was present as the COSEWIC committee met over 6 days in November, 2016 in Ottawa. A total of forty species and populations including 3 birds and 5 reptiles were reviewed. Image of a Blanding's Turtle The decisions made about several species in particular caught our attention. The Great Lakes’ population of Blanding’s Turtle, which can be credited with stopping a wind energy project from destroying significant coastal alvar habitat in Prince Edward County Ontario (thanks to the hard work of the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists), has been upgraded from “Threatened” to the more perilous status of “Endangered”. Cars and habitat loss continue to harm this highly terrestrial turtle which can live over 80 years. The iconic Monarch Butterfly’s precarious survival was upgraded to “Endangered” from “Special Concern.” Canada’s Monarch Butterflies appear to be in serious trouble at all stages for their lives. In addition, Canada’s caribou populations continue to suffer. Barren Ground Caribou received “Threatened” status, while the Torngat Mountains population was assigned “Endangered” Status. Finally, another species reviewed by COSEWIC grabbed our attention this past summer when Partner’s in Flight (PIF) released their 2016 Conservation plan. Featured on the front cover of the plan was an Evening Grosbeak.  According to PIF, the species will lose half of its population in the next 38 years. COSEWIC attributed “Special Concern” to this large-billed finch. In summary, of the 40 species populations discussed at the November meeting of COSEWIC, 13 were assessed to be Endangered, 6 as Threatened, and 11 as Special Concern. Six were assessed as Not at Risk, and 4 as Data Deficient. Fortunately, none of the species assessed were determined to be extirpated or extinct. To date, a total of 733 species are in COSEWIC risk categories with vascular plants and fish making up approximately half of these. 182 species populations are currently considered Not at Risk, and 57 have been deemed Data Deficient Now it is up to the Federal government to act on the COSEWIC decisions and schedule these species under the Species at Risk Act so that they can be accorded the legal protection and attention that they need. Please encourage your Members of Parliament to make scheduling of species at risk at priority in the next sitting of the House of Commons.

Email Signup

Want more nature news?

Discover more about the nature you love.

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

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.
Email Signup

Saved by Popular Demand?
News

Saved by Popular Demand?

[caption id="attachment_22697" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Stephen Hazell Stephen Hazell
Director of Conservation
and Legal Counsel[/caption] A new day may have dawned for Canada’s species at risk. Nature Canada is very pleased that Prime Minister Trudeau  has directed Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, to “enhance protection of Canada’s endangered species” as a top priority. Implementing the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) is critical to this work. Last week, Nature Canada and seven other nature groups wrote a joint letter to Minister McKenna outlining some of the pressing shortcomings in implementing SARA including:

  • Clearing up the backlog of  scientifically assessed species at risk  not yet declared to be legally at risk
  • Getting caught up in preparing Recovery Strategies for threatened and endangered species
  • Better supporting the work of  COSEWIC, the scientific advisory committee on species at riskImage of Barn Swallow
The previous federal government fell behind badly in legally listing species recommended for at risk status by COSEWIC. The backlog goes back four years, and includes more than 100 species, including Barn and Bank Swallows and the western Grizzly Bear population. Preparing recovery strategies for endangered, threatened and extirpated species at risk—including identification of critical habitat--is another priority. The preparation of recovery strategies needs to be an objective, scientific exercise to identify broad strategies to ensure species’ survival and recovery. You can save endangered and threatened species by encouraging the Minister and the new government to act by Popular Demand!

Here's how you can help today:

Please consider signing Nature Canada’s petition requesting that the Minister immediately list the Barn and Bank Swallows as threatened.

Learn More Here:

To learn more about protecting endangered species, check out these news articles from the Ottawa Citizen: Triage in the wild: Is it time to choose which species live and which die out? Canada, once a global leader in conservation, is among the world’s biggest cheapskates when it comes to spending to save disappearing wildlife. To learn more about biodiversity targets, click here. Email Signup

Want to Help?

Canada’s wilderness is the world’s envy. It’s our duty to keep our true north strong and green.

Donate