Canadian Species at Risk List Grows

MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada, December 6, 2000 (ENS) - The list of Canadian species at risk has grown by 11.

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) released its updated list, which now includes 364 wild species in various categories.

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Fowler Toads were listed as threatened in 1999. (Photo courtesy Environment Canada)
COSEWIC is an independent organization of wildlife experts. It includes members from universities and museums, provinces and territories, three non-government conservation organizations and four federal agencies.

"COSEWIC's reassessments provide us with an ever more current and complete picture of the status of species at risk in Canada," said COSEWIC chairman Dr. David Green. "The number of species on the list continues to increase each year," added Dr. Green.

Eleven new listings include: an amphibian, the Jefferson Salamander (threatened); four butterflies, including Taylor's Checkerspot (endangered); several plants, including the American Hart's-tongue Fern (special concern); the Atlantic Wolffish (special concern); and a mollusc, the Olympia Oyster (special concern).

Overall, the number of species listed in the endangered and threatened categories each rose by five, and the special concern category increased by one.

Under the definitions of terms used by COSEWIC, Endangered means species facing imminent extinction or extirpation. Extirpation means the species no longer exists in the wild in Canada, but occurs elsewhere.

Threatened means the species are likely to become endangered if limiting factors are not reversed. Special Concern refers to species that have become particularly sensitive to human activities or natural events.

A large part of COSEWIC's work was the reassessment of 28 species that are currently on the Canadian species at risk list.

The committee bases its reassessments on quantitative criteria that estimate the risk of extinction. The criteria were recently developed by COSEWIC, building on a global model used by the World Conservation Union (IUCN).

Of the species reassessed, 20 remained in the same category, seven were uplisted and one was downlisted. COSEWIC began its reassessments in October 1999 and has now completed over 100 reassessments.

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Prime Minister Jean Chretien. (Photo courtesy Prime Minister's Office)
Canada was the first industrial nation to endorse and ratify the 1992 Rio Summit's Convention on Biological Diversity, yet still does not have endangered species legislation. The convention requires each nation to "develop necessary legislation... for the protection of threatened species and populations."

Last October, for the second time in three years, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien called a general election, effectively killing a proposed Species At Risk Act. Environment Minister David Anderson introduced the legislation known as Bill C33 in April bit it did not get beyond its first reading in Parliament.

Bill C33 attempted to improve on Bill C65, which was introduced by former Environment Minister Sheila Copps in 1995, but died after an election call in 1997.

Last week, the 66 year old Chretien won his third consecutive term as Prime Minister. Anderson was also re-elected and has pledged to reintroduce the Species At Risk Act.

Individual recovery plans launched under the government's Habitat Stewardship Program and the National Strategy for Protecting Species at Risk, currently form the large extent of protection for the country's species at risk. Four of Canada's 13 provinces and territories have laws protecting endangered species.

During last month's election campaign, Chretien's Liberal party was criticized for its lack of commitment to species at risk.

"The lack of Liberal commitment to endangered species legislation in their platform is nothing short of a disgrace," said Dr. Richard Smith, Canada Country Director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. "The mention of endangered species in the Liberal platform is one paragraph, with no substance."

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Environment Minister David Anderson. (Photo courtesy Environment Ministry)
The United States enacted its federal endangered species legislation under President Richard Nixon in 1973. More than half of the species listed under the Act have halted their decline or are recovering.

For example, the bald eagle, which was nearly driven into extinction by pesticide poisoning up to the 1970s, has since been taken off the endangered list.

The U.S. Endangered Species Act protects the grizzly bear in the northwest, the animal's remaining habitat in the lower 48 states. Wildlife groups point out that if a grizzly roams across the border into Canada, it can be legally hunted.