Canada failing to protect habitat of imperilled species

Desmog Canada interviews Raincoast's Dr. Caroline Fox on this alarming study

Judith Lavoie / Desmog Canada   2014-11-17

Official recognition that a Canadian species is in trouble is no guarantee that the slide towards extinction can be slowed or halted, a new study has found.

A paper by Raincoast Conservation Foundation scientist Caroline Fox and co-authors from the University of Victoria, published by the scientific journal PLOS ONE looks at species assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada and concludes that, instead of recovering, many have become more endangered.

“Using the COSEWIC assessments, obviously we are not doing as well as we would like,” Fox said in an interview.

The study, Trends in Extinction Risk for Imperiled Species in Canada, aimed to assess the effectiveness of Canada’s biodiversity conservation and the report card is not good.

Fox and her colleagues looked at 369 species and found that 115 had become more endangered, 202 were unchanged and 52 improved in status. Only 20, amounting to 5.4 per cent, improved to the extent that they were no longer at risk of extinction.

Species at risk of extinction or extirpation are initially reviewed by an independent scientific panel that makes recommendations to government, and some species are then listed under the Species at Risk Act. Once a species is listed under the Species at Risk Act it has legal protection and, for most species, critical habitat is supposed to be identified and protected.

However, the study found that, in most cases, critical habitat was not fully identified. Of the 221 cases studied that required critical habitat protection, only 56 met the requirements.

We suggest that the Canadian government should formally identify and protect critical habitat, as is required by existing legislation,” says the study.

In addition, our finding that at-risk species in Canada rarely recover leads us to recommend that every effort be made to actively prevent species from becoming at-risk in the first place.”

Species at risk are protected by patchwork layers of legislation and the Species at Risk Act is the last resort, Fox said.

The study notes that recent weakening of federal laws that protect habitat, such as changes to the Fisheries Act, may result in more species heading for trouble.

Future legislation should be underpinned by a strong mandate to conserve habitat and we recommend that any legislative changes that may reduce habitat protection (e.g. the Fisheries Act) should be reconsidered,” the report says.

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