Canada’s endangered and at-risk species not recovering

A study published in the journal PLoS ONE has found that, on average, at risk species are not improving

What do the North Atlantic Right Whale, the Woodland Caribou and the Spotted Bat all have in common? Like hundreds of other species in Canada, all  three have been assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and are at elevated risk of going extinct.   These are the findings of a paper published in the journal PLOS ONE, by Raincoast scientists and doctoral fellow Dr. Caroline Fox and co-authors from the  University of Victoria.

Download the PLoS One paper here: Trends in extinction risk for imperiled species PDF

The researchers examined trends in the status of species assessed more than once by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), and used their status as a proxy for Canada’s effectiveness in species conservation. Of 369 species examined, 86% have become more endangered or have failed to improve. Only 20 species (5.4%) improved to the point where they were no longer at elevated risk of extinction.

We also examined whether being protected by the Species at Risk Act (SARA) was associated with improved COSEWIC assessment outcomes relative to unlisted species. Contrary to the intent of endangered species legislation in Canada, the probability of a species improving in status did not increase with the number of generation times since initial listing under SARA.

Not all at-risk species receive protection under SARA, but for those listed as threatened, endangered or extirpated under SARA, the government is obligated to protect the their critical habitat, meaning the habitat vital for survival and recovery of the species. The authors found that,
for more than half of eligible SARA-listed species, critical habitat has not been fully identified, meaning that by definition it cannot be protected.

Without protection of their critical habitat, many species are unlikely to improve. National species conservation legislation is necessary to conserve and promote the recovery of at-risk species. However, this study shows that at-risk species in Canada rarely recover, which is alarming. The results leads us to make two core recommendations: (1) that every effort be made to prevent species from becoming at-risk in the first place and (2) that the Canadian government fully implement SARA, which includes the requirement to identify and protect critical habitat.

Link to PLoS ONE :

For more information contact:
Dr. Caroline Fox, Postdoctoral Fellow (Raincoast Conservation Foundation & the University of
Victoria), tel: (250) 812 1956, email: caroline [at]

Dr. Paul Paquet, Raincoast Conservation Foundation Senior Scientist & Adjunct Professor
(University of Victoria), tel: (306) 376 2015, email: ppaquet [at]

Chris Genovali, Raincoast Conservation Foundation Executive Director, tel: 250 655 1229, ext
225, email: chris[at]

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