New study shows Canada’s species at risk rarely recover

A study published in the journal PLoS ONE has found that most at risk species are not recovering

Today, hundreds of Canada’s iconic species, such as woodland caribou, southern resident killer whales, marbled murrelets and polar bears, and lesser-known (but no less important) species are considered to be at elevated risk of extinction by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). Disturbingly, a new study co-authored by Raincoast scientist Dr. Caroline Fox and other authors at the University of Victoria has revealed that, on average, these species are not improving over time.

Our study examined the effectiveness of Canada’s conservation efforts using the change in COSEWIC’s species status over time as a proxy. Of the 369 species examined, 86% either became more endangered or failed to improve.

We also examined whether protection under SARA was associated with an improved status. Unfortunately, the answer was “no”. As a final audit, we found that critical habitat had not been fully identified for more than half of eligible SARA-listed species. Without formal identification of critical habitat, meaning the habitat vital for the survival and recovery of a species, it cannot be formally protected under SARA.

COSEWIC, in place since 1977, is an independent scientific body that assesses species risk of extinction. COSEWIC provides no legal protection for these species. Instead, legal protection is offered by the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA), which came into force in 2003, but which has yet to be fully implemented.

Following on the heels of a stinging report by Canada’s Auditor General and successful lawsuits over the federal government’s failure to comply with SARA, our publication in the scientific journal PLOS ONE underscores the disturbing extent to which we are failing to protect and recover hundreds of Canada’s species at risk.

In light of these findings, we made two core recommendations: that every effort be made to prevent species from becoming at risk in the first place, and that the federal government fully implement SARA, including the requirement to identify and protect critical habitat. As oil pipelines and other resource extraction conflicts continue to dominate the headlines, it’s important to remember that wildlife and wild spaces pay the ultimate price for these industries. Our research paints a troubling picture for the future of species already considered at risk.

Please donate now and support the work of Raincoast scientists on behalf of Canada’s species at

For the coast,
Caroline Fox

Listen to CBC’s Bob McDonald discuss this research with co-author Dr. Brett Favaro on Quirks and Quarks (click here to listen to the Podcast, interview starts at about 1:00 minute in).

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Raincoast’s in-house scientists, collaborating graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and professors make us unique among conservation groups. We work with First Nations, academic institutions, government, and other NGOs to build support and inform decisions that protect aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, and the wildlife that depend on them. We conduct ethically applied, process-oriented, and hypothesis-driven research that has immediate and relevant utility for conservation deliberations and the collective body of scientific knowledge.

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Coastal wolf with a salmon in its month.
Photo by Dene Rossouw.