New research charts path to survival for 102 species at risk of extinction in Fraser River Estuary

The cover of report, A Conservation Prospectus for the Fraser River Estuary, is laid over an underwater image of tiny salmon.
Photo by Fernando Lessa.

Sidney, BC: Research published today in Conservation Science and Practice indicates that 102 species at risk of extinction in the Fraser River Estuary can be saved with an investment of $381 million over 25 years. The research demonstrates that the best way to achieve this is for First Nations and other governments to collaboratively implement a conservation and sustainability plan for recovery. This scenario increases the probability of species recovery to 65% and significantly reduces the cost. 

“From Southern Resident killer whales and barn owls to salmon, sturgeon, and western sandpipers, the Fraser River Estuary is one of Canada’s most ecologically significant regions. Despite this, no plan exists to protect the ecological integrity of this region. Throughout the greater Vancouver Region, people also rely on these species and this ecosystem for their livelihoods, culture and well-being’, said Misty MacDuffee, biologist and Wild Salmon Program Director, Raincoast Conservation Foundation Raincoast. 

With support from Raincoast biologists, a research team led by Dr. Tara Martin at the UBC Conservation Decisions Lab applied a novel conservation decision making tool called Priority Threat Management to address biodiversity loss. The team identified different management strategies, such as green infrastructure and habitat restoration, that could recover the most species for the least cost. Martin and her team brought together more than 65 experts in the ecology and management of Fraser Estuary species to identify conservation actions, estimate their benefit to species recovery, identify the associated costs and assess their feasibility. 

“This study shows that business as usual – i.e. no conservation plan and minimal funding- will likely result in the loss of two-thirds of these species. However, it also indicates that combining a range of conservation strategies, at a cost of $381 million, or $15 million a year, would give these species  more than a 50% chance of survival. This cost is a small fraction of the economic value of these important resources, such as our salmon populations”, said biologist Dave Scott, Raincoast Conservation Foundation Fraser Estuary Research and Restoration Coordinator and co-author on the paper. 

The approaches assessed included the implementation of a governance body that sees First Nation, federal and provincial governments working together with municipalities, NGOs and industry to implement these conservation strategies. The research finds that co-governance underpins conservation success in urban areas, by increasing the feasibility of management strategies. 

“While industrial projects such as the proposed Roberts Bank Terminal 2 expansion could cost more than $2 billion, this research indicates that for one-tenth of that cost we have a good chance of saving more than 100 species and preserving the economy these species support” added MacDuffee.

The study also found that approving major industrial developments, like the contentious Terminal 2 expansion on Roberts Bank, jeopardize many of these species, including Southern Resident killer whales, salmon, and much of the world’s population of western sandpipers.