Study finds that goals to recover species at risk are stronger in the United States than in Canada

For Immediate Release | Sidney, British Columbia

An estimated one million species are at risk of extinction globally and despite efforts, including legislation meant to protect species at risk, the majority of species are not recovering in either Canada or the United States. This might be because governments do not set ambitious or high quality targets to recover species at risk.

Researchers from the University of Victoria, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, Dalhousie University, and the University of Northern British Columbia, set out to study the ambition and quality of the goals for endangered species recovery in American and Canadian federal endangered species legislation.

Key findings, recently published in the scientific journal PLoS ONE, were that the overall quality of recovery goals published under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) and Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA) could be improved – only 38% of recovery goals had numeric population targets and 41% of recovery goals were considered to be high ambition. Furthermore, the quality of recovery goals was higher in the US over Canadian legislation; the quality was also greater as the threat of extinction rose (i.e., the goal for recovering an endangered species was more likely to be quantitative and/or have high ambition compared to a threatened species).

“These results point to both the importance of high-quality recovery goals for species at risk and the variability between US and Canadian recovery goals, even for the same species,” said co-author Dr. Kylee Pawluk. “For instance, one example is marbled murrelet where ESA recovery goals are qualitative but of relatively high ambition and although quantitative, SARA recovery goals are of lower ambition.”

Dr. Pawluk adds, “We recognize how challenging it is to develop recovery goals that are high-quality and based on evidence. In our study, we found that sometimes the information is already available, and that higher-quality goals could be developed by applying existing information.”

Co-author Dr. Christina Service, Raincoast Conservation Foundation scientist, comments, “Wildlife don’t recognize human borders — many endangered species are migratory or occur in populations that cross state, province, or country boundaries. It’s never been more important to work across borders to protect and recover species at risk. This study shows where sharing information, working together, and setting robust recovery goals could really help endangered species.”

Broadly, the study provides unique guidance to strengthen recovery goals and improve subsequent outcomes for species at risk. In particular, these findings suggest that species recovery planners – especially in Canada – should aim for higher recovery goal ambition and include quantitative recovery goals wherever possible.

The study was published November 19, 2019 in the open-access journal PLoS ONE: