Background of the Program on the General Status of Species in Canada

Photo: Swift Fox, Vulpes velox © Lu Carbyn

Photo: Swift Fox, Vulpes velox © Lu Carbyn

Canada is home to over 70 000 wild species including, but by no means limited to, mammals, birds, fishes, vascular plants, butterflies, dragonflies, bees, worms, mosses and mushrooms. These species, and other aspects of nature, are highly valued by Canadians. Canadians recognize that wild species provide a host of resources, such as foods, medicines and materials, as well as services that we often take for granted, such as cleaning the air and water, regulating the climate, generating and conserving soils, pollinating crops, and controlling pests. In addition, Canadians take pride in, and profit internationally from, a reputation for pristine landscapes with abundant wildlife. But perhaps above all else, Canadians value the aesthetic splendour and spiritual nourishment still afforded by the incredible range of wild species living in Canada. For all these reasons, we acknowledge a responsibility to future Canadians and the rest of the world to conserve our nation's natural heritage, by preventing the loss of species due to human actions.

The first step in preventing the loss of species is to know which species we have, where they occur and how they are doing. The aim of the Wild Species series is to provide this overview. General status assessments integrate the best available information to create a snapshot of each species' status; their population size and distribution, the threats that each species faces in Canada, and any trends in these factors. General status assessments are used to categorize species into coarse-scaled general status ranks; some species will be ranked secure; some will show early signs of trouble and may need additional monitoring or management, while still others will be prioritized for detailed status assessments. General status ranks also highlight information gaps: for some species, there will not be enough information to assess whether they are secure or already in trouble. Each species receives a general status rank for each province, territory or ocean region in which it occurs, as well as a Canada General Status rank (Canada rank), reflecting the overall status of the species in Canada.

Photo: Giant Helleborine, Epipactis gigantea © Barbara J. Collins

Photo: Giant Helleborine, Epipactis gigantea © Barbara J. Collins

One of the strengths of this approach is that general status ranks are generated for many species in all regions of the country, allowing patterns of declines or threats to emerge across suites of species. In addition, general status ranks are reviewed and updated periodically. This will allow Canadians to begin to track patterns of improvement or decline through time, revealing which species are maintaining or improving their status and which are declining or facing new threats. Such patterns not only give a better indication of the nature and magnitude of a problem, but may also point the way to improved conservation practices.

Assessing this mix of species from all regions of the country presents a considerable challenge - the number of species is large and the area great. The species are distributed across the length and breadth of Canada: 10 million square kilometres of land and fresh water, almost 6 million square kilometres of ocean, and 202 080 kilometres of coast (the longest coastline in the world). Across this massive area, the distribution of species is influenced by the staggering array of topography, soil types and habitats found within our borders including boreal forest, tundra, taiga, bogs, temperate rainforests, grasslands, marshlands, alpine meadows, the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Ocean coastlines.

Assessing the general status of Canadian species is challenging, but the process is essential. Our resource-based economy and high standard of living have an impact on the natural world: vegetation is cleared, cities expand, resources are extracted, waste is produced and exotic species are introduced. In altering nature for the benefit of Canadians, our goal must be to ensure that our activities do not imperil the very species that we both celebrate and depend upon. The Wild Species series is a tool for all Canadians; a guide indicating where more information is needed, a method of tracking changes in the status of Canada's species over time, an effective tool for improved conservation, and a testimony to the cooperative will of Canadians to protect wild species.

 

Photo: King Rail, Rallus elegans © U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Photo: King Rail, Rallus elegans © U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

The Wild Species series on the general status of species in Canada is a requirement of the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk, an agreement in principle established in 1996 by provincial, territorial, and federal ministers responsible for wildlife. The goal of the Accord is to prevent species in Canada from becoming extinct or extirpated because of human impact. As part of this goal, parties to the Accord agree to "monitor, assess and report regularly on the status of all wild species" with the objective of identifying those species whose populations are starting to decline, those for which a formal status assessment or additional management attention is necessary, and those for which more information is needed. Each province, territory, and federal agency responsible for wildlife undertakes to assess the species occurring within its jurisdiction.

Reports from the Wild Species series also serve as the basis to fulfill a requirement under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) of Canada. This Act is a key federal government commitment to prevent wildlife species from becoming extinct and secure the necessary actions for their recovery. Section 128 of this law stipulates that "five years after this section comes into force and at the end of each subsequent period of five years, the Minister must prepare a general report on the status of wildlife species". The first of the general report was tabled in Parliament in 2008 and reports from the Wild Species series will thereafter continue to serve as the basis to fulfill this requirement.