Canada's threatened species declining despite federal protection

Canada's threatened species declining despite federal protection
From CBC - September 13, 2017

From woodland caribou to St. Lawrence beluga whales, Canada's threatened and endangered species keep declining despite federal legislation designed to protect them and help their populations recover, a new report by WWF-Canada shows.

In fact, species listed under Canada's Species at Risk Act (SARA) have declined even more quickly on an annual basis since the legislation was adopted 2002, according to The Living Planet Report Canada, set to be released Thursday morning by the conservation group.

'We need to act before species get identified as endangered, because it's so hard to turn around populations once they are deteriorated that far.' - David Miller, CEO, WWF-Canada

"I think that's troublesome in terms of whether it's indicative of the relative success of the federal program for the recovery of species at risk," said James Snider, vice-presidentfor science research and innovation at WWF-Canada and the lead author of the report.

The report analyzed publicly available population data from places like scientific databases and journals for 903 mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian and fish species in Canada. WWF-Canada used a peer-reviewed method developed by the London Zoological Society that is also used by the WWF to create global reports on vertebrate population trends every two years.

The analysis shows that 451 half the species in the study declined in number between 1970 and 2014. Snider said that was a surprise.

"Frankly, as a Canadian, I think we all pride ourselves in the relative wilderness," he said, "and we almost have an assumptionthat most of our wildlife would be doing well."

On average, the species that were declining lost 83 per cent of their Canadian population during the study period. Declines were seen in species across the country, but grassland species such as bobolinks, along with shorebirdsand aerial insectivores like swallows showed some of the sharpest declines.

The report suggests habitat loss due to human activity such as farming the main problem in the grasslandsforestry, urban and industrial development is a major cause, along with climate change, invasive species and overfishing.

The 87 species in the study protected under the SARA declined by 63 per cent over the study period. Their populations shrank an average of 2.7 per cent per year after SARA was enacted, up from 1.7 per cent a year before 2002.

"According to researchers, the federal Species at Risk Act has faltered in its mission to protect Canada's most beleaguered wildlife," the report says.

David Miller, president and CEO of WWF Canada, told CBC News: "The lesson we take from this is we need to act before species get identified as endangered, because it's so hard to turn around populations once they are deteriorated that far along the scale."

Delays in protection

One reason species decline despite being protected by SARA is that, in many cases, the government takes a long time to decide whether to accept a scientific recommendation to list a species, and there are further long delays between listing a species and actually taking action, the WWF says.

For example, the woodland caribou was listed as threatened in 2003, but its "recovery strategy" was not released until 2012. "During this time, development activities continued to damage key woodland caribou habitat," the report says. It adds that actual action plans to help the woodland caribou recover are not due from the provinces and territories until the end of 2017.

'We have to quit focusing on writing these obituaries for nature.' - Julia Baum, marine biologist


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