Climate change playing a role in growing list of species at risk
'The North is one of the areas facing the greatest potential risk from climate change,' officials say
The list of species at risk of extinction in Canada has grown to 751, and the effects of climate change may put those species even more at risk — especially the 62 species in the North.
The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada recently completed a meeting on at-risk species — which include animals, plants and lichen — adding another five to its list, and reassessing the status of several others.
"The North is one of the areas facing the greatest potential risk from climate change, many of these species are already behind the eight ball," according to committee chair Eric Taylor.
Two species that live in the North that Taylor highlighted are the Atlantic walrus and eastern migratory caribou, both of which reside in the North and have had "significant changes" in their populations.
"Particularly the caribou," Taylor told CBC News. "Part one of the large herds, the George River herd, that one had a precipitous decline up to about 99 per cent over three generations."
The massive decline is partly from hunting and also because of a destruction of habitat in part because of climate change.
The walrus population in the Atlantic has already lost one herd to extinction, Taylor said, while the two others are listed as special concern, which means if things don't improve they are also at risk of becoming extinct.
The committee identifies species at risk and advises the Canadian government on what needs to be added to the official list, which brings protective measures and recovery plans, Taylor said, but it all takes a long time.
'That could take years'
It can take years for a species to land on the official list, he said, which is concerning for species with fast population decline such as the caribou.
"Who knows what's going to happen in the time it takes to actually consider their listing and design a recovery strategy that could take years," Taylor said.
He acknowledges that there are many challenges such as resources and Canada's vast landscape in helping at risk populations, but "we've got to get moving."
"The longer we delay doing something about these plants and animals the greater is the risk that what we do won't be effective," he said.
Climate change adds an element of the unknown for the protection of these species, he said.
"Climate change presents sort of a moving target. It's hard to know what the extent will be and how that might impact our recovery actions right now."
Another big unknown is how different species will adapt to changes in climate, especially if climate changes or other activities destroy a species' habitat, Taylor said.
"It's all intertwined, which adds to the enormous complexity," he said.
The five newly identified at-risk species, not all of which live in the North, are the Ord's kangaroo rat, some populations of lake sturgeon, the butternut tree, Harris's sparrow and shortfin mako sharks.