Technology & Science

Canadian population of at-risk species declined over last 50 years: report

A wildlife organization says species that are at risk of global extinction have seen their Canadian populations decline by an average of 42 per cent in the last 50 years. Furthermore, Canadian species at risk nationally have declined by 59 per cent on average during that time period.

Canada not doing enough to address multiple, interacting threats to wildlife, WWF says

At-risk species like the leatherback sea turtle have lost a significant percentage of their Canadian populations over the past 50 years, according to a report released Wednesday by the World Wildlife Fund. (Reuters)

A wildlife organization says species that are at risk of global extinction have seen their Canadian populations decline by an average of 42 per cent in the last 50 years. Furthermore, Canadian species at risk nationally have declined by 59 per cent on average during that time period.

The World Wildlife Fund says Canada isn't doing enough to protect its endangered species. 

The "Living Planet Report Canada 2020" used 300 sources of data dating back to 1970, and included 100 mammal species, 389 bird species, 357 fish species and 37 species of amphibians and reptiles that are on the International Union of Conservation of Nature's Red List of species considered to be of global conservation concern.

Some of those species are also assessed as being at risk nationally by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).

The leatherback sea turtle, for instance, listed as "vulnerable" by the IUCN and "endangered" by COSEWIC, loses more than 20 per cent of its population in Canadian Atlantic waters because of being entangled or accidentally captured in fishing gear, the WWF report says.

Multiple threats

The report says Canadian populations of endangered animals face multiple, often interacting, threats, including pollution, loss of biodiversity, over-exploitation of commercial species and habitat loss, all potentially exacerbated by the "increasing and accelerating" threat of climate change.

Canada's population of the Atlantic puffin has increased while the global population has decreased, meaning that Canada has an important role in ensuring its survival, according to the WWF. ( Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images)

The Vancouver Island marmot is a ground squirrel found only on Vancouver Island; if it disappears from there, it disappears from the world.

By contrast, Canada's population of the Atlantic puffin has increased while the global population has decreased, meaning that Canada has an important role in ensuring its survival, according to the WWF.

Out of the 139 native species in the study — those assessed by COSEWIC as being at risk — there are others whose populations have risen, like the sea otter, which has increased by "an average of well over 100 per cent," the report says. Meanwhile, the little brown bat has declined by 99 per cent. Both remain at risk of extinction. 

The sea otter has increased its population by "an average of well over 100 per cent" in the past 50 years, according to the WWF's report released Tuesday, but remains at risk of extinction. (Dan Joling/Associated Press File Photo)

James Snider, vice president of science, knowledge and innovation at WWF Canada, said conservation approaches have generally only tackled one threat at a time, but the dramatic reduction in population shows there needs to be a comprehensive conservation strategy that takes all threats into account.

"We need to recognize that the actions that we take for climate change, for biodiversity, for recovery of species at risk are deeply integrated," Snider, who co-authored the report, said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

"We can't simply be taking an approach to protected areas that's separate from how we're tackling climate change, that's separate from how we're trying to recover our species at risk. They have to be deeply integrated."

'Global extinction crisis'

The plight of the North Atlantic Right Whale demonstrates how narrow conservation efforts are insufficient. Once numbering in the thousands, there are only around 400 of these whales left in the world. Efforts went into protecting their habitat and moving shipping lanes in the Bay of Fundy, but those protections didn't extend to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where the whales began to shift.

Since 2017 Transport Canada has put in place reduced-speed zones in the gulf, but the measure can't keep up with the whales' movement, and several still die each year due mostly to ship strikes and entanglements in fishing gear.

The WWF report found that lands managed by Indigenous populations were better at supporting a diverse range of at-risk species, and said the Canadian government must elevate the importance and sovereignty of Indigenous conservation efforts.

The WWF also called on the government to restore degraded ecosystems and create well-sited protected areas to better conserve wildlife populations.

"In Canada, we are not exempt from the global extinction crisis," said Snider.

"It's very easy for us to assume that the loss of biodiversity elsewhere in the world isn't happening here, and the findings of this report shows otherwise: We are seeing significant decline in some of our most imperilled species."

With files from CBC News

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