Archived: COSEWIC press release: November 2009


More Species Closer to Extinction

So concluded COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada), which met in Ottawa from November 23 to 27, 2009, to assess the risk of extinction for Canadian wildlife species. Of the 28 wildlife species assessed, many plants and animals are habitat specialists requiring specific and increasingly rare conditions to survive - all of these wildlife species suffer from habitat loss and fragmentation.

The Greater Prairie-Chicken that once numbered in the millions on the grasslands of the Canadian prairies, the Atlantic population of the Grey Whale on Canada’s east coast and the Dwarf Wedgemussel, a mollusc whose habitat was destroyed by a causeway were all reassessed as Extirpated. The Eskimo Curlew, a bird known to nest only in Canada, was assessed as Endangered. Given there have been no verified sightings of this wildlife species anywhere since 1963, the Eskimo Curlew is on the brink of becoming the first Canadian bird to be declared Extinct since the Passenger Pigeon nearly 100 years ago. Without a reversal in habitat loss, climate change and direct human impacts, these assessments of Extirpated and Extinct will become more frequent.

Swift Rebound for Swift Fox - A Good News Story?

Swift Fox  © Gordon Court

Known as one of the fastest animals in North America, this beautiful small fox holds considerable appeal as a symbol of prairie conservation and First Nations spirituality. Unfortunately, unrestrained harvest and poisoning decimated the Canadian population; the last sighting in the wild occurred in 1938 in Alberta. Efforts to reintroduce the Swift Fox beginning in 1983 appear to have been successful. Although the wildlife species was designated as Endangered in 2000, numbers in Alberta and Saskatchewan have since doubled leading to a reduced likelihood of extinction and a designation of Threatened. The wildlife species is, however, still imperilled because of habitat loss and risk of disease, which can rapidly spread through fox populations.

Big Shark in Deep Trouble

Despite this success, many wildlife species are still considered to be at risk in Canada. The Atlantic population of the Basking Shark, the largest fish in Canadian waters, was assessed as a wildlife species of Special Concern. Feeding on tiny plankton, it grows up to 12 meters - nearly the length of a city bus. This wildlife species is particularly susceptible to population declines because it takes up to 18 years to reach maturity and females are pregnant for about two and half years, one of the longest periods of any animal. The total population is estimated to be about 5 000 adults. The Pacific population of Basking Shark, which was once abundant and now rarely seen, was assessed as Endangered in 2007. This highlights the vulnerability of the wildlife species as a whole.

Fire Suppression Harms Wildlife

Over the decades, humans have become increasingly vigilant at preventing wildfires to protect human property and lives. Unfortunately, this comes at a cost to many native wildlife species that depend on periodic fires integral to ecosystem renewal. Three eastern Canadian wildlife species assessed at the meeting are particularly reliant on habitats produced by wildfire and all were assessed as Endangered. These include: the Northern Barrens Tiger Beetle, a globally imperiled, showy green beetle of the pine savannahs; an annual herb the Pink Milkwort, which depends on the wet prairie habitats of Ontario; and, a tall herb from the pea family, the Virginia Goat’s-rue which lives in oak savannahs of Ontario.

Next meeting

COSEWIC’s next scheduled wildlife species assessment meeting will be held in Victoria, BC, on April 25-30, 2010.


COSEWIC assesses the status of wild species, subspecies, varieties, or other important units of biological diversity, considered to be at risk in Canada. To do so, COSEWIC uses scientific, Aboriginal traditional and community knowledge provided by experts from governments, academia and other organizations. Summaries of assessments are currently available to the public on the COSEWIC website ( ) and will be submitted to the Federal Minister of the Environment in late summer 2010 for listing consideration under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). At that time, the full status reports will be publicly available on the SAR Public Registry (

There are now 585 wildlife species in various COSEWIC risk categories, including 250 Endangered, 150 Threatened, 162 Special Concern, 23 Extirpated (i.e. no longer found in the wild in Canada), and 13 wildlife species are Extinct. In addition, 45 wildlife species are Data Deficient.

COSEWIC comprises members from each provincial and territorial government wildlife agency, four federal entities (Canadian Wildlife Service, Parks Canada Agency, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and the Federal Biodiversity Information Partnership, chaired by the Canadian Museum of Nature), three non-government science members, and the co-chairs of the Species Specialist and the Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge Subcommittees.

Definition of COSEWIC terms and risk categories:

Wildlife Species:
A species, subspecies, variety, or geographically or genetically distinct population of animal, plant or other organism, other than a bacterium or virus, that is wild by nature and is either native to Canada or has extended its range into Canada without human intervention and has been present in Canada for at least 50 years.
Extinct (X):
A wildlife species that no longer exists.
Extirpated (XT):
A wildlife species that no longer exists in the wild in Canada, but exists elsewhere.
Endangered (E):
A wildlife species facing imminent extirpation or extinction.
Threatened (T):
A wildlife species that is likely to become endangered if nothing is done to reverse the factors leading to its extirpation or extinction.
Special Concern (SC):
A wildlife species that may become threatened or endangered because of a combination of biological characteristics and identified threats.
Not At Risk (NAR):
A wildlife species that has been evaluated and found to be not at risk of extinction given the current circumstances.
Data Deficient (DD):
A category that applies when the available information is insufficient (a) to resolve a wildlife species' eligibility for assessment or (b) to permit an assessment of the wildlife species' risk of extinction.

Dr. Jeff Hutchings
Department of Biology
Dalhousie University
Halifax  NS   B3H 4J1

Telephone (1): (902) 494-2687
Telephone (2): (902) 494-3515


For general inquiries

COSEWIC Secretariat
c/o Canadian Wildlife Service
Environment Canada
Ottawa  ON   K1A 0H3
Telephone: (819) 953-3215

For inquiries on marine mammals:

Dr. Randall Reeves
Okapi Wildlife Associates
27 Chandler Lane
Hudson  QC   J0P 1H0
Telephone: (450) 458-6685
Fax: (450) 458-7383

For information on terrestrial mammals:

Dr. Justina C. Ray
Executive Director
Wildlife Conservation Society Canada
720 Spadina Avenue #600
Toronto  ON   M5S 2T9
Telephone: (416) 850-9038 ext. 22
Fax: (416) 850-9040

For inquiries on birds:

Jon McCracken
National Programs
Bird Studies Canada
P.O. Box 160
115 Front Street
Port Rowan  ON   N0E 1M0

Telephone: (519) 586-3531 ext. 115
Fax: (519) 586-3532

For inquiries on amphibians:

Dr. Ronald J. Brooks
Department of Integrative Biology
College of Biological Science
University of Guelph
Guelph  ON   N1G 2W1
Telephone: (519) 824-4120 ext. 53944
Fax: (519) 767-1656

For inquiries on freshwater fishes:

Dr. Robert Campbell
983 Route 800 E
R.R. #1
St. Albert  ON   K0A 3C0
Telephone: (613) 987-2552
Fax: (613) 987-5367

For inquiries on marine fishes:

Dr. Howard Powles
53, rue Lortie
Gatineau  QC   J9H 4G6

Telephone: (819) 684-7730
Fax: (819) 684-7730

For inquiries on arthropods
(insects and related taxa):

Dr. Paul Catling
Research Scientist and Curator
Saunders Bldg., Central Experimental Farm
Ottawa  ON   K1A 0C6
Telephone: (613) 759-1373
Fax: (613) 759-1599

For inquiries on molluscs:

Dr. Dwayne Lepitzki
203, 410 Buffalo Street
P.O. Box 1311
Banff  AB   T1L 1B3
Telephone: (403) 762-0864

For inquiries on plants:

Dr. Erich Haber
60 Baywood Dr.
Stittsville  ON   K2S 2H5
Telephone: (613) 435-0216
Fax: (613) 435-0217

For inquiries on lichens:

Dr. René Belland
Devonian Botanic Garden
University of Alberta
Edmonton  AB   T6G 2E1
Telephone: (780) 987-3054 ext. 2240
Fax: (780) 987-4141

Further details on all wildlife species assessed, and the reasons for designations, can be found on the COSEWIC website at:

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