Species at Risk Act annual report 2013: chapter 2

2 Assessment of Species at Risk

SARA establishes a process for conducting scientific assessments of the status of individual wildlife species. The Act separates the scientific assessment process from the listing decision.

2.1 COSEWIC Assessments

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) is the committee of experts that assesses the status of wildlife species in Canada that it considers to be at risk and identifies existing and potential threats to the species. It includes members from government, academia, Aboriginal organizations, non-governmental organizations and the private sector. The federal government provides financial support to COSEWIC.

In keeping with section 20 of SARA, Environment Canada provides COSEWIC with professional, technical, secretarial, clerical and other assistance via the COSEWIC Secretariat, which is housed within Environment Canada.

COSEWIC assesses the status of a wildlife species using the best available information on the biological status of a species, including scientific knowledge, community knowledge and Aboriginal traditional knowledge. The Committee provides assessments and supporting evidence annually to the Minister of the Environment.

COSEWIC can assess wildlife species as extinct, extirpated, endangered, threatened, of special concern, data-deficient or not at risk:

  • An extinct wildlife species no longer exists anywhere in the world.
  • An extirpated wildlife species no longer exists in the wild in Canada but exists elsewhere in the world.
  • An endangered wildlife species faces imminent extirpation or extinction.
  • A threatened wildlife species is likely to become endangered if nothing is done to reverse the factors leading to its extirpation or extinction.
  • A wildlife species of special concern may become threatened or endangered because of a combination of biological characteristics and identified threats.

Further details on risk categories and more information are available on the COSEWIC website.

To help prioritize species for assessments, COSEWIC uses the general status ranks outlined in the report entitled Wild Species: The General Status of Species in Canada. This report (see section 8.1) is produced every five years by the National General Status Working Group (see section 9.2.3), a joint federal­­–provincial–territorial initiative led by Environment Canada.

Environment Canada, the Parks Canada Agency, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada provide input to the assessment process via staff experts who are members of COSEWIC and through the population surveys that they conduct on some species of interest to COSEWIC. They are also regularly involved in the peer review of COSEWIC status reports.

The data that Fisheries and Oceans Canada submits to COSEWIC to support assessments of aquatic species is vetted through a peer-review process. The process involves government scientists, experts from academia, and other stakeholders as appropriate. In 2013, Fisheries and Oceans Canada provided information on 5 aquatic species to COSEWIC. The Department also peer reviewed COSEWIC status reports for 38 aquatic wildlife species before they were finalized.

In 2013, the Parks Canada Agency continued to conduct detailed assessments to measure the conservation status of individual species at risk on the Agency’s lands and waters. These assessments help determine changes in a species’ population and its risk of extirpation from the heritage places. This information contributes to the Wild Species reports, to COSEWIC status reports and to the development of Parks Canada site-based action plans. Approximately 50% of Canada’s species at risk have been reported on the Agency’s lands and waters. In total, 175 species at risk regularly occur in one or more of Parks Canada’s heritage places.

2.1.1 COSEWIC Subcommittees

COSEWIC’s Species Specialists Subcommittees (SSCs) provide species expertise to the Committee. Each SSC is led by two co-chairs, and members are recognized Canadian experts in the taxonomic group in question, able to demonstrate high standards of education, experience, and expertise and have a demonstrated knowledge of wildlife conservation. Members are drawn from universities, provincial wildlife agencies, museums, Conservation Data Centres, and other sources of expertise on Canadian species. SSC members support the co-chairs in developing candidate lists of species to be considered for assessment, commissioning status reports for priority species, reviewing reports for scientific accuracy and completeness, and proposing to COSEWIC a status for each species. Currently, COSEWIC has 10 SSCs: Amphibians and Reptiles, Arthropods, Birds, Freshwater Fishes, Marine Fishes, Marine Mammals, Molluscs, Mosses and Lichens, Terrestrial Mammals, and Vascular Plants, all of which met in 2013 to formulate advice for consideration by the Committee.

The Act also requires that COSEWIC establish a supporting subcommittee on Aboriginal traditional knowledge (ATK). The Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge Subcommittee had another productive year. ATK source reports, which compiled all potential sources of documented ATK for a given species, were completed for species such as Narwhal, Beluga and Chinook Salmon. In addition, ATK assessment reports, which summarize the relevant content of documented ATK sources, were completed for Caribou, Beluga, Lake Sturgeon and Chinook Salmon. These reports were prepared to inform species status assessments.

2.2 Wildlife Species Assessments in 2013

COSEWIC finalized the following wildlife species assessments, grouped in batches, between 2002 and 2013:

  • Batch 1: 115 wildlife species in May 2002, November 2002 and May 2003
  • Batch 2: 59 wildlife species in November 2003 and May 2004
  • Batch 3: 73 wildlife species in November 2004 and May 2005
  • Batch 4: 68 wildlife species in April 2006
  • Batch 5: 64 wildlife species in November 2006 and April 2007
  • Batch 6: 46 wildlife species in November 2007 and April 2008
  • Batch 7: 48 wildlife species in November 2008 and April 2009
  • Batch 8: 79 wildlife species in November 2009 and April 2010
  • Batch 9: 92 wildlife species in November 2010 and May 2011
  • Batch 10: 64 wildlife species in November 2011 and May 2012
  • Batch 11: 73 wildlife species in November 2012 and May 2013

Details on Batches 1 through 11 can be found in Table 3 (see section 3.4), and in previous SARA annual reports.

Batch 11

At its November 2012 and May 2013 meetings, COSEWIC finalized assessments and classification reviews of 73 wildlife species:

  • Four (4) wildlife species were examined and found to be data-deficient.
  • One (1) wildlife species was assessed as not at risk.
  • Sixty-eight (68) wildlife species were assessed as at risk, of which 26 were confirmed at the classification already attributed to them on Schedule 1 of SARA.Footnote3

COSEWIC forwarded these assessments to the Minister of the Environment in early fall 2013.

In 2013, COSEWIC produced its first multispecies status reports. The Yucca Moths/Soapweed species reports were prepared as a bundle and individually assessed at the spring 2013 Species Assessment Meeting. Similarly, the information on the three bat species (Little Brown Myotis, Northern Myotis and Tri-colored Bat) assessed in November 2013 is contained in a single status report. It is anticipated that this approach to assessment, where feasible, will enable more efficient protection actions that also address the needs of multiple species.

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