Species at Risk Act annual report for 2016: chapter 6

6 Recovery implementation

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6.1 Protection of critical habitat

Critical habitat protection under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) depends on the type of species (aquatic, terrestrial, migratory bird), and the location of the critical habitat (federal protected area, other federal lands, non-federal lands).

Subsections 58(1) and 61(1) of SARA make it an offence to destroy critical habitat. However, these prohibitions do not automatically apply when critical habitat is identified.

If critical habitat for any species is identified in a federal protected area named under subsection 58(2), SARA requires that a description of that critical habitat be published in the Canada Gazette within 90 days after the critical habitat is identified in a final recovery strategy or action plan that is posted on the Species at risk public registry. Subsection 58(1) of SARA prohibiting destruction of critical habitat comes into effect a further 90 days after the date of publication of that critical habitat’s description in the Canada Gazette.

Case study
Parks Canada turns road construction into opportunities for species

Highway 117 tunnel in Kouchibouguac Photo: © Parks Canada Agency
Highway 117 tunnel in Kouchibouguac
Photo: © Parks Canada Agency (PCA)

The Highway 117 Rehabilitation Project, in Kouchibouguac National Park of Canada, utilized collaboration, advance planning, and an understanding of the local ecosystem to turn a road construction project into long term benefits for species.

Re-paving 24 kilometers of road risked damaging sensitive stream habitats, where many species including the threatened Wood Turtle lived. Road mortality is one of the biggest threats facing Wood Turtles in Canada.

Wood Turtle Photo: Sylvain Giguère © Environment and Climate Change Canada
Wood Turtle / Photo: Sylvain Giguère
©  Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC)

The Highway Rehabilitation Project passed right through two areas of critical habitat for the Wood Turtle. Scientific studies in Kouchibouguac also showed there were four ‘hotspots’ along the highway that were particularly deadly for amphibians, such as frogs and salamanders. With this in mind, the construction team, engineers, and the Kouchibouguac ecologists worked closely to install four wildlife tunnels in these hotspots. Two of these tunnels are in Wood Turtle critical habitat. These specially designed passages allow wildlife to safely cross under the road rather than over it. To make sure frogs, salamanders, turtles, and other small animals could find the tunnels, fencing was installed along the highway to guide wildlife into the underpasses.

The habitat improvements didn’t end there. In addition to re-paving the road, 58 culverts needed replacing. The new, larger culverts enhanced the habitat for many fish species by reducing erosion. ‘Plunge pools’ were created adjacent to several culverts which also slow the water flow, providing resting spots for migrating fish and habitat for amphibians. At six sites, culvert replacements expanded fish habitat by connecting previously blocked streams that had fragmented the aquatic habitat.

These weren’t the only connections established during this project. Park biologists worked with engineers to decide the location of the wildlife tunnels. Construction contractors coordinated with staff at PCA and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to decide which style of culverts to install. The key to the success of this project was involving partners who could lend their expertise and support early on in the planning process.

In 2016, ECCC protected critical habitat for 8 species in 8 national wildlife areas (NWAs) and 4 migratory bird sanctuaries (MBS):

  • Western Chorus Frog, Great Lakes / St. Lawerence – Canadian Shield population (Wellers Bay NWA)
  • Western Harvest Mouse (Canadian Forces Base Suffield NWA)
  • Dusky Dune Moth (Canadian Forces Base Suffield NWA)
  • Smooth Goosefoot (Canadian Forces Base Suffield NWA)
  • Least Bittern (Shepody NWA, Cap Tourmente NWA, Big Creek NWA, Long Point NWA, St. Clair NWA, Nicolet Bird Sanctuary, Philipsburg Bird Sanctuary and Upper Canada Bird Sanctuary NWA)
  • Bent Spike-rush (Long Point NWA)
  • Yellow Breasted-chat (Vaseux-Bighorn NWA and Vaseux Lake Bird Sanctuary)
  • Behr’s Hairstreak (Vaseux-Bighorn NWA)

In 2016, PCA protected critical habitat for 16 species in eight national parks:

  • Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer (Grasslands National Park of Canada)
  • Golden-winged Warbler (Riding Mountain National Park of Canada)
  • Greater Short-horned Lizard (Grasslands National Park of Canada)  
  • Half-moon Hairstreak (Waterton Lakes National Park of Canada)
  • Least Bittern (Point Pelee National Park of Canada and Thousand Islands National Park of Canada)  
  • Loggerhead Shrike (Prairie population) (Grasslands National Park of Canada)
  • Massasauga (Georgian Bay Islands National Park of Canada and Fathom Five National Marine Park of Canada)
  • Mormon Metalmark (Prairie population) (Grasslands National Park of Canada)  
  • Mountain Plover (Grasslands National Park of Canada)
  • Sprague's Pipit (Grasslands National Park of Canada)
  • Swift Fox (Grasslands National Park of Canada)
  • Piping Plover (melodus subspecies) (Gros Morne National Park of Canada)
  • Prothonotary Warbler (Point Pelee National Park of Canada)
  • Pugnose Shiner (Thousand Islands National Park of Canada)
  • Spotted Gar (Point Pelee National Park of Canada)
  • Western Chorus Frog, Great Lakes / St. Lawrence – Canadian Shield population (Thousand Islands National Park of Canada)

Efforts are ongoing to finalize protection measures for critical habitat of other species on lands administered by PCA.

Case study
Collaborative effort to complete the ministerial order to protect critical habitat of the Roseate Tern on federal lands and water in Nova Scotia

Roseate Tern Photo: Jared Maida © Environment and Climate Change Canada
Roseate Tern / Photo: Jared Maida
© Environment and Climate Change Canada

The Roseate Tern (Sterna dougallii), a medium-sized, graceful seabird, is found on coasts and islands along the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans, with important North Atlantic nesting sites on islands off the coast of Nova Scotia. The Roseate Tern is a migratory bird afforded protection under the Migratory Bird Convention Act, 1994 (MBCA), listed as an endangered species under the Nova Scotia Endangered Species Act and designated as a threatened wildlife species under Quebec’s An Act Respecting Threatened or Vulnerable Species.

In 2003, the Roseate Tern is also listed as endangered under SARA. The final recovery strategy for the Roseate Tern was completed and posted on the Species at Risk Public Registry in 2006. It identified terrestrial and aquatic critical habitat, some of which was on the following federal lands: 1) terrestrial habitat of, and waters surrounding, Sable Island, Nova Scotia; 2) waters surrounding North Brother and South Brother Islands, Nova Scotia; and 3) terrestrial habitat of, and waters surrounding, Country Island, Nova Scotia.

In January 2007, a description of the critical habitat of the Roseate Tern in the Sable Island Bird Sanctuary was published in the Canada Gazette. Legal protection under SARA came into effect 90 days later, on April 20, 2007. Sable Island is administered by PCA and is currently both a Migratory Bird Sanctuary under the MBCA and a National Park Reserve under the Canada National Parks Act (CNPA).

On December 1, 2013, the Sable Island National Park Reserve was established and the PCA published a Protection Statement on the Species at Risk Public Registry in October 2014 that stated that the CNPA and its regulations provide legal protection against the destruction of critical habitat for the Roseate Tern on Sable Island through a number of provisions. In order to assess the legal protection on the remaining federal lands on which critical habitat for the Roseate Tern had been identified, ECCC performed a detailed review of the MBCA; the Canada Shipping Act, 2001; the Oceans Act; the Federal Real Property and Federal Immovables Act; and the Fisheries Act. ECCC concluded that portions of Roseate Tern critical habitat were not legally protected. ECCC worked with PCA and consulted DFO, the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources and Indigenous communities to finalize the legal protection of critical habitat of the Roseate Tern.

On November 16, 2016, a Ministerial Order was published prohibiting the destruction of critical habitat as set out in subsection 58(1) of SARA. This order will contribute to the recovery of the Roseate Tern by protecting the species’ critical habitat on federal land from destructive human activities. The order also provides regulatory certainty with respect to future proposed activities in the area. The order may also help protect additional species, including a variety of other tern species with whom Roseate Terns co-nest -- the Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) and the Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea) -- as well as other species of seabirds and waterfowl that nest on Country Island, such as Leach’s Storm-petrel (Oceanodroma leucorhoa), the Black Guillemot (Cepphus grylle), and the Common Eider (Somateria mollissima).

In 2016, DFO protected critical habitat for 6 species in 6 NWAs and 2 MBS, as well as 6 other species (one of which has 4 populations):

  • Copper Redhorse (Îles de Contrecoeur NWA)
  • Eastern Sand Darter, Ontario populations (Long Point NWA)
  • Pugnose Shiner (Big Creek, Long Point, St. Clair and Wellers Bay NWAs)
  • Spotted Gar (Big Creek NWA)
  • White Sturgeon, Nechako River population (Nechako River Bird Sanctuary)
  • Beluga Whale, St. Lawrence Estuary population (Île aux Basques Bird Sanctuary and the ÎIes de l’Estuaire NWA)
  • Nooksack Dace
  • Northern Madtom
  • White Sturgeon:
    • Kootenay River population
    • Nechako River population
    • Upper Columbia River population
    • Upper Fraser River population

To help further protect aquatic species at risk, DFO also published a new web site that allows people who are considering a construction project to see where these species are located, and plan accordingly.

Outside of federal protected areas, for critical habitat identified on other federal lands and for aquatic species, the competent minister has 180 days after the final recovery strategy or action plan that identified critical habitat is posted on the Species at Risk Public Registry to either:

  • include on the registry a statement setting out how existing “legal protection” from SARA or another Act of Parliament protects critical habitat or portions of that habitat; or
  • make an order to provide protection by bringing the subsection 58(1) prohibition into effect.

In 2016, ECCC did not post any protection statements on the Species at Risk Public Registry. An order was made by the Minister of the Environment to protect the critical habitat of the Roseate Tern on federal lands and waters in Nova Scotia from destruction by human activities.

Provinces and territories also play an important role in ensuring the protection of critical habitat for terrestrial species and migratory birds on provincial, territorial and private lands. If, after consultation with the appropriate provincial or territorial minister or, if applicable, the wildlife management board, the Minister of the Environment is of the opinion that there is no provision in, or other measures under SARA or any other Act of Parliament, including s.11 agreements, and that the laws of the province or territory do not effectively protect critical habitat, the Minister is required to recommend to the Governor in Council that an order be made to apply the prohibition in subsection 61(1) of SARA. The final decision on whether to put protection in place rests with the Governor in Council. In 2016, the Governor in Council did not issue any such orders under SARA.

6.2 Recovery activitiesotnote 3

Government of Canada biologists across Canada led or supported dozens of activities, including research projects, education and awareness, habitat restoration or enhancement initiatives, monitoring, assessment, and more.

Case study
Grasslands National Park engages volunteers to help protect the Greater Sage-Grouse and restore its critical habitat

Volunteers planting sage brush plugs Photo: © Parks Canada Agency
Volunteers planting sage brush plugs
Photo: © Parks Canada Agency

In 2016, volunteers and partners at Grasslands National Park of Canada spent more than 400 hours marking fences and planting sagebrush plugs to enhance and restore Greater Sage-Grouse habitat.

The endangered Greater Sage-Grouse (or sage-grouse) has suffered from loss and fragmentation of its sagebrush habitat. Since Grasslands National Park (GNP) has the last two active leks (traditional places where males assemble to engage in competitive displays that attract females) in Saskatchewan, it is a high priority site for sage-grouse habitat enhancement. Improving even small areas of habitat can improve the species’ access to food (plants and insects), nest sites, and shelter from predators, leading to a significant boost to their population.

GNP has partnered with the University of Alberta to carry out research on sagebrush steppe habitat restoration, which until now, has received little attention from scientists. Silver sagebrush, the main plant species of this habitat, forms a large portion of the sage-grouse diet and is necessary for nest establishment and successfully raising chicks. As part of this important research, an enthusiastic volunteer crew planted 3,000 small sagebrush plugs to help restore critical habitat. Local ranchers at GNP are also using modified cattle grazing practices to restore and enhance sage-grouse critical habitat. Many other grassland species, including Burrowing Owl, Sage Thrasher, Mountain Plover and Sprague’s Pipit, will also benefit.

GNP staff marking fences for Sage-Grouse Photo: © Parks Canada Agency
GNP staff marking fences for Sage-Grouse
Photo: © Parks Canada Agency

Fences present another challenge to sage-grouse and other wildlife; collisions and entanglement with the fence wires often result in injury or death. In 2012, GNP piloted fence marking as a way to minimize wildlife collisions. By placing three-inch lengths of vinyl siding along the top two strands of the barbed wire, the fence is made much more visible to wildlife. Alternating colours of grey and white siding ensure it is visible during all seasons. Fence marking is now a part of regular management activities. By the end of 2015, 33.2 km of fencing had been marked and 28.2 km of fencing had been removed altogether. In 2016, volunteers and staff marked a further 11.5 km of fencing, focusing on areas near sage-grouse critical habitat.

6.2.1 Competent departments’ recovery activities

In 2016, ECCC continued to lead and support numerous activities targetting the recovery of species at risk, including research projects, education and awareness, habitat restoration and enhancement initiatives, monitoring, and assessment.

Case study
National Boreal Caribou Technical Committee

The National Boreal Caribou Technical Committee (NBCTC), composed of federal, provincial, and territorial representatives, was established in 2013 to facilitate collaboration among jurisdictions in achieving the conservation and recovery of boreal caribou, and in implementing the federal Recovery Strategy for the Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou), Boreal Population, in Canada (hereafter National Recovery Strategy). The NBCTC provides a forum for jurisdictional experts to come together to discuss challenges and share success stories of boreal caribou management across the country. The Committee also provides an opportunity for provincial and territorial representatives to discuss their approaches to boreal caribou range planning, which will outline the jurisdiction’s plans to manage activities over space and time to protect the critical habitat from destruction.

The National Recovery Strategy calls for range plans to be developed by October 2017, and ECCC has developed guidance to assist jurisdictions in their preparation of these plans. The goal of the NBCTC is to share knowledge, develop strategies, and identify and resolve key technical questions amongst jurisdictions that will help lead to the stabilization and recovery of boreal caribou populations across Canada, and facilitate the implementation of the National Recovery Strategy. In carrying out its work, the NBCTC often draws on the expertise of regional and national scientific experts to ensure that the best available science is applied. To date, the NBCTC has focused its efforts on three main technical areas: 1) restoration of boreal caribou habitat following human-caused disturbances; 2) management approaches to avoid the loss of vulnerable boreal caribou populations; and 3) methods for boreal caribou population monitoring.

Finally, the NBCTC is acting as a review group for new science work being led by ECCC that aims to enhance understanding of the relationship between disturbance and boreal caribou population response in order to identify the best management actions. For example, the results of the new science work may help a jurisdiction to prioritize its management or restoration efforts for different disturbance types. A short description of the new science work for boreal caribou is available on the Species at Risk Public Registry.

In 2016, PCA continued to implement recovery activities in and around protected heritage places, including research, restoration activities, and public outreach and education. Several PCA projects are conducted in partnership with non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, private citizens and Indigenous communities. This work includes a number of major initiatives to restore and protect important habitat and implement key recovery actions for species at risk. Conservation and Restoration (CoRe) project funds were also used to rear and release wild adult Atlantic Salmon (Inner Bay of Fundy population) to the rivers of Fundy National Park and to supplement feed for endangered burrowing owls in Grasslands National Park resulting in one of the highest number of fledglings in the last 18 years.

Case study
Prescribed fire and planting ‘plus trees’: two techniques used in Waterton Lakes National Park of Canada for recovering Whitebark Pine

rescribed fire in Waterton Lakes National Park Photo: Ryan Peruniak © Parks Canada Agency
Prescribed fire in Waterton Lakes National Park
Photo: Ryan Peruniak © Parks Canada Agency

Since 2009, the Waterton Lakes fire management team has been pro-actively restoring Whitebark Pine habitat using prescribed fires. Since Whitebark Pine thrive in open, sunny habitats, forest fires can benefit this species by creating open spaces in otherwise dense vegetation. In the past, these fires have been confined to small areas of 1-4 hectares. Then in 2016, a fire covering 15 hectares on Sofa Mountain became the first sizeable prescribed fire specifically designed to restore Whitebark Pine habitat.

The Whitebark Pine grows slowly and may be 80 years old before it produces a substantial crop of cones. Despite its ability to withstand extreme environments, this pine is extremely vulnerable to the white pine blister rust fungus, which can have a lethal effect by blocking the movement of water and nutrients through its trunk and branches. The fungus also causes large cankers to form on the pine, making it more vulnerable to disease and Mountain Pine Beetle infestations. At Waterton Lakes, approximately 80-90% of the stands are infected and the Whitebark Pine population has decreased in size significantly. This downward trend has been observed across its range and consequently, the Whitebark Pine has been listed as endangered under SARA.

Whitebark Pine planting Photo: © Parks Canada Agency
Whitebark Pine planting / Photo: © Parks Canada Agency

Following a forest fire, Whitebark Pine is often one of the first tree species to settle in this area. Over the past one hundred years however, human suppression of forest fires has resulted in Subalpine Fir and Engelmann Spruce crowding out Whitebark Pine as the forest ages. Forest fires also create habitat that attracts the Clark’s Nutcracker by adding nutrients to the soil and by transforming dense vegetation into a sparse forest. This small bird provides a crucial service to the Whitebark Pine by gathering and caching its seeds in preparation for the winter when food is scarce. The nutcracker, however, only ever retrieves about half of the seeds it buries, so those remaining may grow into trees. Based on this ecological understanding, a solution became clear: re-introducing fire to the landscape via a prescribed fire could effectively restore habitat for Whitebark Pine and also support Clark’s Nutcracker.

To prepare for the prescribed fire, staff made a detailed survey to identify any healthy trees, which were then protected from the fire. The local weather conditions were monitored on an hourly basis to identify the optimal time to begin. The main fire was lit using a heli-torch that hung below a helicopter and dropped burning, gelled fuel into the trees below. The existing measures, in addition to rainfall, ensured the fire wouldn’t spread further than intended. The prescribed fire had been a success.

In addition to habitat restoration, ecologists at Waterton Lakes National Park are working to identify and collect the seeds of ‘plus trees’, i.e. those that have shown resistance to the fungus. This scientific work is a cooperative effort. Glacier National Park in the U.S., which shares a border with Waterton Lakes National Park, has been involved by carefully cultivating ‘plus tree’ seeds in the laboratory and sharing them. Just weeks after the prescribed fire on Sofa Mountain, park staff transplanted 950 of these plants in the newly restored habitat. Other partners include the six other mountain national parks, and the British Columbia and Alberta provincial governments.

Clark’s Nutcracker in Whitebark Pine Photo: © Parks Canada Agency
Clark's Nutcracker in Whitebark Pine
Photo: © Parks Canada Agency

In 2016, DFO continued to implement recovery activities including: research, strategic regulatory sign placement, partnering with provincial wildlife conservation staff to share knowledge and build relationships in support of protecting species, environmental restoration opportunities, and targeted site visits.

In its ninth year, DFO’s Marine Mammal Response Program departmental personnel and external partner organizations played key roles in marine animal emergency response. They carried out 155 responses nationally for species at risk. Responses included freeing whales from fishing gear entanglements, monitoring close approaches by vessels, refloating live stranded animals, reuniting stranded animals with their pods, performing necropsies on dead animals to determine cause of death, and investigating incidents of harassment. Information from response activities help DFO monitor and evaluate the threat level from these forms of harm and find ways to reduce entanglements and vessel collisions. Outreach activities help to educate the public on ways to help protect and avoid harming marine animals.

6.2.2 Habitat Stewardship Program

The Government of Canada’s Habitat Stewardship Program (HSP) for Species at Risk was established in 2000 as part of the National Strategy for the Protection of Species at Risk. The overall goals of the HSP are to contribute to the recovery of endangered, threatened and other species at risk, and to prevent other species from becoming a conservation concern, by involving Canadians from all walks of life in conservation actions to benefit wildlife.

The most complete data available for the HSP is for the 2015–2016 fiscal year.

Case study
Evaluating risk of cumulative effects of fire and human disturbance to Boreal Woodland Caribou habitat

Boreal Woodland Caribou Photo: Anne Gunn © Government of the Northwest Territories
Boreal Woodland Caribou / Photo: Anne Gunn
© Government of the Northwest Territories

With support from the HSP Species at Risk Stream, the Forest Management Division of the Government of the Northwest Territories (NWT) undertook a project in 2015–2016 to investigate the combined impact of fire and forestry activity on the SARA-listed Woodland Caribou, Boreal Population (threatened).

Woodland Caribou, Boreal population (Rangifer tarandus caribou) is distributed broadly throughout the boreal forest in Canada. They require large areas of continuous tracts of undisturbed habitat rich in mature to old-growth forest, lichens, muskegs and peatlands. Habitat alteration from human activities and natural sources has led to increased predation by wolves, coyotes and bears, and decreased population sizes and distributions across Canada. In southern NWT, wildland fire is the largest natural source of disturbance, and causes 75% of total alteration to Woodland Caribou habitat in this area. Historically in NWT, oil and gas exploration has been the largest source of human impact to this species. More recently, however, the greatest impact to this species’ habitat has been increased forestry activity. This has led to a need to monitor and manage this activity more sustainably.

Using two existing climate change models (2015–2050 and 2051–2080), the Government of NWT developed landscape projections to investigate the combined impact of wildland fire and forestry activities in southern NWT on Woodland Caribou critical habitat. Landscape projections were carried out in two parts. The first part examined the impact of future timber harvests and fire disturbances, individually, as main factors that disturb Caribou habitat. The second part examined the cumulative effects of these two factors on Woodland Caribou ranges in southern NWT. The results highlight the high degree of uncertainty with regard to the impacts of forest fire, and have stressed the importance of managing timber harvesting activities in Woodland Caribou habitat already disturbed by wildfires.

The project produced valuable information that will inform Government of NWT policies on timber harvesting and wildland fire management and help minimize the impact to critical habitat under varying climate conditions. The results of this study will help forest managers integrate the needs of Woodland Caribou into existing and future timber harvesting plans. The HSP invested $68,450 and the Government of NWT contributed an additional $71,000 for this project.

Funding under the HSP is separated into two distinct streams: the Species at Risk Stream and the Prevention Stream.

  1. The HSP Species at Risk Stream focuses on projects addressing the recovery of species at risk listed on Schedule 1 of SARA. Results are focused on:
    • securing or protecting important habitat for the recovery of species at risk
    • improving, through restoration/enhancement, or managing important habitat to meet the recovery needs of species at risk
    • removing or mitigating threats to species at risk or their habitat caused by human activities; or
    • engaging Canadians (landowners, resource users, volunteers) to participate directly in activities that support the recovery of species at risk so that project benefits are sustained over time

    Between its inception in 2000 and the end of March 2016, the HSP Species at Risk Stream has contributed over $163.7 million in over 2,500 projects, benefiting more than 420 species at risk and leveraging more than $397.1 million from project partners. The program also supports the legal protection of over 191,000 hectares (ha) of land and the improvement or restoration of more than 402,000 ha of land and 3,200 km of shoreline.

  2. The HSP Prevention Stream focuses on projects addressing other species, beyond those listed on Schedule 1 of SARA, to prevent them from becoming a conservation concern.
  3. Between its inception in 2014 and the end of March 2016, the HSP Prevention stream has invested over $5.6 million in over 160 projects. During the 2015–2016 fiscal year, the HSP Prevention Stream invested more than $3.1 million to support 75 new local conservation projects and 3 previously approved multi-year projects to prevent species other than species at risk from becoming a conservation concern. Project partners also contributed over $6.5 million to these projects.

    During the 2015–2016 fiscal year, 96 new projects and 73 previously approved multi-year projects involving 150 funding recipients contributed to the recovery of over 270 SARA-listed species across Canada. A total of $12.1 million in HSP funding was awarded to these projects, and an additional $16.1 million (cash and in-kind) was leveraged from partners, for a total investment of $28.2 million. These contributions provided support to stewardship efforts across Canada that resulted in the securement and protection of just over 87,000 ha of land, including over 3,600 ha through legally binding means, such as acquisition or conservation easements. Non-legally binding protection was put in place through the use of written conservation agreements with landowners, which accounts for 23,000 ha, including over 10,000 ha through renewed conservation agreements and over 12,000 ha through new conservation agreements. The program also supported the improvement or restoration of more than 12,000 ha of land and 230 km of shoreline.

The HSP is co-managed by ECCC, DFO and PCA, and administered by ECCC on a regional basis. Regional Implementation Boards include representatives from federal, provincial and territorial governments, and various stakeholders. These boards provide advice on priorities and project selection for their regions.

Case study
Toronto Zoo Great Lakes Program - HSP at work

School presentation  Photo: © Environment and Climate Change Canada
School presentation
Photo: © Environment and Climate Change Canada

In Southwestern Ontario, urban, industrial, forestry and agricultural activities can severely impact the health of the aquatic ecosystem of the region. The presence of critical habitat for a variety of species at risk, makes it important to sensitize people in the region to stresses on the natural habitat and the need to act as stewards of the environment.

For years, the Toronto Zoo has run a bilingual aquatic species at risk awareness program for children and educators. In 2015–2016, with support from the HSP (Species at Risk stream), the zoo led a one-year program to update and expand its popular Great Lakes Program, which aims to motivate citizens to become community stewards for aquatic species at risk.  

  • The school program was updated and broadened
    The content of the program was updated and presentations were expanded to include Grades 4 and 6, in addition to Grades 1, 2, 7, 8 and 11. A biologist was hired to deliver the program in five priority watersheds in southwestern Ontario. In 2015–2016, the Great Lakes program reached over 19,000 participants in 128 different schools.
Poster for the freshwater mussell activity booklet
  • Interactive podcast modules aimed at teachers were created
    Two interactive, web-based teaching modules were created to offer additional resources for educators. The modules were shared with partners in Canada and the U.S.
  • A children’s activity booklet about Great Lakes species at risk was created
    The zoo also expanded its Great Lakes public awareness program by developing outreach material for eight aquatic species at risk, including the Eastern Pondmussel (Ligumia nasuta), which is listed as endangered under SARA. Part of the funding was used to create an educational mussel decal for use as part of the Grade 11 teaching program.

6.2.3 Aboriginal Fund for Species at Risk

The Aboriginal Fund for Species at Risk (AFSAR), established in 2004, helps Indigenous organizations and communities across Canada build capacity to participate in the conservation and recovery of species at risk. The program also helps to protect and recover critical habitat or habitat important for species at risk on or near First Nations reserves or on land and waters traditionally used by Indigenous peoples.

The most complete data available for AFSAR is for the 2015–2016 fiscal year.

Funding under AFSAR is separated into two distinct streams.

  1. The AFSAR Species at Risk Stream focuses on projects addressing the recovery of species at risk listed on Schedule 1 of SARA, targeting results in four main areas:
    • strengthening capacity in Indigenous communities for SARA implementation
    • mitigating threats to species at risk, be they individuals or populations
    • protecting, improving or managing critical and important habitat of species at risk; and
    • documenting and conserving aboriginal traditional knowledge and traditional ecological knowledge on species at risk and, where appropriate, helping ensure their use in the development of recovery objectives

    Between its inception in 2004 and the end of March 2016, the AFSAR Species at Risk Stream has contributed more than $33.1 million to 850 projects, leveraging more than $23.5 million in matching funds from project partners. Funded projects benefited more than 300 SARA-listed species and supported the improvement or restoration of more than 13,500 ha of land and 190 km of shoreline.

    During the 2015–2016 fiscal year, the AFSAR Species at Risk Stream provided $3.7 million to 61 new projects and 20 previously approved multi-year projects. These projects leveraged additional funds that exceeded $3.7 million (cash and in‑kind) and involved 71 unique Indigenous organizations and communities as recipients. Funded projects benefited approximately 300 SARA-listed species, mostly through increased Indigenous awareness of species at risk and through the development of strategies, guidelines and practices or the completion of monitoring studies, surveys and inventories.

  2. The AFSAR Prevention Stream focuses on projects addressing other species, beyond those listed on Schedule 1 of SARA, to prevent them from becoming a conservation concern. It targets the same results as the Species at Risk Stream but with a focus on species beyond those listed on Schedule 1 of SARA.
  3. Between its inception in 2014 and the end of March 2016, the AFSAR Prevention Stream has invested over $1.5 million to support 45 local conservation projects and has partnered with more than 20 different Indigenous organizations and communities. Project partners have contributed more than $1 million to these projects. During the 2015–2016 fiscal year, the AFSAR Prevention Stream provided over $890,000 to 22 new and one previously approved multi-year project local conservation projects to prevent species other than species at risk from becoming a conservation concern. These projects involved 23 different Indigenous organizations and communities as recipients.

    AFSAR is co-managed by ECCC, DFO, and PCA, with the support of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and the guidance of National Aboriginal organizations. It is administered by ECCC and DFO on a regional basis. Regional Management Teams include representatives from federal, provincial and territorial governments, Indigenous representatives, and various stakeholders. These teams provide advice on priorities and project selection for their regions.

Case study
Education, outreach and the gathering of traditional knowledge within Saskatchewan's Treaty 4 Region

In 2015–2016, a two-year project funded, in part, through the AFSAR (Species at Risk Stream) and the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), was completed. The project brought a species at risk education program to children from the Treaty 4 territory within the Qu’Appelle River Watershed. The slopes and uplands of the Qu’Appelle River Watershed act as vital corridors for a number of species including the SARA-listed Piping Plover (endangered), Burrowing Owl (endangered), Sprague’s Pipit (threatened), and Greater Sage-Grouse (endangered). However, these species are under constant threat from habitat loss and degradation due to human activities.

The NCC partnered with the Treaty 4 Education Alliance, a group that supports the advancement of educational initiatives for the Treaty 4 territory, and led the development of the Learning the Land Program. The program, which includes a native prairie species at risk resource kit and associated teacher’s manual, was developed to help students learn about native prairie ecosystems. NCC also worked with Elders to incorporate traditional knowledge into the educational materials to engage students and community members in on-the-ground species at risk stewardship work.

Through the Learning the Land Program, 260 youth and 92 adults participated in a variety of educational activities in the field, including walks with Elders to identify and learn more about medicinal plants, species identification, habitat surveys, and the use of Global Positioning Systems. This increased knowledge will allow community members to effectively participate in conservation planning and other stewardship activities to improve species at risk habitat. The AFSAR contributed $106,660 in funding, and the NCC and its partners contributed an additional $152,770 to support this project.

Case study
Atlantic Walrus Traditional Knowledge and Management Workshop

Workshop in Cape Dorset Photo: © Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Workshop in Cape Dorset
Photo: © Fisheries and Oceans Canada

The Atlantic Walrus Population in Nunavut is faced with a number of threats including hunting removal, disturbance due to shipping, and declines in seasonal ice habitat due to climate change. Walrus in Nunavut are co-managed under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. A key challenge in the management of threats to Walrus has been a lack of integrated information respecting walrus stock size and structure, life history, site occupation, movements and hunting mortality.

In the 2015–2016 fiscal year, the AFSAR program awarded Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI) $59,620 to support Atlantic Walrus Traditional Knowledge and Management workshops in Rankin Inlet, Cape Dorset and Kimmirut. Participants included representatives from NTI, DFO, the Kivalliq Wildlife Board, the Qikiqtaaluk Wildlife Board, the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, as well as representatives from Nunavut communities and Hunter and Trappers Organizations. The main purpose of the workshops was to bring together walrus knowledge holders and co-management organizations to share information and improve walrus management, look for ways to link science and traditional knowledge and to develop maps of important walrus features (such as feeding, mating and birthing areas, and migration routes) using traditional knowledge.

The workshops included:

  • Highlights of the Integrated Fisheries Management Plan for walrus and its development. The plan incorporates scientific and traditional knowledge, and is expected to evolve and improve over time.
  • The screening of an educational walrus hunting training video, developed with the support of AFSAR funding in 2014–2015, on best management practices for subsistence walrus harvesting and how to provide experience to youth hunters.
  • Round table discussions on the four main topics of walrus hunting, management practices, community concerns related to walrus, and ecological knowledge.
  • A presentation by DFO Science on Walrus Traditional Knowledge and Science Integration and a discussion on future science and Inuit/traditional knowledge integration.

Mapping exercises whereby detailed, table-sized maps (produced in collaboration with DFO’s GIS colleagues) were used to assist in collecting traditional knowledge on walrus from members of the community, such as haul outs (historical and current), feeding areas, mating areas, birthing areas, migration routes, hunt locations, and polynyas (areas of open water in sea ice).

6.2.4 Interdepartmental Recovery Fund

Established in 2002, the Interdepartmental Recovery Fund (IRF), administered by ECCC, supports species at risk projects undertaken by federal government departments, agencies and Crown corporations (other than ECCC, DFO, and PCA). Funded projects predominantly occur on lands owned or administered by federal organizations and directly relate to the implementation of activities identified in recovery strategies or action plans, or surveys of species at risk.

Between its inception in 2002 and the end of March 2016, the IRF has invested over $21.8 million in over 700 projects which supported recovery efforts for more than 310 SARA-listed species. Since its inception, 72% of program funds supported recovery actions, while 25% supported surveys, 1% supported planning activities and 2% supported compliance activities. In the 2015–2016 fiscal year, the IRF supported 28 projects in seven federal departments and three Crown corporations. Collectively, $830,000 in program funding and $1.3 million (cash and in-kind) from project leads and other partners supported recovery efforts for 49 SARA-listed species. In 2015–2016, 81% of program funds supported recovery actions, 14% supported surveys, and 5% supported planning activities.

6.2.5 Outreach and education

Compliance promotion, outreach and education are essential in providing all Canadians with the information they require to play a meaningful role in the conservation of wildlife species and their habitats. In 2016, ECCC produced and delivered information in various forms to educate individuals, communities and the general public about the role they can play in protecting species at risk and their habitats. There was also a strong focus on engaging other government departments to provide introductory training on SARA for employees who work directly with the Act.   

ECCC continues to educate Canadians about species at risk through its longstanding partnership with the Canadian Wildlife Federation in delivering the Hinterland Who’s Who wildlife education program, and by developing and publishing species profiles on the Species at Risk Public Registry. In 2016, Hinterland Who’s Who released videos in six Indigenous languages about wildlife that are particularly important to Indigenous culture, being present in many First Nation, Métis, or Inuit legends.

PCA continues to promote species at risk protection and has developed a new Integrated Compliance and Law Enforcement Planning Process. The process will maintain its focus on proactive communication with visitors to highlight the connection between their actions and the effect they can have on the protection and recovery of species at risk and their habitat.

Public engagement activities related to species at risk occur in national parks, national historic sites and national marine conservation areas across the country. These activities include interpretative programs, field trips, special events and volunteer activities, including participation in restoration and monitoring projects (i.e., citizen science).

In addition, PCA has a number of outreach programs that focus on reaching youth, families and new Canadians in urban areas in order to increase awareness, understanding and foster support for species at risk protection and recovery. In 2016, this included outreach programs at special events and festivals, and at several partner venues (e.g., zoos and aquariums) in large cities such as Toronto, Montréal, Vancouver, Winnipeg and Calgary. Information about species at risk was also shared through the PCA website, social media, traditional media and organizations that reach out to the public with various programs, articles and websites.

DFO continued working with partners to provide education and outreach activities (e.g.school visits, trade shows, workshops, and industry and community meetings) on the threats to aquatic species at risk and ways to help protect them.  

DFO’s Whale Release and Strandings Group helped to organize the sixth “Whale Day” at Cape Spear, the easternmost point in Canada, near St. John’s, Newfoundland. As part of the “bones, barnacles and baleen” educational presentation, the group displayed a full Minke Whale skeleton and a life-size Humpback Whale canvas rollout. A full-size fiberglass replica of a Leatherback Sea Turtle that had stranded was also displayed.

This year, public outreach activities in Newfoundland and Labrador included life-sized textile replicas of Blue Whale tails, a Beluga Whale, and four Wolffish (2 Northern, 1 Spotted and 1 Striped). The replicas are used to provide information about the species, the role of the department in protecting them, and the way individuals can help conserve the species. 


Case study
Beluga awareness

For the second consecutive year, DFO and PCA encouraged recreational boaters to adopt good practices on the water to protect the beluga whales of the St. Lawrence. Under the theme “Show you care, keep your distance!” boaters were encouraged to move away from this endangered species to avoid disturbing them.

Patrol speaks to boater Photo: © Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Patrol speaks to boater / Photo: © Fisheries and Oceans

During the peak tourist season, DFO and PCA raised awareness by patrolling the south shore of the St. Lawrence and the Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park.  

In addition, DFO and the Réseau d'observation des mammifères marins (ROMM), a marine mammal ecowatch network, also met with recreational boaters in Rivière-du-Loup, Rimouski, Kamouraska and Saint-Jean-Port-Joli. They spoke with local pleasure boaters from the south shore of the Estuary at special events, such as the Fête des chants marins. The approximately 150 sailing and powerboat enthusiasts who attended these events received floating keychains, and kayakers went away with waterproof pouches with the name of the campaign written on them, as well as a list of best practices. These tokens will serve as reminders of what to do when on the water to avoid disturbing belugas.

To mark the 35th anniversary of DFO’s Gulf Region, the Gulf Fisheries Centre in Moncton organized an open house to display the work that is done in the region. The Species at Risk program hosted a kiosk to raise public awareness about species at risk. Attendance at the open house included the general public, fishermen and fisheries associations, environmental groups, provincial partners, universities and other federal departments.

On Oceans Day, the Central and Arctic Region of DFO organized a “Better Bag Challenge” to convey a call to action and educate the public about how we can all protect the ocean and keep it healthy. Eight grocery stores in the Twillingate area provided reusable bags to their customers for one day in the hope of raising awareness of the harm that plastics can cause to turtles and other sea creatures. The bags had a picture of a Leatherback Sea Turtle along with the slogan “Be the Solution to Ocean Pollution”. In total, 4,000 of these reusable bags were passed out and the event received positive media attention.

6.2.6 Species at risk population trends

Determining population trends in rare species can present some challenges. Many of these individuals are difficult to find and identify. For example, the most reliable way to distinguish the threatened Eastern Ribbon Snake from the more common Eastern Garter Snake is to see which scale rows have yellow stripes: those of the Ribbon Snake fall on scale rows 3 and 4, whereas those of the Garter Snake are on scale rows 2 and 3.

Species need time to recover and long-lived species may require many decades. In addition, observations of rare species are often difficult to collect. The indicator results should not be interpreted as a measure of recovery success until sufficient time has passed to allow species to recover and to collect sufficient information to assess the recovery. Consistency of population trends of species at risk

Of the 350 species at risk with recovery strategies or management plans as of May 2016, 123 species have population-oriented objectives and have been reassessed since their recovery documents were finalized. Of these 123 speciesFootnote 4 , 43 (35%) have current population trends that are consistent with the objectives laid out in the recovery documents, and 46 (37%) show trends that are inconsistent with the objectives. Another 11 (9%) have both some indication of improvement and some indication of decline. For the remaining 23 species (19%), there are insufficient data to determine trends.

Figure 2: Consistency of population trends of species at risk with the objectives, May 2016

Consistency of population trends of species at risk with the objectives, May 2016
Long description of figure 2

The column chart shows if population trends are consistent with recovery objectives for the 123 species at risk that have both population-oriented objectives and a reassessment since the species' recovery documents were finalized. Of these 123 species, 43 have population trends consistent with the objectives laid out in the recovery strategies or management plans, and 46 show trends that are inconsistent. Another 11 species have both some indication of improvement and some indication of decline. For the remaining 23 species, there are Insufficient data to determine trends.

Source: Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Parks Canada, and the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada Secretariat (2016).

Note: Categories are assigned based on the most recent available information, accounting as much as possible for the amount of time that has been available for recovery. Mixed evidence means that there is a mix of consistent and inconsistent population trends.

Data for this chart can be viewed on the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators (CESI) program web pages.

Case studies
Harlequin Duck (Eastern Population)

Harlequin Duck  Photo: Serge Brodeur © Parks Canada Agency
Harlequin Duck / Photo: Serge Brodeur © Parks Canada Agency

The Harlequin Duck (Eastern population) is currently listed as a species of special concern. Its range extends into Nunavut, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador. Under the management plan developed in 2007, the recovery objectives are to support and augment international efforts to restore and increase populations. Current population data indicates that the population size is increasing, which means the current population trends are consistent with the recovery objectives.

Activities that have been undertaken to better understand the species population and help inform potential recovery actions include:

  • Mark/recapture analysis
  • Habitat, genetic, diet, and disturbance assessments
  • Ban on hunting since 1990 in Atlantic Canada and Quebec
  • Stewardship coordinator working with Indigenous Peoples; and
  • Education and outreach

The primary cause for the decline of the Harlequin Duck remains unknown. Further research and monitoring activities need to be conducted.

Short-tailed Albatross


Short-tailed Albatross Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Short-tailed Albatros / Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The Short-tailed Albatross is listed as threatened under SARA. In Canada, it is a migratory bird found only in British Columbia. The recovery goal is to support and augment international efforts to restore and increase populations. The current population trends are consistent with the recovery goal as the population size continues to grow.

Activities that have informed species recovery actions include:

  • Routine sea Ship-of-Opportunity surveys (aboard Coast Guard vessels) to monitor abundance, distribution and seasonality of pelagic seabirds off the west coast of Canada
  • Satellite telemetry studies which gather more information about their movement patterns during the breeding and non-breeding seasons, including in Canadian waters
  • Production of a database and map of all known sightings of Short-tailed Albatrosses in Canadian and adjacent waters

Red Crossbill percna subspecies

The Red Crossbill percna subspecies, a migratory bird, is currently listed as endangered. The Red Crossbill is largely located in Newfoundland and Labrador, and Quebec. The recovery goals are to prevent the extirpation of the percna subspecies from NL, enhance the population size to a self-sustaining level, and manage sufficient habitat to support a self-sustaining population. Currently the population trends are not consistent with the recovery goals and objectives as populations continue to decline and further habitat loss is expected.

Activities that have been undertaken in the species recovery efforts include:

  • Mapping of potential habitat
  • Collection of incidental Red Crossbill sightings; and
  • Creation of a brochure for use as a public education tool, as well as a means to provide contact information for the public to report any Red Crossbill sightings

There is still much uncertainty regarding the threats, population size, and habitat of the Red Crossbill. The most significant apparent threats are invasive and non-native species, biological resource use, natural system modifications, transportation and service corridors, mining and quarrying, and agriculture. More research and monitoring activities are necessary in order to determine the recovery activities required.

Wavy-rayed Lampmussel

The Wavy-rayed Lampmussel was listed as endangered in 1999 and downlisted to special concern in 2010. This medium-sized mussel has a life span of between ten and twenty years. In Canada, populations are restricted to the upper Grand River and limited section of the Thames, Sydenham and the Ausable rivers in Ontario. Populations are showing signs of improvement; population estimates have risen, area of occupancy has increased two to three fold, and relative abundances have increased from 2-4% to 20-50% in some watersheds.

DFO completed a mussel monitoring program in the Sydenham River which included some ten species including the Wavy-rayed Lampmussel. The data generated from the mussel monitoring program allowed for analysis of trends of mussel density, demographics and distribution over a decade. The analysis will be used to track the response of the SAR mussel community to ongoing recovery efforts across the watershed and is the central monitoring priority of the Sydenham River Action Plan (a multi-species, ecosystem-based plan that addresses the needs of several freshwater mussels and two species of fishes).

Conservation authorities continue to play a vital role in stewardship and public education programs that have resulted in increased awareness of species at risk, and improvements to habitat and water quality throughout the Wavy-rayed Lampmussel range in Ontario. Changes in wildlife species disappearance risks

Identifying wildlife species at risk is the first step towards protecting these species. As of May 2016, 916 wildlife species have been assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and given a risk designation. Wildlife species previously designated as being at risk are reassessed, usually after 10 years, to determine if there is a change in status. Of the 447 wildlife species that have been assessed more than once, 65% show no change in status, 16% are in a lower risk category and 19% are in a higher risk category.

Changes vary across the extinction risk categories:

  • of the 30 species in the extirpated and extinct category, one species, the Lake Ontario population of Atlantic salmon, was reclassified from extirpated to the higher risk category of extinct in 2010
  • of the 173 species in the endangered category, 45 were moved up to that status and the status of one species, the St. Lawrence Striped Bass, improved from extirpated to endangered after a reintroduction effort
  • of 97 species in the threatened category, 33 were moved up to this status and 16 were moved down to this status
  • in 2016, among the 111 species of special concern, 7 moved up to this status and 30 moved down to this status
  • twenty-five (25) species moved down and are no longer at risk.

Figure 3: COSEWIC: Changes in risk of wildlife species disappearance from Canada, 2016

Figure 3: COSEWIC: Changes in risk of wildlife species disappearance from Canada, 2016
Long description of figure 3

The stacked column on the left shows the proportion (and number) of wildlife species in each risk category: higher risk (86 species), no change (289 species) and lower risk (72 species). The stacked columns on the right show the number of wildlife species from each risk category by status: Extirpated and Extinct (30 species), Endangered (173 species), Threatened (97 species), Special Concern (111 species) and Not at risk (36 species).

Note: In this analysis, "wildlife species" means a wildlife species, subspecies or a genetically or geographically distinct population. Wildlife species disappearance may refer to extinction or extirpation (i.e., a wildlife species that no longer occurs in the wild in Canada). Results from COSEWIC have been further analyzed as described in the Data Sources and Methods document.

More detailed data used for this chart is availalble online.

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