Recovery of species listed under the Species at Risk Act: backgrounder

The purposes of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) are to prevent wildlife species from being extirpated or becoming extinct, to provide for the recovery of extirpated, endangered and threatened species, and to manage species of special concern to prevent them from becoming endangered or threatened.

To deliver on those goals, the Species at Risk Act requires recovery strategies for all endangered species. Recovery strategies identify what needs to be done to stop or reverse the decline of a species. Each recovery strategy sets goals and objectives, identifies critical habitat to the extent possible, and describes the research and management activities that are needed. Strategies are prepared in cooperation and consultation with provincial and territorial governments, wildlife management boards, Aboriginal organizations and stakeholders.

These strategies may cover more than one species which occur in the same geographic area or ecosystem, or which have similar threats. Currently, recovery strategies addressing 105 species at risk have been posted as final or proposed on the Species at Risk Public Registry with 100 recovery strategies moving through various consultation and approval processes. As well, there are currently more than 150 recovery teams made up of experts from the federal-provincial-territorial governments and conservation activists on the ground across Canada working on recovery planning for species and their habitat. New recovery strategies are posted to the registry throughout the year.

Examples of Recovery Strategies:

Among the recovery strategies that have been recently posted on the SARA Public Registry are strategies for the Whooping Crane, the Cucumber Tree, the Swift Fox, and the Aurora Trout. These species highlight examples of Canadian land-based species, aquatic species, migratory birds as well as the geographical spread of the diverse Canadian species within our country.

Whooping Crane

Whooping Crane

The Whooping Crane is a flagship species in the North American wildlife conservation movement and symbolizes the struggle for survival that characterizes many endangered species worldwide. It is a large, distinctive, and photogenic bird, popular with the public and the media, and is often used to illustrate endangered species literature.

Once numbering in the several thousands, the Whooping Crane approached the brink of extinction in the 1940s, when only 21 Whooping Cranes remained in the world. Luckily, these large majestic birds were saved from extinction, and by March 2007, the Canadian migratory Whooping Crane population grew to 237 birds. While on the precarious road to recovery, Whooping Cranes remain listed as an endangered species in Canada and the United States.

Historically, population declines were caused by shooting and destruction of nesting habitat in the prairies as a result of agricultural development. Today, the Whooping Crane remains an endangered species because of its low population numbers, slow reproductive potential due to delayed sexual maturity and limited recruitment into the population, a hazardous migration route traversed twice annually, and many human pressures on the wintering grounds. Current threats to the wild cranes include collisions with human made objects such as power lines, shooting, predators, disease, habitat destruction, severe weather, and a loss of two-thirds of the original genetic diversity. Threats to the captive cranes include disease, accidents, and limited genetic diversity.

The overall recovery goal for the Whooping Crane is to protect, restore, and manage the species to be self-sustaining in the wild, no longer requiring the protections of the Species at Risk Act and the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The long-term recovery goal is to establish 1,000 Whooping Cranes in North America by 2035.

The recovery strategy for the Whooping Crane identifies areas of critical habitat on the breeding grounds within Wood Buffalo National Park. Wood Buffalo National Park is protected under the Canada National Parks Act. To afford the highest level of protection, the breeding habitat is designated as a Special Preservation area. The breeding grounds are also designated as a Wetland of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention and an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International. Because of these designations, the critical habitat is protected from a number of anthropogenic threats.

Among the proposed recovery strategies that have been posted on the SARA public registry for consultation are strategies for the Northern Spotted Owl in British Columbia, the Leatherback Seaturtle, the Barrens Willow in Newfoundland, and the Piping Plover in Prairie Canada. These species highlight examples of Canadian land-based species, aquatic species, migratory birds as well as the geographical spread of the diverse Canadian species within our country.

Cucumber Tree

Cucumber Tree is the only native Magnolia species in Ontario. It is a forest species which can grow to a height of 30 m in its Ontario range. The leaves are large, simple and without teeth. Large greenish-yellow flowers emerge in early summer and are pollinated by beetles and other insects. The tree is named for the slight resemblance of the immature fruit to a cucumber.

Cucumber Tree has a very limited distribution in Canada, occurring in only two areas of southern Ontario. The total number of naturally occurring trees and saplings is currently 283, following recent intensive census and mapping exercises. In addition, over 100 seedlings have been counted most of which occur in one single population. Limited recruitment within their forest habitats has been observed. The threat of landscape fragmentation and small population sizes needs to be better understood to refine recovery actions.

The goal of this recovery strategy is to conserve and if necessary restore Cucumber Tree to self-sustaining populations in both regions of its native Canadian range in extreme southwestern Ontario.

Some of the recovery approaches identified in the recovery strategy, beyond protecting what is there, are dependent on current and future research, to better understand the species pollination biology, seed dispersal, seedling establishment and population genetics. The report outlines and prioritizes research programs necessary to support the implementation of the recovery actions. Critical habitat has been identified for six populations that have ten or more mature trees.

Swift Fox

Swift Fox

Swift foxes are found predominately in short- and mixed-grass prairie areas of North America. Swift foxes were previously extirpated from Canada. As of the 2006 census, a small population of approximately 647 animals has been established in Alberta and Saskatchewan through reintroductions. Animals are successfully breeding in the wild, although the species is potentially at risk from predation and habitat loss.

Major threats to swift foxes include: habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation; predation and competitive exclusion by coyotes and red fox; mortality from vehicles; disease; poisoning and trapping. Changes in climate and associated habitat changes and range shifts also contribute to an uncertain future for swift foxes.

The long-term recovery goal is to restore, by 2026, a self-sustaining swift fox population of 1,000 or more mature, reproducing foxes that does not experience greater than a 30% population reduction in any 10-year period. To assess progress, an additional short-term recovery goal has also been described as follows: ensure a mature, reproducing population of at least 250 foxes by 2012. Partial identification of critical habitat will be completed for the swift fox in an addendum to the recovery strategy, to be completed in 2008.

North Atlantic Right Whale

The North Atlantic Right Whale is a large migratory whale whose known range extends from coastal waters of Florida to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Historically, whaling reduced the population from its natural levels and while the population has shown some growth in recent years, the estimated number of individuals remains close to 500.

Since whaling ended the most obvious threats that are potentially depressing the growth rate of the North Atlantic right whale population are strikes by vessels and entanglements in fixed fishing gear. There are stewardship measures, such as avoiding areas of whale aggregation, that have helped reduce the threat of vessel strikes in Canadian waters. Habitat degradation may also be contributing to the North Atlantic right whale population’s failure to recover more rapidly.

North Atlantic Right Whale. Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

The recovery goal is to achieve an increasing trend in population abundance over three generations. In addition, the recovery strategy describes the following seven recovery objectives: to reduce mortality and injury as a result of vessel strikes; to reduce mortality and injury as a result of fishing gear interactions (entanglement and entrapment); to reduce injury and disturbance as a result of vessel presence or exposure to contaminants and other forms of habitat degradation; to monitor population and threats; to increase understanding of life history characteristics, low reproductive rate, habitat and threats to recovery through research; to support and promote collaboration for recovery between government agencies, academia, environmental non-government groups, Aboriginal groups, coastal communities and international agencies and bodies; and to develop and implement education and stewardship activities that promote recovery.

For the North Atlantic right whale, critical habitat was identified to the extent possible, in Grand Manan Basin and Roseway Basin, using the best available information, and provides the functions and features necessary to support the species’ life cycle-processes.

Federal-Provincial-Territorial Cooperation Key to Recovery Plans

The Government of Canada has been working in cooperation with provincial and territorial jurisdictions, wildlife management boards and Aboriginal organizations to prepare recovery strategies that are based on the best available knowledge and that are supported by all parties.

Recovery strategies for species at risk are part of the conservation approach that Canadians want governments to undertake. Conserving Canada's biodiversity is vital to the health of the environment and to Canada's long-term economic prosperity.

The implementation of the Species at Risk Act reinforces the Government of Canada's commitment to ensure the protection for species at risk and their ecosystems. Under the Act, stewardship is the first response to habitat conservation. Protecting species at risk is a shared responsibility by all Canadians. The government is committed to continuing to work with Canadians in implementing the Species at Risk Act.

All Canadians are invited to join the Government of Canada in supporting and implementing recovery strategies for the benefit of individual species and Canadian society as a whole. For individuals interested in helping species at risk, these strategies provide a wealth of information on threats to the species and their recovery needs. Landowners implicated by critical habitat identification are being consulted and are cooperating on critical habitat protection.

More information on the Species at Risk Act, the national recovery program, the Habitat Stewardship Program for species at risk, and on Canada's Strategy for the Protection of Species at Risk, can be found on the Species at Risk Public Registry; or call Environment Canada's Inquiry Centre at: 1-800-668-6767.

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