Salamanders: Regulations amending the wild animal and plant trade regulations (long-term import restriction) 

The purpose of the Regulations Amending the Wild Animal and Plant Trade Regulations (the regulations) is to prevent the introduction of the fungal disease, Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal), into Canadian ecosystems by prohibiting the importation of all species of salamanders, unless authorized by a permit. This regulation would replace the temporary, 1 year restriction that has been in place since May 12, 2017 and will expire on May 11, 2018.

A disease-causing fungus, Bsal, originating in Asia, has been devastating populations of native salamanders in European countries. It is thought that trade in salamanders via the pet industry is the primary means through which the disease spread from Asia. If the fungus enters Canadian ecosystems, the impacts on domestic salamanders would likely be severe. While many Asian salamander species have evolved resistance to or tolerance of Bsal, experimental exposure trials reveal that salamanders from other parts of the world, including salamanders that range into Canada, are highly susceptible to infection. To date, there is no known case of infection in salamanders in Canada or in the United States. If introduced, the expectation is that Bsal is likely to survive and persist in many parts of Canada, and would be impossible to eradicate.

Bsal infects the skin layers of susceptible salamander species and can lead to skin lesions, loss of control of bodily movements, and death.  Once introduced, the fungi can spread through direct contact (skin to skin) and environmentally through contact with organic materials such as mud, water and leaf litter.  It is suspected that Bsal spread from East Asia, where it is endemic, to Western Europe via international trade of amphibians.

Salamanders have primarily been imported into Canada for research or as pets. It is estimated that almost half of the salamanders imported into Canada have originated from affected areas in Europe and Asia. Asian species of salamanders can carry Bsal without showing symptoms, making detection at Canada’s ports of entry particularly difficult.

The Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act, and the Wild Animal and Plant Trade Regulations, are used to protect certain species of animals and plants by regulating their international and interprovincial trade.  Section 21 of the Act allows the Governor in Council to make regulations for carrying out the purposes of the Act. The regulations add the entire order Caudata (such as all salamander species) to Schedule II of the Wild Animal and Plant Trade Regulations, thus prohibiting the import of all species of that order, living or dead, including any parts, egg, sperm, tissue culture or embryos, unless authorized by a permit.  Restricting the import of all salamander species is consistent with the precautionary principle, and takes into consideration the evolving understanding of the disease. This approach is also the most practical to enforce as enforcement officers are able to assume that all salamander imports require a permit.

The initiative is expected to result in important positive environmental effects by contributing to the preservation of salamanders and protecting native Canadian species from a significant threat.  Protecting Canadian salamanders from the threat of Bsal by restricting importation will contribute to overall biodiversity and help maintain the benefits of the species that Canadians currently enjoy as well as its potential future uses. Although this initiative will result in low costs to the Government of Canada and to Canadian businesses, it is anticipated that its implementation will result in notable environmental benefits that will outweigh those modest costs.

The initiative will contribute to 3 of the 2016 to 2019 Federal Sustainable Development Strategy goals:

  • sustainably managed lands and forests
  • healthy wildlife populations
  • effective action on climate change

The initiative will do this by reducing the likelihood of the Bsal fungus from infecting native Canadian salamanders. Among the most abundant vertebrates in the forest habitats in which they occur, salamanders play a significant role in our ecosystems, contributing to a more balanced biome and to the mitigation of climate change through their role in nutrient and carbon cycling.  Healthier salamander populations will better contribute to a more diverse ecosystem, which in turn, supports healthier forests which act as carbon sinks, helping to mitigate climate change.  Salamanders can also help to reduce carbon emissions by consuming insects that break down leaf litter and release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. One study found that, in a hectare of land, a single Ensatina salamander can prevent the release of 200 kilograms of carbon per year. At this rate and if a similar density is assumed across its range in Canada (British Columbia), then 72.3 metric tons of carbon could be retained by this one species in a year in Canada. This retained carbon would be equivalent to 265.1 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, roughly what is emitted from burning 31,000 litres of gasoline.

Since any importation of salamanders into Canada will require a permit, Environment and Climate Change Canada officials will be able to track the number of permit applications for salamander imports. The collection of data will be ongoing.

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