Citizen Action Monitor

Half of Canada’s monitored species (451 of 903) are in decline, with average decline of 83%

“Federal government departments charged with protecting and recovering species repeatedly cut their species-at-risk funding.”

No 2054 Posted by fw, September 16, 2017

“When WWF International and the Zoological Society of London released the biennial global Living Planet Report on wildlife loss, it’s easy to assume the shocking figures of decline don’t apply here. Canada, after all, is a country of wide open spaces with ample room for grizzlies and gannets, belugas and bass, salamanders and swift foxes — isn’t it? In early 2016 we set out to discover if this assumption aligned with reality. After 18 months of research — during which we studied 3,689 population trends for 903 monitored vertebrate species in Canada, for the period 1970 to 2014 — the results are in. And the findings surprised even us. WWF-Canada’s Living Planet Index shows that half of our monitored species (451 of 903) are in decline. And of those, the index shows an average decline of 83 per cent.”David Miller, WWF Canada President & CEO

Below is a repost of selected sections of the 60-page World Wildlife Fund Canada’s 2017 Living Planet Report Canada. WWF’s accompanying 1-minute video is embedded at the beginning of the repost. All but one of the graphs have been omitted from the repost along with endnote numbers. The report’s Table of Contents is copied at the bottom of the repost.

To download the full report, click here.

To read a summary of the report on WWF Canada’s website, click on the following linked title.

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Living Planet Report Canada: A national look at wildlife loss

by World Wildlife Fund Canada, 2017

Introduction by David Miller, President and CEO of WWF Canada — Wildlife Loss: A Canadian Problem

When WWF International and the Zoological Society of London released the biennial global Living Planet Report on wildlife loss, it’s easy to assume the shocking figures of decline don’t apply here. Canada, after all, is a country of wide open spaces with ample room for grizzlies and gannets, belugas and bass, salamanders and swift foxes — isn’t it?

In early 2016 we set out to discover if this assumption aligned with reality. After 18 months of research — during which we studied 3,689 population trends for 903 monitored vertebrate species in Canada, for the period 1970 to 2014 — the results are in. And the findings surprised even us.

WWF-Canada’s Living Planet Index shows that half of our monitored species (451 of 903) are in decline. And of those, the index shows an average decline of 83 per cent.

Yes, it’s true the other half of the monitored species in our study are either stable or faring well. We know that in some cases, wildlife did well because we, as a society, took action to protect species or their habitat. We put tight restrictions on dangerous chemicals like DDT. We closed fisheries and put limits on hunting. We restored wetlands to give waterfowl a chance to rebound. Clearly we have the power to make a difference.

But it isn’t time to celebrate, yet. We have to pay attention to the wildlife in trouble here at home, to figure out which species most need our help. In this report you’ll find staggering numbers of wildlife population loss — here in Canada. Mammal populations, for example, fell on average by 43 per cent; grassland birds suffered 69 per cent loss; reptile and amphibian populations dropped almost 34 per cent, and fish populations declined by 20 per cent. Surprisingly, the numbers for at-risk species, those protected by law, are just as bad — if not worse.

Wildlife loss is not someone else’s problem. It’s a Canadian problem. At the back of this report you’ll find roles for individuals, communities, academic institutions, industry and government willing to be part of the solution. We all, collectively, have a moral duty — and a self-interest — to halt wildlife decline.

WHY MONITOR CANADA’S WILDLIFE

Dramatic human changes to natural systems … are jeopardizing diversity and abundance of species.

Canada is a vast and varied land. Polar bears prowl the frigid Arctic, rattlesnakes coil in Alberta’s arid badlands, salmon on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts migrate from saltwater up freshwater streams to spawn. About 40 per cent of the country is forests and woodlands — almost a tenth of the world’s total forest cover.

A quarter of Earth’s wetlands are found here, as well as 8,500 rivers and more than two million freshwater lakes. Scientists now estimate about 80,000 known species live in Canada (not including viruses and bacteria), a grand multitude of diversity.

It’s this rich wilderness for which we are responsible. Yet, dramatic human changes to natural systems — on which we depend for clean air and water, food and medicines, materials and fuel, and even for capturing greenhouse gases that affect our climate — are jeopardizing diversity and abundance of species.

By analyzing population trends of major animal groups, the Living Planet Index is a broad indicator of the state of biodiversity. The index is focused on the vertebrate group of the animal kingdom; vertebrates include mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish species, including sharks, rays and skates. Altogether, the Living Planet Index for Canada includes population trends for the period 1970 to 2014 for 903 monitored vertebrate species (about half of the known vertebrates in Canada) including 106 species of mammals, 386 bird species, 365 fish species, and 46 amphibians and reptiles. (The index does not include the invertebrate group of animals; only a small fraction of this large group has long-term monitoring data that would be comparable for inclusion in this study.)

There have been successes, in that time, which is heartening. But as a wildlife conservation organization, it’s our duty to use the Living Planet Index to identify groups of species that are in decline, and determine if and where patterns exist. This analysis can identify key population trends that can then be used to identify priority areas for conservation efforts, to ensure the recovery and long-term survival of wildlife in Canada.

THE STATE OF WILDLIFE

50% of species are in decline

Since the national Living Planet Index is an average of trends in abundance for Canadian wildlife, it masks nuances of particular species groups. Closer examination reveals that, from 1970 to 2014, half (451 of 903) of monitored wildlife species in Canada declined in abundance. This is true for all wildlife groups: Approximately half of the mammals (54 per cent), fish (51 per cent), birds (48 per cent), and amphibians and reptiles (50 per cent) included in the analysis exhibited declining trends during this time.

Of the other half monitored, 407 species showed increases in abundance. Some species in this group were recipients of targeted conservation efforts (some waterfowl); others fared well from human-built environments (geese); others benefitted from changes in human behaviour like banning the pesticide DDT (raptors). Some species are generalists, meaning they live in a wide variety of habitats and eat a wide variety of foods, and more easily adapt to changes in their environment. Furthermore, for some of these species, the baseline year of 1970 may capture a period of especially low population numbers — an increase from 1970, then, doesn’t necessarily mean the population has reached a healthy level.

Forty-five species showed stable trends. However, because some species’ populations were already degraded in 1970, a stable trend could also mask unhealthy population numbers.

A CLOSER LOOK AT DECLINE

For half of monitored species in decline, on average, the decline is 83%

For the half of monitored species with declining trends, the Living Planet Index shows, on average, a decline of 83 per cent, from 1970 to 2014. Furthermore, for species in decline, the annual rate of decline is four per cent.

In the next chapters, this study will examine, in more depth, patterns in wildlife populations in Canada’s marine, terrestrial and freshwater environments, in different regions from coast to coast to coast, and for the major groups of species (mammals, fish, birds, amphibians and reptiles). Through this closer examination, specific wildlife groups experiencing the most significant changes are identified, so the cause of decline can be better understood and recommendations made for combatting future wildlife loss.

Declining wildlife Living Planet Index

WHAT’S DRIVING WILDLIFE LOSS?

Habitat Loss

Habitat loss is the greatest threat to species in Canada including listed at-risk species, from forestry, agriculture, urbanization and industrial development. City growth has doubled in Canada over the last century, sprawling into and over habitat. According to Global Forest Watch Canada, almost 216,000 square kilometres (or an area three times the size of New Brunswick) of intact forests in Canada were disturbed or fragmented between 2000 and 2013. Over 80 per cent of original wetland habitat has been converted to other uses in and near cities. Dams, canals and waterfront development degrade or permanently alter habitat in and around lakes, rivers, streams and along sea coasts.

Climate Change

In Canada, the rate of warming has increased at nearly double the global average (approximately 0.85°C, from 1880 to 2012). Impacts are being felt across the country, from warmer and more acidic oceans to shifting seasons (and corresponding life-cycle events for wildlife species). Different species are feeling the effects in different ways. The most vulnerable species are long-lived, slow to reproduce, require specialized habitats and foods, and are unable to move in response. For example, low water levels and temperature extremes recently created lethal conditions for sockeye salmon. And for many reptiles, sex is temperature-determined: Heat can change populations to mostly female, putting these species at risk.

Pollution

Some persistent chemical pollutants (e.g., DDT, PCBs) have been banned or tightly restricted for use, but many detrimental pesticides and other pollutants remain, including sewage effluent (which increases with a growing human population) and agricultural runoff. Plastic waste and microplastics harm wildlife habitat. Heat, noise and light pollution from ships, cities and factories disturb wildlife and transform

Unsustainable Harvest

In all three realms, over-exploitation has taken its toll. In particular, marine fish along our East Coast have been the most affected, such as Atlantic cod, whose stocks collapsed in the early 1990s. Bycatch, the incidental catch of other species by fisheries, is a compounding factor. Porbeagle sharks, for example, in the northwestern Atlantic have been reduced to just a quarter of their 1961 population, both through commercial fishery and as incidental bycatch.

Invasive Species

Introduced species compete with native species for space, food and other resources; and some prey on native species. For instance, zebra and quagga mussels, brought to the Great Lakes through ship ballast water, have contributed to the decline of lake whitefish. The rate of invasions is gathering momentum as human travel and transport of goods increases, coinciding with climate-driven ecosystem changes.

Cumulative And Cascading Effects

Stressors don’t act in isolation; their effects are cumulative (meaning simultaneous and/or synergistic) and cascading (changes in the status of one species triggers changes in the other, generally referring to the food web). According to scientists, at-risk species face more than two broad-scale threats (on average) at the same time. For instance, wolverines at the southern and eastern portions of their Canadian range are experiencing habitat loss and fragmentation from both climate change and increasing development, as well as a shortage of food as woodland caribou populations decline.

CANADA’S “SPECIES AT RISK ACT” (SARA)

How it works

As of 2017, approximately one-third of vertebrate populations assessed to be at risk by COSEWIC had not been officially listed under SARA.

At the federal level in Canada, the primary legal mechanism for protection of imperiled species is the Species at Risk Act, or SARA (2002). The first step toward receiving protections under the Act is a status assessment by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), a national panel of academics, government and non-government biologists and experts. This panel meets twice a year to assess a species as Extinct, Extirpated, Endangered, Threatened, of Special Concern, Data Deficient or Not at Risk (based on scientific and local evidence, against firm criteria) and makes recommendations to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC). Those recommendations are either sent up to the Governor-in-Council (which has nine months to either accept or reject the recommendation, or refer it back to COSEWIC for more information), or over to agencies like Fisheries and Oceans Canada or Parks Canada, and to stakeholder groups, for further consultation. Socioeconomic concerns — whether people’s livelihoods will be affected by the decision — are considered. As of 2017, approximately one-third of vertebrate populations assessed to be at risk by COSEWIC had not been officially listed under SARA.

Automatic prohibitions against killing or harming the species, or destroying its habitat, are triggered by a SARA listing. Recovery strategies and action plans are required for species listed as Threatened or Endangered. Clear timelines exist: Recovery strategies must be completed within two years for species listed as Threatened, and within one year for species listed as Endangered. Importantly, for these species, critical habitat must be defined in either the recovery strategy or the action plan — though there is no legally defined timeframe for completion of action plans.

The federal authority for protection of critical habitat under SARA is limited to areas under federal jurisdiction (except where additional mandates under the Fisheries Act and Migratory Birds Act extend protections to private lands). The provinces and territories have a critical role in implementing protection and recovery measures (such as the Endangered Species Act in Ontario and the Wildlife Act in British Columbia) for species at risk.

SPECIES UNDER SARA PROTECTION

Since 2002, SARA-listed species fell by 28%

When we look retroactively to 1970 (from 2014), those species in our analyses that would eventually become listed under SARA show a decline in the Living Planet Index, on average, of 63 per cent (based on data from 256 populations of 87 species).

Consistent declining trends were also observed when analyzing the periods before and after SARA was enacted. For comparability, this analysis was limited to 64 SARA-listed species with data records in both study periods. In the 1970-2002 period, the SARA-listed species showed an average population decline of 43 per cent and an average annual decline of 1.7 per cent.

From 2002 to 2014 (post legislation), these populations declined, on average, by 28 per cent — with an average annual decline of 2.7 per cent. These results suggest the rate of decline of these at-risk species may actually have increased (to 2.7 per cent from 1.7 per cent), despite protections afforded by SARA.

However, it is important to remember that although SARA was enacted in 2002, some species were listed (and received protections) years later. For long-lived species that are slow to reach sexual maturity, and have relatively few offspring, it can take decades before populations improve which suggests for some species the benefits of SARA need more time to take effect.

SARA’s SHORTCOMINGS

Legal deadlines for developing recovery strategies are routinely extended or overdue — often by many years.

1) Delays to listing

Even after species are designated Endangered or Threatened by COSEWIC, years may pass before government moves to legally list and protect them. Between 2011 and 2015, for example, none of the species recommended for listing under SARA by the COSEWIC expert panel (and without previous protection under the law) were listed — except for three bats, whose emergency listing as Endangered was demanded by the government of Nova Scotia. In many of these cases, the federal government failed to set a deadline on consultation with designated stakeholder groups for sending listing recommendations to cabinet. More recently, the pace of SARA listing of COSEWIC-assessed species has improved. (Twenty-seven species have been listed by the new federal government as Special Concern, Threatened or Endangered.)

2) Delays to action

For many species at risk listed under SARA, legal deadlines for developing recovery strategies are routinely extended or overdue — often by many years. Under the law, recovery strategies — including identifying habitat that is critical to the species’ survival — must be completed within one year of a species being listed by SARA as Endangered, and within two years for species listed as Threatened. Within 180 days of being identified, critical habitat on federal land becomes legally protected from destruction, fragmentation and alteration.

3) Deference to socioeconomic costs

As part of the SARA process, the federal government engages in public consultations to determine the social and economic impact of listing on communities and industries. As a result, many species whose harvest or habitat is deemed important to some people and economies are denied legal protection even if scientists conclude they are at risk. Marine fish provide the best example. According to a 2015 study27, of the 62 species of fish declared at risk of extinction and recommended for listing by COSEWIC, only 12 have received listing since 2003. Commercially important ocean fish — such as Atlantic cod populations found to be Endangered by COSEWIC on the East Coast or chinook and sockeye salmon populations designated by the panel as Endangered on the West Coast — often don’t receive a listing under SARA, which would prohibit any commercial harvest, with government deferring instead to other legislative acts and conservation measures.

4) Lack of funding

Enacting recovery strategies and action plans requires long-term planning, land-use change and habitat restoration, possibly species reintroduction and captive breeding, all of which involves large expenditures of money. But in the years since SARA has been in place, federal government departments charged with protecting and recovering species have repeatedly cut their species-at-risk funding. A 2013 study28 comparing funding for species conservation by 199 countries around the world found Canada was barely among the top half. Recently, the downward trend for government spending for species at risk may have turned a corner. (For instance, funding for species-at-risk programs at Fisheries and Oceans Canada increased by almost $1.5 million from 2015-16 to 2016-17, according to government figures.)

TABLE OF CONTENTS

WHY MONITOR CANADA’S WILDLIFE 1

What is a Living Planet Index?  2

Canada’s Living Planet Index  3

The state of wildlife 4

Closer look at decline 5

What’s driving wildlife loss? 6

CANADA’S SPECIES AT RISK ACT 8

How it works 8

Species under SARA protection 9

Species recommended for protection 10

Shortcomings in the process 11

WILDLIFE BY REALM 15

Freshwater 15

Marine 18

Terrestrial 19

WILDLIFE BY SPECIES GROUP 21

Mammals 22

Birds 24

Fish 28

Amphibians and reptiles 30

WILDLIFE TRENDS ACROSS CANADA 32

Pacific region 33

Prairie region 36

Central region 38

Atlantic region 40

Arctic region 42

STOPPING WILDLIFE LOSS 46

Collect and share data 47

Increase climate change research 48

Enhance SARA implementation 49

Expand Canada’s network of protected areas 50

Make a commitment to nature 51

REFERENCES 53

 

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