More than half of Canada’s species at risk have seen their populations fall over the last five decades, and those that appear on the international “red list” of endangered species have declined by an average 42%, according to the latest Living Planet Report released this week by WWF Canada.
“The report combines data on 883 vertebrate species that are native to Canada, most of which are not considered at risk,” concluding that about half declined and half have seen population increases, the Globe and Mail reports. However, “when data on 139 species at risk are considered separately, they show an average decline of 59% during that same time period.”
Two-thirds of the species are birds and fish, the remainder are amphibians, reptiles, and mammals, and they include “some prime examples of iconic Canadian wildlife that are threatened, such as barren-ground caribou or the Vancouver Island marmot.”
The report shows that designating a species as at-risk is not enough in itself to protect it “without more concerted conservation efforts,” the Globe says.
Citing WWF Canada’s vice-president of science, knowledge, and innovation, James Snider, the news story notes that species at risk “face multiple threats, including overexploitation, habitat loss, pollution, and climate change, among others.” Species face five threats on average, “with combined effects that can be devastating to populations.” That means regulations that respond to single threats are “unlikely to improve the outlook for any species”.
The 191 species to which broader conservation measures have been applied over the last 50 years have seen average population increases of 40%, though Snider warned that “additional factors may also be influencing the trends in abundance for these species.”
Snider called for a “much more integrated and holistic approach” to species recovery, with high priority on Indigenous participation, given studies that show biodiversity doing better on Indigenous lands. “The need for more habitat protection can also dovetail with decisions that promote Canada’s response to climate change—for example, by maintaining forest and peat lands that store carbon, or wetlands that provide a buffer against flooding,” the Globe writes.
With the biodiversity crisis receiving more attention on the international stage, Justina Ray, president and senior scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, said the WWF was drawing attention to challenges within Canada. “You could be lulled into some kind of complacency because we have a lot of intact ecosystems and we’re a high-governance country,” she told the Globe. “But reports like this make very clear that we have major issues here, as well.”