From woodland caribou to St. Lawrence beluga whales, Canada’s threatened and endangered species keep declining despite federal legislation designed to protect them and help their populations recover, a new report by WWF-Canada shows.
In fact, species listed under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA) have declined even more quickly on an annual basis since the legislation was adopted 2002, according to The Living Planet Report Canada, set to be released Thursday morning by the conservation group.
‘We need to act before species get identified as endangered, because it’s so hard to turn around populations once they’re deteriorated that far.’
– David Miller, CEO, WWF-Canada
“I think that’s troublesome in terms of whether it’s indicative of the relative success of the federal program for the recovery of species at risk,” said James Snider, vice-president for science research and innovation at WWF-Canada and the lead author of the report.
The report analyzed publicly available population data from places like scientific databases and journals for 903 mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian and fish species in Canada. WWF-Canada used a peer-reviewed method developed by the London Zoological Society that is also used by the WWF to create global reports on vertebrate population trends every two years.
The analysis shows that 451 — half the species in the study — declined in number between 1970 and 2014. Snider said that was a surprise.
“Frankly, as a Canadian, I think we all pride ourselves in the relative wilderness,” he said, “and we almost have an assumption … that most of our wildlife would be doing well.”
On average, the species that were declining lost 83 per cent of their Canadian population during the study period. Declines were seen in species across the country, but grassland species such as bobolinks, along with shorebirds and aerial insectivores like swallows showed some of the sharpest declines.
The report suggests habitat loss due to human activity such as farming — the main problem in the grasslands — forestry, urban and industrial development is a major cause, along with climate change, invasive species and overfishing.
The 87 species in the study protected under the SARA declined by 63 per cent over the study period. Their…