The alarming message is similar to past reports, but the data strikes a more dire tone: hundreds of wildlife species populations are tanking nationwide, and grassland birds including burrowing owls are disappearing faster than any other group on the Prairies.
On Thursday, the World Wildlife Fund released its Living Planet report, a comprehensive look at species trends across Canada from 1970 to 2014. Of the more than 900 species reviewed — mammals, fish, birds, reptiles and amphibians — more than half dropped in number.
“The study as a whole demonstrates that the question of conservation of wildlife populations nationally is a Canadian problem, and that we collectively need to take action to reverse that decline,” said James Snider, vice-president for science research and innovation at WWF-Canada.
The key finding in the Prairie region was that no group is faring worse than grassland birds. Their numbers plummeted on average 69 per cent Canada-wide, with populations from Manitoba to Alberta dropping 55 per cent during the 44-year study period.
“Both of those are scary numbers,” said biologist Christian Artuso, director of the Manitoba branch of Bird Studies Canada. “It is a stark conclusion … this does convey a sense of urgency.”
“I don’t think we’ve lost them yet but they are on a slide to extinction. Personally I think we need to really turn that corner, and we need to do so soon.”
Farming and agriculture continue to be the main causes of habitat loss and fragmentation in the Prairies, the report states. Pesticides, pollution and climate change also pose serious risks to wildlife, and together all of these factors comprise what the report refers to as cumulative and cascading effects: the sum total of threats that populations are up against.
A quieter Prairie
In Alberta and Saskatchewan, the showy sage grouse is federally endangered and the comparatively drab Mccown’s longspur is listed as of special concern under the Species at Risk Act.