Age of Extinction

Canada is blessed with abundant natural resources and is undeniably the second largest country in the world to inhabit a large variety of species. There are over 80,000 known species in Canada. However, half of the monitored vertebrate species are experiencing a sharp decline in their population since 1970. The Living Planet Canada report 2017 says 451 0f 903 species– mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds- have either extirpated or have gone extinct in past four decades.

Decline in the population of species in Canada between 1970 and 2014:

  • Mammal: 43 per cent.
  • Amphibian and reptile populations: 34 per cent.
  • Fish populations:  20 per cent.
    • Atlantic marine fish:  38 per cent.
    • Lake Ontario: 32 per cent.
  • Birds: Monitored populations of grassland birds- 69 per cent,
    • Aerial insectivores: 51 per cent
    • Shorebird populations: 43 per cent.

A number of species in Canada are now considered extirpated. They may not be extinct, but they no longer exist in Canada for a variety of reasons. Here is a list of species that the Species At Risk Act consider extirpated in Canada.

With over a dozen of species gone extirpated, the government of Canada has now taken a front foot in saving the endangered species. Over the years, two species in the North of Canada- Atlantic Walrus and Eastern migratory caribou have experienced a drastic drop in their numbers.

The federal, provincial and territorial governments under species conservation project have identified six endangered species:

  • Boreal Caribou
  • Southern Mountain Caribou
  • Peary Caribou
  • Barren-ground Caribou
  • Greater Sage-Grouse
  • Wood Bison

Caribous are the iconic species found only in Canada. But their numbers have declined manifolds in the past decades. Human activities and external threats arising from climate change are the biggest reasons for their decline.

In addition, activities like over-harvesting, increased mining and oil-digging and extreme weather conditions are taking away our animals.

Canada has a total of 7.3% of the land that is used for agriculture. Each year Canada loses about 20,000 to 25,000 hectares of prime farmland to urban expansion, which makes them use the landmass specifically conserved for wildlife in order to keep up with their loss. This inevitably has an adverse effect on the wildlife, it takes away their natural habitat, which basically leaves them without any shelter. As the country is growing, so is the infrastructure, which leads to a higher requirement of land, hence targeting at the landmass that should ideally be preserved for the wildlife. According to statistics, the average land area of agricultural lands all over Canada is over 167 million acres.

How species at risk are protected by the Canadian government?

The Canadian government has instituted a number of laws and programs to help protect and rejuvenate endangered, threatened, and extirpated species in Canada. One of the main ways the Canadian government has tried to legally attack the problem of endangered species has been the creation of the Species At Risk Act (SARA) which was written into law in 2002. The Endangered Species Act has been signed by every province, with the exception of Quebec, and is meant to determine which species in Canada are threatened, and implement a strategy to preserve and increase healthy populations. There are four levels of the Species At Risk Act, extirpated, endangered, threatened, and special concern. Endangered and extirpated species are considered schedule 1 species. This makes it a federal offence to harm, kill, harass, capture, sell, collect, possess or trade any of these individuals.

The Canadian government also signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) on July 2nd, 1974. This is an international agreement to regulate and control the buying and selling of endangered plant and animal products. Wildlife trade is worth billions of dollars, and the commercialization of plants and animals have directly caused a number of species around the world to go extinct. Trade of animal and plant products are controlled through a permit system, which is amended regularly, to maintain healthy populations. For example, animals under Appendix 1 like Bush dog which can only be found in Suriname and Guyana, can only be traded for scientific and breeding purposes.

For more information about these laws and regulations, listen to the podcast Extinction, which takes a closer look at how they function.

Invasive species are one of the major issues facing Canadian wildlife. These species are migrating to Canada or being brought over by humans and are wreaking havoc on the ecosystems. One such species is the Purple Loosestrife, which comes from Europe. Brought over in the 1800s because it’s purple colour was thought to be nice for gardening, purple loosestrife has suffocated the local flora. Because nothing in Canada eats the loosestrife, it has been allowed to grow unimpeded. Grown in wetlands, loosestrife grows most commonly along highways and in irrigated areas. A single plant can release up to 300,000 seeds, causing it to spread rapidly across the continent. The Ontario government signed the Invasive Species Act in 2010, which is meant to curb invasive species such as the purple loosestrife.

In 2018, the Canadian government introduced the Pan-Canadian approach to transforming species at risk conservation in Canada. This new approach will shift from a single-species approach to conservation to one that focuses on multiple species and ecosystems. Dr. Rachel Vallender is a part of this project which has pinpointed six species, Boreal Caribou, Southern Mountain Caribou, Peary Caribou, Barren-ground Caribou, Greater Sage-Grouse, and Wood Bison, that are critical to maintaining ecosystems. Dr. Vallender believes that by protecting these species in particular can help save entire ecosystems.

“The Boreal Caribou is particularly interesting as it can be found in 10 provinces and all three territories and can be found in 25% of our landmass. Because it is spread across the country and is surrounded by so many other threatened species, we can use the protection Boreal Caribou to protect other endangered or threatened species.”

This is particularly helpful as lumber, oil, and gas companies attempt to penetrate the Canadian Boreal forest to extract the vast untapped resources underneath the forest.

The Pan-Canadian Approach has also taken into account Indigenous Knowledge and considerations, a major step for the Canadian government. Dr. Vallender explains how indigenous communities and reservations have been integral to protecting threatened species.

“Because of Native reservations that the Canadian government established, there is an unfair burden on indigenous communities to protect endangered species. There has been limited development on the reservations, endangered and threatened species have congregated on the reserves.”

Indigenous communities have a different relationship with endangered and threatened species. Polar Bears have become symbols of climate change and global warming. Southern communities want them protected at all costs, but to Indigenous communities in the north, they are competitors for food and potential threats.

National parks are a very important place for wildlife. Their goal in addition to representing and protecting examples of the country’s geographic heritage is also to preserve its natural heritage and the wildlife for future generations by encouraging public understanding and appreciation.

National parks are a safe place for endangered species, they feel protected and are taken of. National parks help conserve the natural habitat of these species.

Canada’s national parks are protected areas established under federal legislation to preserve Canada’s natural heritage. Canada now has 48 national parks, overall the parks cover more than 340,000 km which is over 3% of Canada’s landmass.

National Parks in Canada

Reasons why national parks are important

National parks are a very important place for wildlife. Their goal in addition to representing and protecting examples of the country’s geographic heritage is also to preserve its natural heritage and the wildlife for future generations by encouraging public understanding and appreciation.

National parks are a safe place for endangered species, to live without the threat of urban or agricultural development. National parks help conserve the natural habitat of these species.

Canada’s national parks are protected areas established under federal legislation to preserve Canada’s natural heritage. Canada now has 48 national parks, overall the parks cover more than 340,000 km which is over 3% of Canada’s landmass.

They also protect important land to which is helpful for making certain species feel at home.
Canada’s first ever national park was established in November 1885 known as the Banff National Park.
To sum it up, they play a very important role in protecting and preserving the wildlife.

Here are some groups, communities, and pages on social media that are working towards creating awareness in preserving our wildlife.

Ritika Dubey
Written by
Ritika Dubey

Ritika Dubey is a journalism-New Media (PG) student at Sheridan College. An Indian journalist, she is passionate about reporting on environmental issues. Ritika has a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Mass Communication, with majors in the English language. She is a research scholar, digital illustrator, avid reader and traveller. She moved to Canada in August 2019 and currently lives in Oakville, Ontario.

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