May 23, 2005

New species proposed for protection under SARA

The federal government is proposing to add 43 new terrestrial and aquatic species to the list of species protected under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). The recommendation by Environment Minister St√ąphane Dion, Minister of the Environment, in consultation with Fisheries and Oceans Minister Geoff Regan, is based on scientific assessments by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and on consultations with governments, landowners, conservationists, Aboriginal peoples, stakeholders and the Canadian public.

Of the 51 species assessed COSEWIC at their meetings in November 2003 and May 2004, 44 species (animals, birds, aquatic species, reptiles and plants) were received by the Governor in Council in October 2004, initiating the nine-month listing process. The remaining seven species, all aquatics, are currently undergoing an extended period of consultation to provide a better understanding of the potential impacts of listing these species.

Listing of species at risk under SARA provides for recovery strategies and action plans to be developed for species listed as threatened or endangered, with management plans to be prepared for species of special concern. Among the species proposed for listing, for which recovery strategies would be implemented, are the small-mouthed salamander, a subspecies of the loggerhead shrike and the spotted turtle.

Dion has further recommended that the Plains bison not be added to SARA at this time because wild and domestic Plains bison cannot presently be distinguished genetically, and because of the potential economic implications for the Canadian bison industry. The federal government is working with provincial governments, the bison industry and other stakeholders to develop an approach for the recovery of wild Plains Bison. To this end, further consultations will be undertaken and a number of issues will be addressed prior to the possible listing of the Plains Bison.

The Minister's proposals to amend the list of protected species were published in the May 14, 2005 edition of the Canada Gazette, Part 1, for a 30-day comment period. A final decision on adding this set of species to SARA will be made by Cabinet in July 2005.

The legislation currently provides protection for a total of 306 species, which are are subject to recovery plans and management strategies. These plans and strategies are prepared in co-operation with affected provinces, territories, Aboriginal organizations, landowners and other affected parties.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, meanwhile, COSEWIC met from May 1 to 6 near Gros Morne National Park to assess a variety of organisms ranging from a tiny lichen to two species of whales. In all, the committee reviewed 41 reports leading to its latest listings. The following are among the notable assessments resulting from COSEWIC's latest meeting.

The bowhead whale, a circumpolar Arctic whale with a lifespan of more than 100 years, was separated into three populations: the Hudson Bay-Foxe Basin and the Davis Strait-Baffin Bay populations were assessed as Threatened and the Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort population was assessed as being of Special Concern.

The Okanagan population of chinook salmon was listed as Endangered, following a review by the Committee in response to an emergency request from the Okanagan Nation Alliance, a First Nations organization. Changes expected this summer in fisheries downstream on the Columbia River constitute a new and imminent threat to this population.

Several other fish species were assessed, among them the winter skate, an Atlantic marine fish whose populations were grouped into four location designations. Three of these were classified as Endangered, Threatened and of Special Concern, with insuffient data to assign a status to the fourth.

The remnant native population of westslope cutthroat trout was assessed as Threatened in Alberta, with the main threat being hybridization with non-native trout. The lake sturgeon was assessed as Endangered in western Canada; threats to this species throughout most of its range include historical over-harvest and habitat loss from the construction and operation of dams.

Williamson's sapsucker, a woodpecker associated with British Columbia's old-growth western larch forests, was also assessed as Endangered. The habitat for this species is rapidly disappearing due to forest harvesting. Also in BC, the white meconella, a globally rare poppy native to Garry Oak communities of southeastern Vancouver Island, was listed as Endangered due loss of habitat resulting from the expansion of housing developments and encroachment by alien species. This flower was one of 18 plant species assessed. The Committee assessed four species of butterflies and moths found on remnant prairie habitats as well, assigning two of them Endangered status.

COSEWIC notes that habitat loss and competition with alien species continue to be the primary threats to Canada's biodiversity, especially for those species at risk in southern Canada.

There are now 487 species in various COSEWIC risk categories, including 184 Endangered, 129 Threatened, 152 Special Concern, and 22 Extirpated species (no longer found in the wild in Canada). In addition, 13 are Extinct and 39 are Data Deficient.

More information is available from the COSEWIC secretariat, 819/953-3215, www.cosewic.gc.ca.

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