It doesn’t take a scientist to guess that species at risk are likely in decline. After all, “at risk” means at risk of extinction. But if we already know this, it begs the question: why is the decline of species at risk such a big part of the Living Planet Report Canada 2020 (LPRC 2020)?
Well, that’s the interesting part. In order to develop effective solutions to combat wildlife loss, it’s important to understand the extent of their declines and identify whether it’s happening across various taxonomic groups (birds, fish, mammals, amphibians and reptiles) or if some groups are facing steeper declines than others.
In this year’s LPRC, we wanted to take a closer look at Canada’s most at-risk species to understand how much they were declining and what kinds of threats they were facing so we could evaluate whether we’ve been successful in safeguarding their populations. To do this, we homed in on species assessed as at risk by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC — the scientific body that determines a species’ risk of extinction). We also looked at globally significant species — those found on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.
What we found was troubling.
Despite Canada being the land of plenty when it comes to nature, it turns out that our wildlife is struggling. And those that are doing poorly are doing very poorly.
What’s in a number — taking a closer look at the data
When looking at COSEWIC-assessed species at risk (those at risk nationally), we found populations declined by 59 per cent between 1970 and 2016.
Populations of the IUCN-identified species — species of global importance that happen to have populations in Canada — declined by 42 per cent in the same time period. These declines tell us that Canadian wildlife might be contributing to global extinctions.
Consider barren-ground caribou as an example. Some caribou herds have declined by as much as 99 per cent, which is alarming because this species is listed as Threatened in Canada and Vulnerable around the world. If we cannot stop and reverse wildlife loss here at home, we will lose this iconic animal in Canada and potentially around the world.
What’s causing the decline?
A report we put out earlier this year found Canadian species face five threats on average, with some facing as many as seven!
Even more concerningly, many threats have cascading effects when combined. For example, wildlife facing habitat loss suffer even more when the effects of climate change wreak havoc on their populations. The same goes for species that are overexploited and then further lose habitat.
To reverse the decline, we need to tackle multiple threats at once
In the past, conservation efforts have focused on one threat at a time. But the Living Planet Report Canada 2020 outlines a series of solutions that can combat wildlife loss and climate change at the same time.
For example, protecting habitat for wildlife can also help to protect important carbon stores and build climate refuges — places that will have relatively stable climatic conditions for species that need a particular climate to thrive. Restoring habitats in degraded areas will allow wildlife to return and ecosystems to become balanced, as well as create new areas that can store more carbon. And finally, investing in Indigenous-led conservation will help us achieve equitable, effective and just conservation outcomes.
At WWF-Canada, we’re committing our resources, re-organizing our activities and realigning our operations as part of a 10-year effort to achieve greater viability of wildlife populations and healthy ecosystems for both nature and people.
But we need your help to do more.
When we all come together — as individuals, organizations, communities, governments and businesses — we can effect real change.