Dan Kraus, Nature Conservancy of Canada
Endangered species day was established 15 years ago. It is a day for us to learn about the wildlife, plants, animals and insects that are at risk of disappearing and perhaps most importantly, what we can do about it.
Every nation has a unique role in saving our planet’s endangered species. As Canadians it’s important that we know about the plight and prospects of wildlife from around the world. But it is most critical that Canadians know about the fellow species that share our lands and waters. These are the plants and animals that we steward and can take action to protect. Our decisions alone will determine their future.
We share our country with about 80,000 known wild species. We don’t know the exact number, and more remain to be described and discovered. Many of these plants and animals are common and thriving. Species like raccoon, mallard and Labrador-tea are not endangered, and have a low risk of ever being lost from Canada.
There is an important group in our Canadian collection of known plants and animals that are at risk of disappearing. Canada has about 800 species, sub-species and varieties of wildlife that have been officially assessed as at risk, but this probably represents less than a quarter of all plants and animals that are imperiled in our country. Without conservation actions, these species could join Canada’s “missing” species such as the greater prairie chicken, eastern box turtle and great laurel.
Within this group of nationally imperiled species are about 1,600 plants and animals that are also of global conservation concern. Many of these have very small ranges like the Bicknell’s thrush of Quebec, Atlantic Canada and the northeastern US, or the sand-verbena moth that is limited to a handful of sites of coastal sites in Washington and B.C. including the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s James Island. In most cases, we share the stewardship of these species with other nations, primarily our American neighbors.
Nationally and globally imperiled species are critical to conserve. We can help by protecting key wetlands, forests, coastal areas and grasslands by supporting the work of the Nature Conservancy of Canada and other land trusts. These projects leverage matching funds from the federal Natural Heritage Conservation Program.
There is also a select group of wildlife that are worth learning about. About 310 plants and animals live in Canada and nowhere else in the world. These range from a unique variety of the weasel-like marten that only lives on the island of Newfoundland to a small fish called the Vancouver lamprey that is restricted to Vancouver Island to a delicate wildflower that grows along the arctic coast called hairy braya that was rediscovered based on notes from the Franklin expedition. Most of the species in this select group have always been restricted to this geography we now call Canada. A few like the eastern wolf, have been lost from their former range in the US and their last stronghold against extinction is in Canada.
These are uniquely Canadian species. No other country can protect them. Later this spring, NatureServe Canada and the Nature Conservancy of Canada will be releasing a report and some maps on this select group of all-Canadian wildlife. If we want to pass on the full richness of the world’s wildlife to future generations, we need to protect these species.
We can use this time of social distancing to nudge closer to nature. To learn a little more about even just one of our endangered species in Canada. Learning is the foundation of conservation. Knowing what other species share our community and our country. Learning why they might disappear. Learning what can be done to save them.
Dan Kraus is senior conservation biologist with the Nature Conservancy of Canada