Half of Cana­dian wildlife species de­clin­ing: re­port

Medicine Hat News - - COMMUNITY - WEST -

An ex­ten­sive sur­vey of 903 species of Cana­dian birds, fish, mam­mals, rep­tiles and am­phib­ians over more than four decades has found that half of them are in se­ri­ous pop­u­la­tion de­cline.

De­clin­ing species lost a to­tal of 83 per cent of their num­bers be­tween 1970 and 2014, says the re­port re­leased Thurs­day by the World Wildlife Fund. Species pro­tected by fed­eral leg­is­la­tion shrank nearly as quickly as those that weren’t.

“In gen­eral terms, the Species At Risk Act does not seem to have made any dif­fer­ence,” said WWF president David Miller. “There’s an in­cred­i­ble ur­gency to re­verse the de­cline.”

The Liv­ing Planet In­dex could be the most com­pre­hen­sive as­sess­ment of wildlife num­bers in Canada.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion looked at 3,689 dif­fer­ent pop­u­la­tions of 386 kinds of birds, 365 fish species, 106 dif­fer­ent mam­mals and 46 rep­tiles and am­phib­ians. It com­bined more than 400 datasets from gov­ern­ment, academe, in­dus­try and cit­i­zen science us­ing a peer­re­viewed method de­vel­oped by the Zoo­log­i­cal So­ci­ety of Lon­don.

Over­all num­bers for all 903 species de­creased by eight per cent over the 44 years stud­ied.

A to­tal of 45 species were sta­ble and 407 in­creased. Many of those ben­e­fited from large-scale con­ser­va­tion mea­sures.

Water­fowl, which in­creased by 54 per cent, have en­joyed wide­spread wet­land preser­va­tion. Birds such as fal­cons are no longer harmed by DDT and grew by 88 per cent.

Oth­ers on the in­crease were gen­er­al­ist species such as deer or geese that live well along­side hu­mans.

The sur­vey found a fa­mil­iar com­bi­na­tion of rea­sons for de­clin­ing pop­u­la­tions: habi­tat loss, cli­mate change, in­va­sive species and pol­lu­tion.

Miller said it was sur­pris­ing to find leg­is­la­tion such as the Species At Risk Act, passed in 2004, has done noth­ing to slow the de­cline.

“What the science says is that it hasn’t made a ma­te­rial dif­fer­ence to the species.”

Species listed un­der the act de­clined by 63 per cent over the study pe­riod. As well, the study sug­gests the rate of de­cline may have ac­tu­ally picked up af­ter the act was passed.

Part of that is due to the time it takes for ac­tion. Miller points out the St. Lawrence bel­uga was known to be at risk even be­fore the act was passed, yet it took un­til 2015 for pro­tec­tions to be put in place.

“There have been in­cred­i­ble de­lays in tak­ing the steps man­dated un­der the act.”

The leg­is­la­tion may no longer be the best tool to pro­tect wildlife, said Miller. There are too many shrink­ing species to pro­tect each one in­di­vid­u­ally.

“We prob­a­bly need a dif­fer­ent ap­proach,” he said. “The chal­lenges are so com­plex and have mul­ti­ple causes. You can’t rely sim­ply on a plan for species. You have to look at a whole ecosys­tem.”

There isn’t, for ex­am­ple, much that can be done to halt the slow dis­ap­pear­ance of Pa­cific killer whales un­til sci­en­tists un­der­stand why chi­nook sal­mon — the orca’s main food — are de­clin­ing.

It will take net­works of pro­tected ar­eas to re­verse the trends, said Miller. He noted the sur­vey does show that a col­lec­tive ap­proach — such as that taken to pro­tect water­fowl — can make a dif­fer­ence.

But the breadth and speed of the de­cline means ac­tion must be taken quickly.

“Even for us, it’s sober­ing to see the re­sults,” Miller said.

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