Con­serv­ing Canada’s Wild Species

Study­ing, un­der­stand­ing and fight­ing for the pro­tec­tion of Cana­dian plants and wildlife

Our Canada - - Features - by Rob Rainer,

This con­cerned and pas­sion­ate na­ture-lover ex­plains why it’s es­sen­tial to pro­tect Canada’s nat­u­ral her­itage.

There is lit­tle I value more than the beauty of the na­ture that blesses Canada—es­pe­cially the slice of heaven on the edge of the Cana­dian Shield in La­nark County, Ont., where I am grate­ful to live. From the log house on 17 acres that my wife Mary Lou Car­roll and I in­habit, I rel­ish daily gifts such as melo­di­ous song­birds and peeping frogs in spring; tail- slap­ping beavers, sun-soak­ing tur­tles and yo­delling loons in sum­mer; flam­ing maples, ashes and aspens in au­tumn; and deer, coy­ote and fox tracks in win­ter.

Thrilling me with their magic and in­fus­ing me with joy, wild species are es­sen­tial to my hap­pi­ness. No won­der, then, that I count my­self among the half of adult Cana­di­ans who, ac­cord­ing to a 2012 sur­vey, have cho­sen to live where we do in part to be close to na­ture.

How­ever, as I en­joy our land and other wild parts of Canada, I am sad­dened by the fray­ing of our coun­try’s nat­u­ral her­itage. A re­port I re­cently co-wrote for the na­tional char­ity Na­ture­serve Canada, and sup­ported by some of Canada’s most ac­com­plished bi­ol­o­gists, doc­u­ments 381 spe- cies and 188 sub­species that are at risk of be­ing lost for­ever to ex­tinc­tion. Th­ese in­clude flow­ers, ferns, bee­tles and but­ter­flies, as well as drag­on­flies, fish, tur­tles and snakes. The list also in­cludes song­birds, seabirds, bats, seals, whales and more. Two hun­dred and thir­teen of th­ese an­i­mals, plants and lichens are found only in the “True North strong and free,” mean­ing that Canada alone has re­spon­si­bil­ity for their fate.

Since 1844, at least 16 an­i­mals and plants for­merly of Canada have gone ex­tinct, from the fa­mous pas­sen­ger pi­geon to the vir­tu­ally un­known Ma­coun’s shin­ing moss. Bi­ol­o­gists can­not yet be cer­tain, but other flora and fauna may be ex­tinct as well due to hu­man ac­tiv­ity. For ex­am­ple, the Van­cou­ver Is­land

blue, a but­ter­fly known only on the is­land, has not been ob­served since 1979. Honey-flow­ered Solomon’s seal, a plant known only from a few sites in On­tario and Michi­gan, has not been seen since 1937.

Many of Canada’s species and sub­species at risk have highly re­stricted ranges. Klu­ane draba, for ex­am­ple, is a flower whose world­wide pop­u­la­tion ex­ists en­tirely within Klu­ane Na­tional Park and Re­serve in the Yukon. False north­west­ern moon­wort is a fern-like plant known only from a few lo­ca­tions along the north shore of Lake Su­pe­rior. The Un­gava seal, uniquely liv­ing year­round in fresh­wa­ter, dwells within a hand­ful of lakes in north­ern Que­bec. They, along with 108 other an­i­mals, plants, and lichens are “crit­i­cally im­per­iled” across their global dis­tri­bu­tion— per­ilously close to ex­tinc­tion.

Some other species and sub­species at risk have very wide ranges. Among them are the ghost tiger bee­tle, known from five prov­inces and 36 Amer­i­can states; pip­ing plover, a shore­bird known from nine prov­inces and 38 states; and the hoary bat and sil­ver- haired bat, both known from nine prov­inces and all 50 states. De­spite such breadth of ge­og­ra­phy, each of th­ese species and sub­species is now glob­ally vul­ner­a­ble to ex­tinc­tion.

The good news is that ex­tinc-

tion due to hu­man ac­tiv­ity can, in many cases, be pre­vented. An in­spir­ing ex­am­ple is that of the Van­cou­ver Is­land mar­mot, Canada’s rarest mam­mal. Once num­ber­ing fewer than 30 in­di­vid­u­als in the wild, there are now ap­prox­i­mately 200, mov­ing to­wards a goal of 400 to 600 mar­mots liv­ing in three ge­o­graph­i­cally dis­tinct pop­u­la­tions. Though still at risk, this mar­mot’s fu­ture is brighter thanks to the in­ter­ven­tion of the Mar­mot Re­cov­ery Foun­da­tion and part­ners such as the Gov­ern­ment of Bri­tish Columbia and sev­eral forestry com­pa­nies.

Looking ahead, I hope Canada will long in­clude room for all of our na­tion’s roughly 140,000 wild species—only about half of which have been sci­en­tif­i­cally de­scribed to date. From the Great Plains ladies’ tresses—an orchid found in open grass­lands—to the snuff­box, a fresh­wa­ter mus­sel per­sist­ing in Canada in only two south­ern On­tario rivers; from the oreas an­glew­ing, a but­ter­fly of the west­ern moun­tains, to the kiyi, a fish re­stricted to the depths of Lake Su­pe­rior; from the hot­wa­ter physa, a snail found only in one hot­spring com­plex in Liard River Pro­vin­cial Park in north­ern B.C., to the Sprague’s pipit, a bird of our threat­ened Prairies; and to so many more species in trou­ble, I hope that Canada’s rich nat­u­ral her­itage—hon­oured by a maple leaf on our na­tional flag, the com­mon loon on our dol­lar, and in so many other ways—will per­sist for gen­er­a­tions to come. n

Clock­wise from far left: the rare Van­cou­ver Is­land mar­mot; Pu­vir­ni­tuq Moun­tain in north­ern Québec; At­lantic white­fish; a rare ram’s head lady’s slip­per; a big sand tiger bee­tle; whoop­ing cranes; a rare wood tur­tle; Klaza draba, found in up­per re­gions of Lang­ham and Tri­top moun­tains, Yukon.

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