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Recovery strategy and action plan for the Banff springs snail (Physella johnsoni) in Canada

Species at Risk Act recovery strategy series, recovery strategy and action plan for the Banff springs snail (Physella johnsoni) in Canada (February 2007).

Species at Risk Act
Recovery strategy series

Banff springs snail

February 2007

About the Species at Risk Act recovery strategy series

What is the Species at Risk Act (SARA)?

SARA is the Act developed by the federal government as a key contribution to the common national effort to protect and conserve species at risk in Canada. SARA came into force in 2003 and one of its purposes is “to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity.”

What is recovery?

In the context of species at risk conservation, recovery is the process by which the decline of an endangered, threatened or extirpated species is arrested or reversed, and threats are removed or reduced to improve the likelihood of the species’ persistence in the wild. A species will be considered recovered when its long-term persistence in the wild has been secured.

What is a recovery strategy?

A recovery strategy is a planning document that identifies what needs to be done to arrest or reverse the decline of a species. It sets goals and objectives and identifies the main areas of activities to be undertaken. Detailed planning is done at the action plan stage.

Recovery strategy development is a commitment of all provinces and territories and of three federal agencies -- Environment Canada, Parks Canada Agency and Fisheries and Oceans Canada -- under the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk. Sections 37–46 of SARA (Species at Risk Act) spell out both the required content and the process for developing recovery strategies published in this series.

Depending on the status of the species and when it was assessed, a recovery strategy has to be developed within one to two years after the species is added to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Three to four years is allowed for those species that were automatically listed when SARA came into force.

What’s next?

In most cases, one or more action plans will be developed to define and guide implementation of the recovery strategy. Nevertheless, directions set in the recovery strategy are sufficient to begin involving communities, land users, and conservationists in recovery implementation. Cost-effective measures to prevent the reduction or loss of the species should not be postponed for lack of full scientific certainty.

The series

This series presents the recovery strategies prepared or adopted by the federal government under SARA. New documents will be added regularly as species get listed and as strategies are updated.

To learn more

To learn more about the Species at Risk Act and recovery initiatives, please consult the SARA Public Registry and the website of the Recovery Secretariat (http://www.speciesatrisk.gc.ca/recovery/default_e.cfm).


Recovery strategy and action plan for the Banff springs snail (Physella johnsoni) in Canada

February 2007

Recommended citation:

Lepitzki, D.A.W. and C. Pacas. 2007. Recovery Strategy and Action Plan for the Banff Springs Snail (Physella johnsoni), in Canada [Final Version]. Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series. Parks Canada Agency, Ottawa. 61 pp.

Additional copies:

You can download additional copies from the SARA Public Registry.

Cover illustration:

D.A.W. Lepitzki

Également disponible en français sous le titre « Programme de rétablissement et plan d’action visant la physe des fontaines de Banff (Physella johnsoni) au Canada »

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of the Environment, 2007. All rights reserved.

Content (excluding the cover illustration) may be used without permission, with appropriate credit to the source.


Dwayne A. W. Lepitzki, Wildlife Systems Research, Banff
Charlie Pacas, Aquatics Specialist, Parks Canada, Banff National Park, Banff

Recovery team members:

Charlie Pacas, Aquatics Specialist, Banff National Park of Canada (Chair)
Dale Redford, Asset Manager Engineer, Banff National Park of Canada
David Poll, Species at Risk Coordinator, Western Canada Service Center, Calgary
Dwayne A.W. Lepitzki, Wildlife Systems Research, Banff
Ian Syme, Chief Park Warden, Banff National Park of Canada
Lynn Barrett, Operations Manager, Banff Upper Hot Springs, Banff National Park of Canada
Mary Dalman, Communications Officer, Banff National Park of Canada
Rob Harding, Heritage Programs Manager, Banff National Park of Canada
Stephen Anderson, Park Warden Operations, Banff National Park of Canada
Steve Malins, Historic Sites Supervisor, Banff National Park of Canada
Walter Guest, Program Manager, Public Works and Government Services, Calgary


Brenda Lepitzki provided excellent field assistance for the collection of data on which this plan is based. Dave Dalman, Dave Hunter, and Joanne Cairns were instrumental in initiating research on the Banff Springs Snail in 1996, which has since continued under the direction of Charlie Pacas, Aquatic Specialist for BNP. The assistance and participation of Parks Canada maintenance personnel, Protection Operations staff, Communication Specialists, and staff at the C&BNHS is gratefully acknowledged. Funding for the Banff Springs Snail Research and Recovery Program has been provided by Parks Canada (Aquatics Section of BNP, Parks Canada Species at Risk Fund, and the Hot Springs Enterprise Unit), the Endangered Species Recovery Fund (sponsored by World Wildlife Fund - Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service, and the Canadian Millennium Partnership Program), the Friends of Banff National Park, and the Bow Valley Naturalists. Comments on earlier drafts of the Banff National Park approved Resource Management Plan (RMP), on which this National Recovery Plan is based, were provided by Peter Achuff, Christine Aikens, Theresa Aniskowicz-Fowler, Lynn Barrett, Danielle Bellefleur, Dave Dalman, Rex Delay, Doug Eastcott, Leah de Forest, Bill Fisher, Ken Fisher, Carolyn Fysh, Steve Grasby, Walter Guest, Rob Harding, Dennis Herman, Bill Hunt, Steve Malins, Ann Morrow, David Poll, Kent Prior, Don Rivard, Mary Rothfels, Gilles Seutin, Ian Syme, Ron Tessolini, Lisa Twolan, and Cliff White, and four anonymous reviewers. Jessica Penno compiled and formatted an earlier draft of this document; Holly Bickerton edited and compiled the first drafts of the Recovery Strategy and Action Plan. David Poll, ensured that it is SARA-compliant. Katherine Cumming and Kristy Forrestall completed the Strategic Environmental Assessment. Alison Buckingham completed the critical habitat maps. Lindsay Rodger, Marie-Josée Laberge, Maryse Mahy, Richard Pither, Kent Prior, and David Poll undertook national program review.

Strategic environmental assessment statement

A strategic environmental assessment (SEA) is conducted on all SARA recovery planning documents, in accordance with the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan, and Program Proposals. The purpose of a SEA is to incorporate environmental considerations into the development of public policies, plans, and program proposals to support environmentally sound decision-making.

Recovery planning is intended to benefit species at risk and biodiversity in general. However, it is recognized that recovery strategies and action plans may also inadvertently lead to environmental effects beyond the intended benefits. The planning process based on national guidelines directly incorporates consideration of all environmental effects, with a particular focus on possible impacts on non-target species or habitats. The results of the SEA are summarized below.

While this Banff Springs Snail Recovery and Action Plan will clearly benefit the environment by promoting the recovery of the Banff Springs Snail, several potentially adverse effects were also considered.

The potential for recovery actions to inadvertently lead to adverse effects on other species was considered. Recent surveys have shown that the Sulphur Mountain thermal springs in BNP harbour high numbers of rare species among several taxa. In addition to the Banff Springs Snail, survey work found two rare damselflies, 28 rare mosses (including one new provincial record), six rare liverworts, eight rare plants, and three rare amphibians.

It was determined that actions requiring the physical alteration of hot springs have the potential to adversely affect the mosses, liverworts and plants through direct physical damage to them or the substrates they require to grow. Water flow changes as a result of such physical alterations could leave mosses and liverworts submerged or result in them drying out. Water flow changes resulting in a reduction of cooler free-flowing water could lead to a reduction in damselfly larval habitat. In addition, the development of policies to address population lows, including such potential activities as supplemental feeding and modification of lighting, have the potential to cause adverse effects on the microbial community (algae and bacteria). Altered light regimes could lead to greater or lesser microbial growth, or changes in microbial community composition which could in turn effect the Banff Springs Snail as the microbial community makes up a large part of its diet. These proposed activities would be subject to specific environmental assessments prior to approval. For each environmental assessment the potential effects on other species, including the rare mosses, liverworts, vascular plants, damselflies and amphibians, must be included. Increasing ecosystem knowledge through designing a multi-species or ecosystem recovery strategy would have a large positive effect on all species, including the rare mosses, liverworts, vascular plants, and amphibians, that inhabit the Sulphur Mountain thermal springs.

The SEA also looked at the potential effects of proposed actions on visitor experience and commemorative integrity. It was determined that the additional pickets added to guide rails along sections of boardwalk and the possibility of constructing a touching pool have the potential to affect both visitor experience and the commemorative integrity of the site by altering the natural physical attributes and sensory experience.

Preventing limb-dipping completely (through some sort of physical barrier) may affect both visitor experience and commemorative integrity, while allowing it could potentially cause harm to the Banff Springs Snail. The recovery strategy and action plan suggests evaluating the feasibility of constructing a specific thermal water touching pool. It is recommended that the proposal to build a specific touching pool be addressed in the Cave & Basin National Historic Site of Canada management planning and environmental assessment processes to ensure that it is addressed in the context of visitor experience and commemorative integrity for the entire site. It is also recommended that research be initiated into the effects of limb-dipping on the Banff Springs Snail.

If the re-establishment of snails at the Upper Hot Spring is biologically feasible effects on visitor experience and cultural resources will need to be evaluated.

Further information is presented in the Strategic Environmental Assessment for the Recovery Strategy and Action Plan for the Banff Springs Snail (Physella johnsoni) in Canada (Parks Canada 2006). Taking these mitigation measures into account, it was concluded that the strategy will not cause any significant adverse effects. Implementation of the recovery strategy and action plan will mitigate the effects of threats, protect and enhance critical habitat and improve upon knowledge gaps, thereby resulting in positive impacts to the species and its thermal spring habitat.


This Recovery Strategy and Action Plan addresses the recovery of the Banff Spring Snail. In Canada, this species range is limited to Banff National Park of Canada (BNP).

Under the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk (1996), the federal, provincial, and territorial governments agreed to work together on legislation, programs, and policies to protect wildlife species at risk throughout Canada. The Species at Risk Act (S.C. 2002, c.29) (SARA) requires the competent minister to prepare recovery strategies for listed Extirpated, Endangered and Threatened species.

The Parks Canada Agency (PCA) led the preparation of this Recovery Strategy and Action Plan with the members of the Banff Spring Snail Recovery Team. The Recovery Team has developed and will make all efforts to implement this Recovery Strategy and Action Plan through the authority and local direction of the BNP Superintendent. This document is based on the PCA-approved Resource Management Plan for the Recovery of the Banff Springs Snail in Banff National Park (2002), which previously provided direction for research and recovery.

While recovery is administered by one jurisdiction, the juxtaposition of the snail’s thermal spring habitat within BNP and the Cave and Basin National Historic Site (C&BNHS) requires that recovery can only be achieved if both commemorative and ecological integrityFootnote 1 values are fully integrated. The Species At Risk Act, the Canada National Parks Act (S.C. 200, c. 32), the BNP Management Plan, the C&BNHS Commemorative Integrity Statement, and the C&BNHS Management Plan provide the overall direction for this plan.

This document is intended to fulfill all SARA requirements for species recovery. It is a single species Recovery Strategy and Action Plan that covers the entire range of the Banff Springs Snail; the Action Plan for the species has been directly incorporated. A definition for and delineation of Critical Habitat are also included.

In the spirit of the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk in Canada, all Canadians are invited to join in supporting and implementing this strategy for the benefit of the species and Canadian society as a whole. The Minister will report on progress within five years.

Executive summary

This document contains a Recovery Strategy and an Action Plan for the Banff Springs Snail (P. johnsoni).

The Banff Springs Snail is a globally rare snail with a highly specialized habitat and restricted distribution. It has been recorded from eleven thermal springs in BNP, was extirpated from six springs, and has now been re-established into two springs. Snail populations fluctuate seasonally by up to two orders of magnitude, making population trends difficult to ascertain. While the species does not appear to be in danger of extinction, some populations appear to be at greater risk of extirpation than others.

The Banff Springs Snail has a restricted distribution within each spring and outflow stream that is correlated with higher water temperatures, lower pH and dissolved oxygen, and higher hydrogen sulphide levels. Water flow and the presence of particular microbial species may be required by the snail, which grazes on microbial mats within the springs. It is most likely the dominant grazer in the thermal springs, contributes excrement nutrients, and likely provides a minor food source for some birds and snakes.

There are several threats to the Banff Springs Snail. Many thermal springs in BNP are highly modified and regulated, and are subject to impacts by visitors. The stoppage, redirection, and reduction of thermal water flows can have a significant impact on snail populations. Soaking and swimming, trampling, and limb-dipping (the dipping of feet or hands) have been recorded at all sites. Natural threats include a susceptibility to stochastic events (unpredictable large disturbances), large population fluctuations, and genetic inbreeding. A Research and Recovery Program has been in place within BNP since 1996, resulting in many improvements and reductions in threats.

The recovery of the Banff Springs Snail is considered technically and biologically feasible. The goal of the recovery strategy is to restore and maintain self-sustaining populations of the Banff Springs Snail within the species’ historic range. The recovery objectives are to:

  • Protect populations and habitats by mitigating human and natural threats
  • Restore self-sustaining snail populations and habitat within historic range, where and when possible, and
  • Increase knowledge and understanding of snail ecology, thermal spring ecosystems and threats to them.

Specific actions, timelines, responsibilities, and performance measures are established in an Action Plan included in the document. Critical habitat has been identified for the Banff Springs Snail. A Strategic Environmental Assessment was completed and a summary is included.

The entire habitat of the Banff Springs Snail is found within BNP which is managed by the PCA under the CNPA. Four of the seven snail populations inhabit the highly regulated environment of the culturally significant C&BNHS. While recovery is administered by one jurisdiction, the juxtaposition of the snail’s thermal spring habitat within BNP and the C&BNHS requires that recovery can only be achieved if both Ecological and Commemorative Integrity are fully integrated.


Footnote 1

Parks Canada is committed to protecting “ecological integrity” in National Parks and ensuring “commemorative integrity (to protect, present and manage cultural resources)” at National Historic Sites. Protecting these takes precedence in acquiring, managing, and administering heritage places and programs. The integrity of natural and cultural heritage is maintained by striving to ensure that management decisions affecting these special places are made on both ecosystem-based management and sound cultural resource management practices.

Return to footnote 1