Conserving Wildlife Species and Recovering Species at Risk in Canada
A Discussion Document Prepared for the Minister’s Round Table
under the Species at Risk Act
December 6 & 7, 2006
Canada is rich in native biological diversity, or biodiversity, including extensive wildlife resources in abundant and varied ecosystems. Historically, the full value and the need for conservation of biodiversity were not well understood by all natural resource consumers. It is now generally recognized that diverse wild species and strong ecosystems that sustain them provide a significant range of social, cultural, ecological, spiritual and sustainable economic benefits to Canadians. It is also recognized that wildlife has intrinsic value, independent of its utility to humankind.
Success in conserving wildlife species and recovering species at risk depends on the cooperation, engagement and coordination of all interested parties. These include federal, provincial, territorial, regional and municipal governments; Aboriginal peoples and organizations; non-governmental organizations; industries and businesses; private landowners and resource users; communities; and other Canadians.
As part of its responsibility to help deliver on the national commitment to conserve biodiversity, the Government of Canada enacted the Species at Risk Act (SARA). SARA came fully into force in June 2004. SARA requires the federal Minister of the Environment to convene a round table of persons interested in protecting wildlife species at risk. The first Minister’s Round Table under SARA will be convened on December 6 & 7, 2006. The overall objective of the round table is to provide recommendations on how to improve efforts to conserve wildlife species and, in particular, how to protect and recover species at risk.
After preliminary discussions with several individuals and organizations with an interest in wildlife, a draft document was prepared by officials in Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Parks Canada Agency (the core federal departments), with input from provincial and territorial departmental personnel. This final version, informed by further input from partners and stakeholders, is being made available to all participants in advance of the round table and is posted on the SARA Public Registry. The content in this discussion document does not necessarily reflect the position of the Government of Canada. Its content remains the responsibility of Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Parks Canada Agency.
Biodiversity refers to the full complement of life, including wildlife (aquatic and terrestrial plants, animals and fishes), and the ecosystems that sustain it.
Despite the importance of biodiversity, ecosystems are being degraded and species and spaces are being reduced at an alarming rate, due to the impact of a growing human population and its actions to satisfy its needs and desires. The decline of biodiversity is now recognized as a serious global environmental issue.
The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity was negotiated in response to the worldwide loss of biodiversity. It was opened for signature at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in June 1992. In December 1992, the Government of Canada, with support from the provinces and territories, was the first industrialized country to ratify the convention.
Under the Canadian constitution and specific administrative arrangements, federal, provincial and territorial governments share legal authority for the management of natural resources and terrestrial, marine and freshwater environments. As well, Aboriginal peoples have significant authority relating to the management of these resources. The Canadian Biodiversity Strategy was developed to meet the obligations of the convention and to enhance coordination of national efforts aimed at the conservation of biodiversity. The strategy presents “A Vision for Canada”:
A society that lives and develops as part of nature, valuing all life, taking no more than nature can replenish and leaving to future generations a nurturing and dynamic world, rich in its diversity of life.
The strategy has several goals, including to:
- conserve biodiversity and to sustainably use biological resources;
- enhance both our understanding of ecosystems and our resource-management capability;
- promote an understanding of the need to conserve biodiversity; and,
- provide incentives and legislation that support the conservation of biodiversity and sustainable use of biological resources.
Delivery of the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy is a cooperative and coordinated effort, led by governments, but requiring the engagement of all interested parties. Cooperation among federal, provincial and territorial (F/P/T) governments in managing wildlife has been considerable over the years. In 1996, F/P/T ministers responsible for wildlife supported the creation of the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk. The Accord lays out basic principles of species conservation as well as a number of commitments to protect species at risk. Under the Accord, the ministers agreed to coordinate their activities through a Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC). The Council, established in 1998, is composed of the federal Ministers of the Environment and Fisheries and Oceans, as well as the provincial and territorial ministers responsible for the conservation and management of wildlife species. In 2004, CESCC was given “legal” recognition through SARA. Under SARA, CESCC coordinates F/P/T government activities relating to the protection of species at risk and provides general direction on the activities of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), and on the preparation of recovery strategies and action plans. CESCC is supported by the Canadian Wildlife Directors Committee. Other cooperative intergovernmental groups include the F/P/T Biodiversity Working Group, which is mandated to ensure effective and coordinated implementation of the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy.
SARA came fully into force on 1 June 2004. Section 127 of SARA states that the Minister of the Environment must, at least once every two years, convene a round table of persons interested in matters respecting the protection of wildlife species at risk in Canada to advise the Minister on those matters. The first Minister’s Round Table under SARA will be held on December 6 & 7, 2006. The Act also stipulates that the Minister must respond to written recommendations from the round table within 180 days after receiving them.
The federal approach to recovering species at risk includes:
- Federal, provincial and territorial cooperation (e.g., Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk);
- stewardship, including the Habitat Stewardship Program; promotion of Canada's conservation legacy; and,
- SARA, as the cornerstone federal law to help deliver on the national commitment to conserving biodiversity.
This discussion document is structured around key themes and issues and aims to improve efforts to conserve wildlife species (i.e., to prevent species from becoming at risk) and to protect and recover species at risk and their habitats. This document recognizes the national approach to the conservation of wildlife species and the recovery of species at risk, while focusing on the federal role and, in particular, the role of SARA in protecting and recovering species at risk.
The overarching theme addressed in this document and at the Minister's Round Table is improving efforts to conserve wildlife species and protect and recover species at risk, emphasizing the federal role and SARA's contribution to protecting and recovering species at risk.
For several years now, governments, organizations and individuals have gained extensive experience in the conservation and recovery of wildlife species at risk in Canada. The development and implementation of conservation and recovery efforts in the federal context has resulted in successes, several lessons learned and some continuing challenges. (See, for example, the July 2006 independent Formative Evaluation of the Federal Species At Risk Programs and the response to the evaluation from the core departments, referenced in Appendix 1). These challenges and lessons learned include the need to:
- strengthen engagement of, and cooperation among governments, partners and stakeholders to foster integrated, comprehensive and effective conservation planning and implementation;
- improve engagement, consultation, and capacity building with Aboriginal peoples;
- increase knowledge of species, habitats and ecosystems;
- emphasize efforts to conserve wildlife species to prevent them from becoming at risk in the first place;
- address the backlog in developing recovery strategies, and, allocate human and financial resources more strategically;
- more systematically identify the critical habitats of species at risk;
- recognize that species-by-species or site-by-site approaches ALONE are not sufficient to address the threats to biodiversity and to ecosystem functioning; and,
- promote the ecological, social, cultural, economic and intrinsic value of wildlife (the conservation legacy).
In the federal context, addressing these challenges and lessons learned includes:
- ensuring that a consistent, predictable and efficient ecosystem approach is adopted that effectively and practically addresses the needs of species at risk, including the identification of critical habitat, and that supports integrated measures to prevent the decline of species;
- considering socio-economic factors in SARA listing, and recovery strategy and action planning stages; and,
- promoting the conservation legacy, particularly to young Canadians.
The purpose of this document is to help focus discussions at the round table on the challenges and lessons that need to be addressed in order to improve the conservation of species and the protection and recovery of species at risk, including the role of SARA. It provides round table participants with some ideas to help facilitate their thinking on how best to address the challenges and lessons, and to ensure that the discussions at the round table are productive and reflect fairly the expectations of all interested parties.
In this document the term “interested parties” means all individuals and organizations with an interest in the protection and recovery of wildlife species at risk in Canada: it includes federal, provincial, territorial, regional and municipal governments; Aboriginal peoples and organizations; communities; industry and business groups (including renewable and non-renewable natural resource use and extraction groups); academia; public advocacy groups (including environmental and conservation groups); youth; and members of the public who do not necessarily associate themselves with any particular organization. Although some of these participants do not refer to themselves as “interested parties,” all have a significant role to play and pronounced, legitimate views on protecting and recovering wildlife species at risk in Canada.
The objective of the Minister’s Round Table is to solicit focused forward-looking recommendations from a broad cross-section of knowledgeable opinion leaders on how to improve the conservation of species and the protection and recovery of species at risk, including the role of SARA therein.
This discussion document is being placed on the SARA Public Registry prior to the round table. A summary of comments received pertaining to the questions detailed in this document will be provided to round table participants. The summary will also be posted on the registry.
Recommendations from the round table will be posted on the SARA Public Registry. As stated in subsection 127(3) of SARA, the Minister of the Environment must respond to written recommendations from the round table within 180 days of receipt. A copy of the Minister’s response will be posted on the SARA Public Registry. The second Minister’s Round Table will benefit greatly from the lessons learned from this first round table. It should also be recognized that the recommendations from this first round table and the Minister’s response may influence preparations for the five year Parliamentary review of SARA.
Canada is one of the largest countries on the planet, with approximately 13 million square kilometres of land and water, 244,000 kilometres of coastline and approximately one quarter of its landmass in the Arctic region. As Canadians, we are stewards of almost 20 percent of the planet's wilderness, 24 percent of its wetlands, 20 percent of its fresh water and 10 percent of its forests.
To a significant extent, Canada’s prosperity and well-being depend on the state of its natural resources, including its minerals, timber, fisheries, oil and gas, land, air and water. Activities that use natural resources profoundly affect the air, land, water and biodiversity that anchor our quality of life and support economic activities, such as agriculture, fishing, forestry, ecotourism and recreation. Biodiversity is the living component of natural resources. Biodiversity refers to the full complement of life, including wildlife (aquatic and terrestrial plants, animals and fishes), and the ecosystems that sustain it.
The historical use of natural resources to advance economic benefits in Canada remains vital today. Rough estimates of annual average economic benefits are $6 billion from forests, $34 billion from agriculture (including food manufacturing), $1 billion from our oceans, $40 billion from the oil and gas sector, and $12 billion from ”nature-related” activities such as ecotourism, hunting, fishing and camping. In addition to this economic value, biodiversity is now seen as essential to the maintenance of:
- critical ecosystem goods and services. Ecosystems are fundamental to life: they generate oxygen and purify air and water, and they influence the quality and quantity of the food we eat. Forests, wetlands and peat bogs, for example, serve as sinks for greenhouse gases; and the Arctic region acts as a global heat sink, by cooling the air and absorbing the heat transported north from the tropics.
- ecological resilience. Diversity provides resilience and is essential if ecosystems are to adapt to stresses. Biodiversity loss will reduce our options for adapting to a changing global environment. For example, preserving biodiversity is a key strategy to help ensure Canada can adapt to climate change.
- known and unrealized benefits to health sciences. One particular benefit is the discovery of new medicines.
- economic resilience. Among the top 20 national economies of the world, only a handful, including Canada, possess sufficient biodiversity to sustain entire sectors of their national economies--provided that the biodiversity is sustainably used.
Wildlife provides a tremendous range of social, cultural, ecological, spiritual and economic benefits, including:
- its role in shaping the Canadian psyche and national identity;
- as a source of food for many Aboriginal peoples and rural Canadians, and as the focus of a multi-billion dollar hunting and fishing industry;
- as a basis for the growing ecotourism sector;
- as a significant economic contributor through functions such as pollination or insect suppression in agricultural areas; and,
- as a useful indicator of ecosystem health, including human health, by providing early warning signals of harmful effects of chemical changes, climate change, and other potential threats.
Management efforts to protect wildlife historically focused on direct threats to game and other species, preventing overuse and providing sanctuaries. The policy responses were relatively simple and species or space specific, because wildlife was abundant and the problems were thought to be relatively straightforward. These responses included various federal, provincial and territorial laws for managing the resources (e.g., the Migratory Bird Convention Act, the Fisheries Act and numerous provincial and territorial game management laws).
In the late 1800s, parks and sanctuaries were created to protect significant wilderness areas for public enjoyment, as well as to protect specified species from hunting or overharvesting. The Canada National Parks Act, dating back to 1930, the Canada Wildlife Act passed in 1972 and, most recently, the Oceans Act of 1997 have established authority at the federal level to protect biologically or ecologically significant areas.
The critical need to sustain our biodiversity is now more apparent than ever. Globally and in Canada, people know that the wildlife and natural systems that comprise our biodiversity have profound human and intrinsic value, and that interfering with them can have unpredictable negative implications that are often irreversible.
In Canada and around the world, we are learning that our management planning and implementation must be more integrated and ecosystem based and must engage all parties with roles and responsibilities in conservation planning and implementation. Historically we have tended to make single-species- or sector-based decisions without due regard to the role/interconnectedness of the targeted species at risk within an ecosystem. The limitation of focusing only on species and spaces is that it often leaves unaddressed the interactions among species, and such interactions can ultimately extend well beyond the borders of any given species’ habitat. This “narrow” approach is now seen as insufficient to address the threats to biodiversity and to ecosystem functioning that are posed by urban and resource development, habitat loss and fragmentation, climate change, invasive alien species and pollution. Each of these threats is complex in its own right, and the fact that they are interconnected greatly magnifies the challenge of conserving biodiversity, and maintaining ecosystem function.
To respond to these complex ecosystem challenges, Canada has to: promote national decision-making laws, policies and programs, including SARA and supporting science, data and practices that enable us to proactively address ecosystem functions at ecosystem scales; establish national priorities and policies aimed at ecosystem management; and, establish national objectives that integrate ecological, social, cultural and economic considerations. Governance processes and mechanisms for biodiversity conservation in Canada must continue to evolve to ensure that our actions respond to the challenge of managing complex change to entire systems.
In this regard, Aboriginal peoples have historically had and continue to have a vital role in the conservation of species and the protection and recovery of species at risk. Individuals of many species at risk can be found on Indian Reserve lands, demonstrating the stewardship of First Nations peoples. Wildlife management boards set up under comprehensive land claims agreements are actively managing wildlife. Under SARA, species assessments, application of prohibitions, and recovery and management activities must be carried out in a manner consistent with the provisions of self‑government agreements and land claims agreements, as well as in consideration of Aboriginal and treaty rights. The specific role of Aboriginal peoples in conserving and protecting species and habitat is highlighted in SARA, including: the preamble, which recognizes the essential role of Aboriginal peoples and wildlife management boards in the conservation of wildlife; the requirement for COSEWIC to establish a subcommittee specializing in Aboriginal traditional knowledge; and, the requirement for the Minister of the Environment to establish a National Aboriginal Council on Species at Risk.
SARA is a new and powerful tool in the species management and habitat protection continuum that explicitly allows for ecosystem approaches to recovery--an important evolution in biodiversity-oriented legislation and an indicator of the growing awareness of the need to develop and implement integrated government policies and procedures.
SARA was given royal assent in December 2002 and was proclaimed into force in three stages. By 1 June 2004, the Act was fully in force. The stated purposes of SARA are to prevent wildlife species from being extirpated or becoming extinct; to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity; and, to manage species of special concern to prevent them from becoming endangered or threatened. Among other things, SARA:
- requires cooperation and coordination of species protection and recovery initiatives among all government bodies, including wildlife management boards;
- acknowledges the essential role that Aboriginal peoples play in conservation and requires their engagement;
- promotes stewardship (with scientific information, technical assistance and economic incentives) as a key to protecting and recovering species at risk and preventing other species from becoming at risk;
- legally establishes COSEWIC and ensures that species are assessed under an independent scientific process that operates at arm’s length from the government;
- prescribes specific, time-bound steps for listing a species;
- prescribes species-specific timelines, content (e.g., goals and objectives, critical habitat identification) and processes for recovery strategies and action plans, and timelines for management plans;
- provides measures, including enforcement actions and significant penalties for the protection of listed species and their residences and critical habitats;
- promotes, where appropriate, ecosystem approaches;
- requires public access to SARA-related activities and documents, primarily through the SARA Public Registry;
- requires public consultations throughout SARA processes; and,
- requires several review and reporting mechanisms, including an annual report to Parliament on the administration of the Act, a five year Parliamentary review of the Act, and, every two years, a Minister’s Round Table to solicit advice on the protection of species at risk in Canada.
To date, SARA implementation activities have included:
- conducting early species listing:
- Between proclamation in June of 2003 and November 2006, 197 assessment reports have been completed, and 156 species have been added to Schedule 1 and provided legal protection under SARA (bringing the total to 389 listed species);
- conducting intensive recovery efforts:
- More than 200 recovery strategies under development, covering 65 percent of listed species, many covering more than one species; several are already posted on the SARA Public Registry.
- implementation of some recovery strategies and action plans has been initiated (moving into the next phase of recovery); and,
- moving ahead under the Habitat Stewardship Program (implemented in 2000 and strengthened through SARA):
- Over 400,000 hectares of land, addressing over 300 species at risk; have been protected and/or improved.
- Over 150 partners have leveraged federal program funding at the rate of 1 to 2.5.
Challenges and lessons learned remain to be addressed to ensure that SARA implementation meets its stated purposes of protecting and recovering species at risk and their critical habitats and contributing fully to the national conservation agenda. The Minister’s Round Table provides an excellent forum for addressing key cross-cutting themes to obtain practical recommendations for improving the federal role and SARA’s contribution to recovering species at risk. Although other themes could have been flagged for round table deliberation, it was felt that discussions on a few cross-cutting themes that focus on the essence of conservation planning and protection and recovery of species would generate the most useful recommendations. Moreover, challenges related specifically to improving SARA implementation as flagged in the formative evaluation are currently being addressed through the management response from the core departments (see Appendix 1). Therefore, this discussion document flags the following themes:
- systematic use of the ecosystem approach;
- consideration of socio-economic factors in listing and recovery planning processes; and,
- the promotion of Canada’s conservation legacy.
Sections 4, 5 and 6, below, provide perspectives on these overarching themes to stimulate thinking, foster informed discussions and ultimately generate recommendations from round table participants.
An “ecosystem approach” to conservation planning and management is not a new concept. It had its origins in a call to integrate biological, physical and sociological information. The dominant theme in ecosystem management has been a need for a reasoned response to widespread and rapid environmental deterioration. Ecosystem management is seen as a comprehensive way to deal with the host of environmental issues that seem overwhelming when considered one at a time. Both popular and scientific publications speak of rapid losses of biodiversity from large-scale factors, such as the deterioration of the protective ozone layer in the upper atmosphere, the impacts of climate change, and, the effects of our human footprint, particularly on species habitats. Because of these widespread effects, there is increasing concern regarding the current human impacts on biodiversity. A significant part of the solution is to carefully plan and manage ecosystems with the active engagement of all parties that are interested in, impact and/or are impacted by those systems.
The following definition of “ecosystem approach” is found in Environment Canada, The State of Canada’s Environment: 1996, “Glossary of selected terms,” and it was adopted (without the final sentence) in The state of the debate on the environment and the economy: securing Canada’s natural capital: a vision for nature conservation in the 21st century. Report and recommendations by the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, 2003. “ecosystem approach: A comprehensive and holistic approach to understanding and anticipating ecological change, assessing the full range of consequences, and developing appropriate responses. It recognizes the complexity of ecosystems and the interconnections among component parts. Among other things, the ecosystem approach recognizes that humans are an integral part of ecosystems and that human social and economic systems constantly interact with other physical and biological parts of the system. Within the context of sustainability, all interactions must be considered in an integrated fashion.”
Although the concepts involved in ecosystem management are not new, the systematic implementation (assessment, application and evaluation) of ecosystem approaches to conserving and recovering species at risk is in its infancy. While much has been written in recent popular and scientific literature on defining and characterizing ecosystem approaches, there remains considerable confusion on definitions and applications of the “ecosystem approach.” Indeed, some authors use the terms “multi-species approaches,” “ecosystem approaches” and “ecosystem management approaches” interchangeably and simply distinguish that approach from the “single species” approach. Although there has been preliminary work completed in this area, and while some government departments are more advanced than others in the application of ecosystem approaches to conserving and protecting species (e.g., Department of Fisheries and Oceans), t here are still no coordinated and consistent federal policies/guidelines for when, where and how to apply the ecosystem approach or its component parts. What is clear is that increasing numbers of species are being proposed for assessment, are being assessed and are being listed as “at risk.” Discussions of how best to plan for conservation of species and how best to implement consistent, predictable and efficient processes using an integrated ecosystem management approach are key for recovering species at risk and identifying and protecting habitat.
For the purposes of this discussion document, the ecosystem approach facilitates effective management of the conservation of species and protection and recovery of species at risk through an understanding of the interconnectedness among species (including humans) and their physical environment. Ecosystems are by definition complex and multi-scaled. Therefore, the understanding inherently requires consideration of multiple scales for conserving and recovering species. In an ecosystem approach, multiple scales include single-species, multi-species and area-level (e.g., landscape, community, watershed) considerations.
The academic literature and experience to date support the contention that a consistent, predictable, efficient and integrated ecosystem approach that includes the engagement of all interested parties can:
- provide a structure to link individual/component parts for conserving species and protecting and recovering species at risk;
- focus understanding, decision-making, and actions on whole systems where appropriate;
- clarify circumstances for the application of single-species, multi-species, and/or area-level approaches in species assessment, listing, recovery-strategy and action-planning stages;
- identify information relevant to critical habitat during the assessment, recovery strategy and action planning stages; and,
- foster more preventative, precautionary and integrated responses to ecosystem stresses, and conservation and recovery needs, including the identification and protection of critical habitat. Precautionary and preventive approaches anticipate and assess conservation needs while options are still available, and do not require conclusive proof of species and habitat harm as preconditions to protection.
The ecosystem approach is not a panacea. There is still a great deal to learn. A few strengths and limitations are flagged below. The key is that the approach will be used where it makes sense, and that all interested parties are engaged (i.e., provide input on HOW to implement the approach and accept their roles and responsibilities).
Some strengths of a properly planned and implemented ecosystem approach identified in current scientific literature and on experiences to date are that this approach:
- promotes holistic thinking and solutions;
- promotes efficiencies and integration in conservation planning and land-use planning and fully integrates landscape management;
- reduces conflicts that can occur between listed species that occupy the same areas (e.g., the sea otter and northern abalone);
- streamlines and integrates public consultation efforts;
- promotes cooperation among all interested parties;
- promotes a strong prevention ethic, in part by benefiting species not currently at risk;
- concentrates understanding, decision-making and actions on a whole system, rather than its individual parts;
- focuses on the maintenance of the capacity of a system to produce ecological goods and services, by conservation of ecosystem structures, processes and interactions;
- requires comprehensive and integrated implementation of actions across the relevant social, cultural, economic, political and environmental sectors, often within a defined geography; and,
- minimizes duplication of effort (human and financial resources and time) for all interested parties, particularly recovery team members. This means greater cost-effectiveness over time and greater opportunity for long-term success in protecting and recovering both known and unknown species at risk AND in preventing species becoming at risk.
Some limitations/challenges in implementing the ecosystem approach identified in current scientific literature and by interested parties include the following:
- There has not been a great deal of experience in Canada and other jurisdictions in systematic development and implementation of the ecosystem approach as it relates to conserving and recovering species at risk.
- We need better scientific understanding, including traditional Aboriginal knowledge of ecosystems and how they function and interact. We need to fill information gaps and better monitor systems. The marine environment, including the identification of critical habitat, provides unique challenges.
- We need a common understanding among all interested parties of a clear and unambiguous definition, description and practices of what constitutes the “ecosystem approach,” as it relates to conserving and protecting species at risk.
- We need clear understanding of how the ecosystem approach will implicate interested parties, including Aboriginal peoples.
- This approach is not appropriate in all situations: we need guidelines to help determine when it is and is not appropriate, who makes those decisions and how interested parties can influence those decisions.
- Its application can be complex and time-consuming.
- In the short term, time and financial commitments for all interested parties, including government departments and agencies, may be intensive as experience is gained.
- There is a need to address the “applicability” of the ecosystem approach as it relates to specific SARA requirements for species assessment, listing, preparation of recovery strategies and action planning, including mandated timelines. As a generalization, the design and implementation of ecosystem approaches under SARA is more advanced for recovery-planning stages than for assessment and listing stages. The strengths and limitations of the approach as it pertains to the different stages may also vary.
Some Examples of Single-species, Multi-species and Area-based Ecosystem Approaches
Currently single-species recovery strategies far outnumber multi-species and area-based strategies. Historically, the single-species and spaces strategies were developed with a “narrow” focus that did not consider the principles and practices of the ecosystem approach. As detailed above, this narrow focus is now seen as limiting in several ways, and a shift is occurring towards an ecosystem approach to species-at-risk assessment and recovery planning, even for single-species assessments and recovery planning. By considering the ecosystem and all of its components (e.g., species, habitats, interactions and processes) in an individual-species strategy, the recovery team can usually achieve broader and more synergistic ecological protection and conservation outcomes. For example, the Eastern Canadian Arctic Bowhead Whale Recovery Strategy is a single-species strategy but takes into account the role and interactions of this species within its wider ecosystem context. (See also the Pacific sockeye salmon and the leatherback turtle strategies that identify ecosystem requirements for reaching single-species recovery goals).
Multi-species approaches address more than one listed species at risk. There are approximately 14 multi-species recovery strategies in place or in preparation in Canada, which range in coverage from two to eight listed species. A few examples include the northern and spotted wolffish in Atlantic waters, the Final Recovery Strategy for Blue, Fin, and Sei Whales, and the Final National Recovery Strategy for the Round Hickorynut and the Kidneyshell (molluscs) (see the SARA Public Registry, and follow the “Recovery” link).
Area-level approaches address all relevant species, interactions among species, habitats and processes in a defined ecosystem, and are not restricted to listed species at risk. There are approximately 10 area-level recovery plans in place or in preparation in Canada. The Sydenham River recovery strategy is seen as an excellent example of an area-based ecosystem approach to recovering species at risk. The Sydenham River drains a large watershed (2,900 km2) in southwestern Ontario. At least 82 species of fish and 34 species of mussels have been found in the river. Many of these species are rare in Canada, and several have been listed as vulnerable, threatened or endangered species at the provincial and federal levels. In 1999, a Recovery Team was formed to develop a plan to help recover these “species at risk” in the river. The approach addresses all of these species in a single plan for the river, rather than dealing with each species individually. The recovery plan was completed and published by RENEW in 2003. This multi-species watershed recovery plan is seen as the first of its kind in Canada. The 2003 recovery plan is expected to form the basis of the SARA-compliant recovery strategy. The 2003 plan has already significantly influenced the planning and delivery of similar conservation efforts in other aquatic ecosystems.
The Garry Oak ecosystem initiative has also received favourable attention. This initiative has resulted in at least four SARA compliant area-based recovery strategies, including the Recovery Strategy for Multi-Species at Risk in Garry Oak Woodlands in Canada and the Recovery Strategy for Multi-Species at Risk in Vernal Pools and other Ephemeral Wet Areas Associated with Garry Oak Ecosystems in Canada (see the SARA Public Registry, and follow the “Recovery” link).
Adopting an ecosystem approach to protecting and recovering species at risk including their habitat is seen as a credible and effective “path forward” in appropriate circumstances. The intent and legal requirements of SARA will still be met, because the ecosystem approach at the implementation stage supports:
- consultation opportunities for partners, stakeholders and members of the public to provide input into ”operationalizing” specific ecosystem management initiatives (who, how, when, timeframes, preparation of draft documents, etc.);
- opportunities for full and fair Aboriginal engagement;
- recognition of the implications for partners and stakeholders and their processes;
- meeting the legal requirements with respect to timelines, content and process for assessment, listing and recovery strategy and action planning;
- stewardship activities and the Habitat Stewardship Program; and,
- possibilities for promotion of Canada’s conservation legacy and outreach related to ecosystem management.
Some issues for consideration include:
- clarifying realistic definitions, purposes and objectives of ecosystem approaches in protection and recovery of species at risk, including critical habitat;
- detailing strengths and limitations of the ecosystem approach;
- detailing factors to be considered (guidelines) when assessing the ecosystem approach, including the appropriate mix of single-species, multi-species and area-level approaches at all stages: species assessment, listing, recovery strategy and action planning;
- how to ensure SARA legal requirements are met, including timelines for listing individual species and for posting recovery strategies and action plans;
- assessing the “applicability” of the ecosystem approach as it relates to specific SARA requirements for species assessment, listing, recovery strategies and action planning;
- ensuring opportunities for public engagement in developing and implementing the ecosystem approach; and,
- ensuring full and respectful Aboriginal engagement in the process.
Several government departments involved in wildlife conservation and protection are now beginning to advance ecosystem-based approaches to species protection and recovery, and are beginning to re-focus their science, analytical, monitoring, compliance promotion, enforcement and other capabilities to support new ecosystem planning frameworks and implementation plans. Engaging interested parties is critical. In this context, interested parties are asked to consider the following questions:
- To help prevent species from becoming at risk, what are the most important aspects of the ecosystem approach that should be implemented or strengthened?
- To protect and recover species at risk, what are the most important aspects of the ecosystem approach that should be implemented or strengthened?
- What priority actions would you recommend to ensure that core departments incorporate ecosystem approaches to better conserve species and better protect and recover species at risk, including their critical habitat?
- How can you/your organization/your sector contribute to strengthening the ecosystem approach to prevent species becoming at risk and to protect and recover species at risk?
Socio-economic analysis (SE analysis) is a tool for providing a better understanding of the scale and distribution of benefits and costs of protecting a species under SARA. SE analysis also seeks to assist in the identification of cost-effective measures that optimize benefits and minimize adverse impacts arising from listing and recovery measures proposed under SARA to protect species at risk. Socio-economic analysis focuses on the socio-economic effects of decisions, including effects on economies, health, culture, traditions, lifestyles and heritage resources (adapted from the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act, 2003).
The Canadian Biodiversity Strategy states that development decisions must reflect ecological, economical, social and cultural values. SARA also recognizes the importance of integrated decision making by specifying that the development of recovery measures is to take into consideration community knowledge and interests, including socio-economic interests. The integration of these values allows for more informed decision making and the determination of the most effective management measures for species at risk. The goal of SE analysis is to provide relevant information that will assist decision makers in making better decisions.
Listing, protection and recovery measures taken under SARA will result in benefits and costs. Socio-economic analysis may be used to help identify measures that are cost-effective. An analysis of all important economic, social, cultural and environmental benefits and costs associated with a given proposal, including the perspectives of partners and stakeholders on those benefits and costs can be seen as movement towards a fuller, more balanced, well-documented, transparent, and accordingly, a more informed tool for decision making.
Socio-economic analysis has limitations and challenges. As with all of the social and natural sciences, socio-economic analysis is bounded by data limitations (e.g., unavailable, insufficient, difficult to quantify, qualify and interpret) and valid differences of professional interpretation. Properly conducted SE analyses recognize these boundaries and that it is not possible to understand fully or to understand equally all of the effects of potential decisions on economies, health, culture, traditions, lifestyles and heritage resources. These boundaries are also constrained by important questions about who derives the benefits and who absorbs the costs of certain decisions and by intergenerational issues.
Analyzing the social and economic benefits (value) of species conservation versus the assessment of potential social and economic impacts of protecting and recovering species is often problematic. Assessing societal benefits of species conservation involves valuing many intangibles that are difficult or impossible to quantify accurately or fairly, and recognizes that benefits are often subtle and only realized in the longer term. On the other hand, costs are often felt in the short term and are more readily quantifiable. Equally, legitimate concerns have been raised about the need to ensure that the individuals responsible for conducting the SE analyses fully take into account regional perspectives and different value systems legitimately held by different segments of Canadian society. For example, southern urban Canadians may have very different perspectives on the social, cultural and economic costs and benefits of species conservation than would Arctic Inuit dependent on country food as an alternative to costly “imported” products.
Considering socio-economic factors is also seen as having several advantages, including the following:
- Understanding the relationship between human activities and species at risk can aid with designing effective listing, protection and recovery measures that maximize biological benefits and minimize costs to Canadians.
- Society’s human and financial resources are limited. Socio-economic analysis can be used to help identify cost-effective recovery measures, and aid in allocating limited resources among various species or groups of species at risk.
- Public understanding of the qualitative and quantitative assessments of the socio-economic benefits and costs of potential decisions will increase, particularly understanding of those factors considered in valuing intangible benefits and costs, intergenerational considerations, and the role of precautionary approaches in the analysis
- Addressing economic principles can contribute to species recovery by assisting in the design of recovery actions that are biologically effective, socially acceptable and economically efficient.
- Recovery actions may involve diminishing returns. Socio-economic analysis can help to determine when the costs of recovery start to increase faster than the rate of recovery, so that informed decisions can be made on how best to allocate scarce resources.
- Socio-economic analysis can aid in designing recovery options that maximize benefits, lessen financial impacts, counter the perception that adverse financial effects will occur and even avoid adverse financial effects through the identification of impacts in advance.
The scale and scope of SE analysisconducted for listing and recovery planning should be proportionate to the magnitude and complexity of potential impacts. Quantitative and qualitative information should be used. The amount of analysis required depends on the importance and complexity of anticipated benefits and costs, the need for expediency and the anticipated effects of a decision. The consultation and engagement processes detailed in SARA for listing and recovering species provide all interested parties with the opportunity to comment on socio-economic analyses and factors used to help inform SARA decisions.
Listing a species under SARA follows a regulatory process. As such, it is guided by the Government of Canada Regulatory Policy (November 1999). The main objective of the Government of Canada Regulatory Policy is to ensure that use of the federal government’s regulatory powers results in the greatest net benefit to Canadian society and that Canadians are consulted before deriving this net benefit. The federal regulatory process requires preparing a “regulatory impact analysis statement” (RIAS) detailing the potential social and economic benefits and costs of species listing. This analysis is published in the Canada Gazette and on the SARA Public Registry.
SE analysis will be conducted at the listing stage to inform decision making. The analysts will try to identify areas where additional socio-economic data/information would assist in SE analysis during recovery planning. SE analyses are expected to aid in the recovery-planning process for selecting among various recovery actions. For example, there may be several types of recovery actions that could lead to the same outcome--protecting and recovering species at risk--while having different socio-economic impacts.
Although SARA does not explicitly require SE analysis in the development of management plans for species of special concern (sections 65 to 72 of SARA), any such analysis that may be conducted should be consistent with federal policy and associated socio-economic guidelines.
In implementing socio-economic considerations, some issues that must be addressed in the SARA context include:
- fully and fairly valuing and articulating all SE factors: for example, it is generally recognized that it is difficult to place a value on “less tangible” benefits such as the integrity of the ecosystems we leave for future generations and the knowledge that ecosystems and species will continue to exist;
- identifying opportunities for timely public engagement in SE considerations; and,
- ensuring full and respectful Aboriginal engagement.
- What recommendations would you make concerning the consideration of socio-economic factors addressed in SARA listing and recovery-planning processes?
- What role do you see yourself and your organization/sector contributing when considering socio-economic factors in SARA processes?
- What recommendations would you make to ensure effective engagement of all interested parties in considering socio-economic factors in SARA decision making processes?
The Canadian Biodiversity Strategy notes that individuals and communities must be encouraged to understand and appreciate the value of biodiversity and causes of its decline if efforts to conserve biodiversity are to succeed. Strong public support for actions needed to sustain biodiversity and recover species at risk, now and in the future, is dependent on an informed, receptive Canadian public. Informed, knowledgeable Canadians will accept their responsibilities in protecting species and their habitat and will make the right choices.
These observations must be assessed in the context of Canada’s rapidly evolving population dynamics. Census data shows that Canada is becoming more urban and more ethnically diverse, particularly in its major cities. In addition, the overall population is getting older as the baby boom generation moves into retirement. Research shows that young people, as well as urban and new immigrants, participate only in a limited way in visitation to Canada's special heritage places. Connecting with, engaging with and responding to the needs and interests of these varied audiences are among the most significant and interesting challenges facing the core departments if current efforts to conserve and protect species at risk are to remain successful in the medium and long term.
It has been demonstrated that education is the most cost-effective means of producing long-term support for social policies. Education allows individuals to make informed lifestyle and consumption decisions that are sensitive to biodiversity-conservation and sustainable-use objectives. The Canadian Biodiversity Strategy notes that biodiversity education and community awareness should be strengthened in a variety of ways to reach people across the country. Biodiversity themes should be enhanced in the curricula of formal education systems as well as in non-formal settings such as museums, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, nature centres and parks. Awareness raising and education could also take place through such means as the mass media, films and interactive computer programs. Parks Canada Agency has a particularly strong and immediate connection to many Canadians through its visitor base to its national parks and national marine conservation areas, where outreach and education programs, cooperating associations and volunteer programs are stressed. Parks Canada Agency’s 2006/07 Corporate Plan specifically recognizes that it will create further opportunities to raise the awareness level and to reach out to these diverse groups of Canadians to engage their support for Canada's natural and cultural heritage. The ability of the core departments to reach people where they live, play and learn, both off-site and at Canada's heritage places, will be essential if the species conservation and protection initiatives are to remain relevant to and representative of the views of the nation's citizens.
In essence the success of holistic conservation planning and implementation requires “buy in” from all interested parties, now and in the future. This is particularly relevant to Aboriginal peoples. Knowledge transfer and promotion of Aboriginal cultures and lifestyles that embrace holistic approaches, respect for wildlife, subsistence and sustainable use of wildlife, traditional knowledge and values, and respect for elders and youth are central components of the Canadian conservation legacy. Indeed, Article 8(j) of the Convention on Biological Diversity states that:
Each Contracting Party shall, as far as possible and as appropriate: …(j)Subject to its national legislation, respect, preserve and maintain knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities embodying traditional lifestyles relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and promote their wider application with the approval and involvement of the holders of such knowledge, innovations and practices and encourage the equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilization of such knowledge, innovations and practices;
- What priority actions would you recommend to promote Canada’s conservation legacy?
- What can the government do to better engage Canadians in promoting Canada’s conservation legacy?
- What do you see yourself and your organization/sector contributing to promoting Canada’s conservation legacy, particularly to young Canadians?
In fall 2006, a draft discussion document was revised to take into consideration input received during the pre-round-table engagement process. This revised discussion document will help frame the discussions at the round table. This document is also posted on the SARA Public Registry. A summary of any comments received on the questions posed in this document will be provided to round table participants. The summary will also be posted on the registry.
Recommendations from the round table will be posted on the SARA Public Registry. The Minister of the Environment will respond to written recommendations from the round table within 180 days of receipt. A copy of the Minister’s response will be posted on the SARA Public Registry. It is anticipated that the second Minister’s Round Table will benefit greatly form the lessons learned from this first round table. Recommendations from this first round table and the Minister’s response may influence preparations for the five year Parliamentary review of SARA.
Anyone requiring additional information should contact:
Minister’s Round Table under the Species at Risk Act
Species at Risk Division
Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment Canada
Place Vincent Massey, 4th Floor
351 Blvd. St. Joseph
Gatineau, Quebec K1A 0H3
This Appendix is an annotated bibliography of background information that includes the website addresses for several key documents related to the Minister’s Round Table themes and issues. The “plain language” guide to SARA and the SARA Public Registry provide detailed information on the Act and its related policies and practices. The annual reports to Parliament on the administration and enforcement of SARA provide extensive information on activities and progress to date on every aspect of the Act. Round table participants and interested parties who are not fully conversant with current Canadian initiatives to conserve and recover species at risk, including SARA, are encouraged to consult the references listed here.
The starting point for any background information on SARA should be the SARA Public Registry. The URL of the Web site is www.sararegistry.gc.ca
Section 120 of the Act requires that the Minister of the Environment must establish a public registry for the purpose of facilitating access to documents relating to matters under the Act. Some of the key documents included in the registry are:
- the Act itself, plus regulations and orders made under the Act;
- agreements entered into under section 10;
- COSEWIC's criteria for the classification of wildlife species;
- status reports on wildlife species that COSEWIC has had prepared or has received with an application;
- the List of Wildlife Species at Risk;
- codes of practice, national standards or guidelines established under the Act;
- agreements and reports filed under section 111 or subsection 113 (2) or notices that those agreements or reports have been filed in court and are available to the public; and,
- every report required by the Act (see, for example, section 126 requiring an Annual Report to Parliament on the administration of SARA, and section 128 requiring a general report on the status of wildlife species every five years).
The Public Registry includes a very useful comprehensive guide to the Species at Risk Act, found at:
General information about SARA including fact sheets on the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk and the Habitat Stewardship program, as well as the SARA and the COSEWIC annual reports, can be found at:
The full text of the Accord is available at
In addition to the registry, Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Parks Canada Agency maintain their own websites addressing various aspects of species at risk. These are:
Environment Canada: Canadian Wildlife Service:
Fisheries and Oceans Canada:
The Parks Canada Agency:
Websites affiliated with the species-at-risk initiatives of the core departments include:
- The Recovery of Nationally Endangered Wildlife (RENEW) Program
- The Hinterland Who's Who series (in-depth descriptions of wildlife, discussions on issues, actions that you can take to help wildlife, and educational materials that teachers and group leaders can use):
Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada
The website for the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada has extensive, useful information on all aspects of COSEWIC procedures, assessments and status reports:
Anielski, Mark and Sara Wilson. November 2005. Counting Canada's Natural Capital: assessing the real value of Canada's ecosystem services. Canadian Boreal Initiative/Pembina Institute. 78 pp. Available at:
National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE). 2003. The State of the Debate on the Environment and the Economy: Securing Canada’s Natural Capital: A Vision For Nature Conservation in the 21st Century. Report and recommendations. Available at:
National Round Table On the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE). 2003. The State of the Debate on the Environment and the Economy: Environment and Sustainable Indicators for Canada: Report and recommendations. Available at:
Published by Ducks Unlimited Canada and the Nature Conservancy of Canada. 36 pp. Available at:
Clark, J. Alan and Erik Harvey. June 2002. Assessing Multi-Species Recovery Plans under the Endangered Species Act. To request a hard copy, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Environment Canada. 18 April 2006. The Ecosystem Approach Applied to the Assessment of Species at Risk: A Discussion Paper: Draft report prepared by Simon Nadeau, Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment Canada.To request a hard copy please email email@example.com
Fisheries and Oceans Canada. April 2005. An Assessment of Multi-species Recovery Strategies and Ecosystem-based Approaches for Management of Marine Species at Risk in Canada. Prepared by Victoria Sheppard, Robert Rangeley, Josh Laughren, a WWF-Canada the Oceans Directorate. To request a hard copy please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Fisheries and Oceans Canada. 12 March 2006. Report on the Oceans Directorate Workshop: SARA Multi-species and Ecosystem Based Recovery: Prepared by Julie Gardner, Dovetail Consulting Inc., Vancouver, for the Oceans Directorate. To request a hard copy please email email@example.com
The following website includes detailed information on the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity, Canada’s response to the convention (i.e., the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy) and the F/P/T Working Group that assists in ongoing strategy implementation.
Prepared for Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Parks Canada Agency by Stratos Inc, in cooperation with Alison Kerry, Hajo Versteeg, Lise Labelle and Tom Shillington. This report can be found at:
- Date Modified: