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Consultation Workbook on the addition of the Atlantic Walrus to the SARA List as a species of Special Concern

October 2006

 

Introduction

The Species at Risk Act (SARA) was proclaimed on June 5, 2003, by the Government of Canada. SARA provides a framework for actions across Canada to promote the survival of wildlife species and the protection of our natural heritage. It sets out how to decide which species are a priority for action and what to do to protect a species. It identifies ways governments, organizations and individuals can work together, and it establishes penalties for failures to obey the law.

Two federal Ministers are responsible for the administration of SARA. The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans is the competent Minister for aquatic species. The Minister of the Environment is the competent Minister for all other species at risk, including those found in national parks, national historic sites and other protected heritage areas. The Minister of the Environment is also responsible for the overall administration of the Act.

The Act protects the plants and animals included on a list within SARA (Schedule 1).  Schedule 1 is also referred to as the List of Wildlife Species at Risk and will be referred to as the SARA List in the rest of this workbook. Candidate species are proposed for addition to the SARA List as a result of the work of the scientists and conservationists who are members of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). They conduct scientific assessments of the status of species. Community and Aboriginal traditional knowledge are also included in species assessments when available. The Government then decides which species are added to the SARA List as such action could have economic or social implications.

233 species were included on the SARA List of the Act when Parliament passed SARA in December 2002. COSEWIC had already assessed these species as “at risk” using new updated assessment criteria and current information. When the Act came into force in June 2003, these species were on the initial SARA List.

Since then, COSEWIC has identified more species that are at risk. The Minister of Environment is now considering recommending those species for addition to the SARA List. As part of that process, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans is currently carrying out public consultations on the Atlantic walrus. The purpose of this consultation workbook is to invite Canadians to let us know whether the Atlantic walrus should be added to the SARA List as a species of Special Concern.

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Adding A Species Or Population To The SARA List

Background

The Species at Risk Act

The Species at Risk Act strengthens the Government of Canada’s ability to protect Canadian plants and animals in danger of becoming extinct. This protection applies only to species which are included on the SARA List. Adding a species to the SARA List requires a two-step process. The first step is identifying a species at risk and the second step is the listing of that species.

Identifying a species at risk

COSEWIC is an independent group whose mandate is to assess the status of plants and animals in Canada and identify those at risk. The committee is made up of biologists, ecologists, geneticists and individuals with Aboriginal traditional knowledge who are experts on wildlife species at risk. Members come from many areas, including government, universities, Aboriginal organizations and non-government agencies.

COSEWIC assesses the biological status of a species using the best available information on the biological status of the species. It reviews research, considers community and Aboriginal traditional knowledge, and applies strict assessment criteria. COSEWIC meets once a year to assess the biological status of species. Species that COSEWIC considers to be “at risk” are designated to one of the following categories:

Extinct
A wildlife species that no longer exists.
Extirpated
A wildlife species that is no longer found in the wild in Canada but may be found elsewhere.
Endangered
A wildlife species facing imminent extirpation or extinction.
Threatened
A wildlife species likely to become Endangered if nothing is done to reverse the factors threatening it.
Special Concern
A wildlife species that may become a Threatened or Endangered species because of a combination of biological characteristics and identified threats.

Listing a species at risk

The process of listing a species begins when COSEWIC submits its assessment to the Minister of the Environment. Upon receiving the assessment the Minister has 90 days to issue a Response Statement on how he or she intends to respond to the assessment and, to the extent possible, provide time lines for action. The Minister then forwards the species assessment to Governor in Council (GiC)[1]. Nine months after receiving the COSEWIC assessment the GiC, on the recommendations of the Minister of the Environment, can decide to…

  1. Accept the COSEWIC assessment and add the species to the SARA List;
  2. Not add the species to the SARA List; or,
  3. Refer the matter back to COSEWIC for further information or consideration.

GIC has nine months after receiving the COSEWIC assessment to decide whether the species should be added to the SARA List. If a decision has not been made within that time period, the Minister of the Environment will add the species to the SARA List.

What does it mean when a species or population is added to the SARA List?

The amount of protection the SARA provides depends on the assessed category. It is an offence to kill, harm, harass, possess, collect, buy, sell or trade an individual of an Extirpated, Endangered and Threatened species. It is also illegal under the Act to damage or destroy the residences of Endangered and Threatened species, or for Extirpated species if a recovery strategy has recommended the introduction of the species into the wild in Canada. These prohibitions do not apply to species of Special Concern like Atlantic walrus.

SARA protects all listed birds covered under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, all listed aquatic species and all listed species on federal lands. The provinces and territories are responsible for making sure that all listed Extirpated, Endangered and Threatened species that are located outside federal lands receive adequate protection. However, if that protection is not given, the federal government can intervene, using “safety-net” provisions of SARA, but only after consulting with the province or territory concerned and carrying out public consultations.

The ministers of the Environment and of Fisheries and Oceans can, under special circumstances, make exceptions to SARA. For example, they can issue a permit that would allow a qualified scientist to carry out a research project that benefits a listed species or is required to enhance its chances of survival in the wild.  Exceptions can only be made if all reasonable alternatives have been considered and if the Minister can be assured that the survival or recovery of the species will not be jeopardized.

Recovery strategies and action plans for Extirpated, Endangered and Threatened species

If a wildlife species is added to the SARA List as an Extirpated, Endangered or Threatened species, the competent Minister must prepare a strategy for its recovery.  Recovery Strategies must be completed and made available on the SARA Public Registry, for public review, within one year for newly listed Endangered species and within two years for Threatened and Extirpated species. The Recovery Strategy addresses known threats to the species, identifies critical habitat to the extent possible and gaps in knowledge. It also sets a recovery goal. The Recovery Strategy is followed up with one or more Action Plans that identify ways to reduce threats to the species and protect its critical habitat, as well as other measures to be taken to implement the Recovery Strategy.

The Recovery Strategy and Actions Plans are prepared in cooperation and consultation with Wildlife Management Boards, Aboriginal communities that are directly affected by the Recovery Strategy, and jurisdictions such as provincial or territorial governments who are responsible for the management of the species. Landowners and others who are directly affected will also be consulted. Upon completion, the recovery strategy is posted on the SARA Public Registry and the public has 60 days to inform the Minister of their views.

Management plans for Species of Special Concern

If a wildlife species is listed as a species of Special Concern, the responsible Minister must prepare a Management Plan. It must be posted on the SARA Public Registry within three years of the species being added to the SARA List. The Management Plan identifies conservation measures aimed at protecting the species and its habitat. A

Management Plan is prepared in cooperation with groups directly affected by the plans, including Wildlife Management Boards and Aboriginal organizations. To the extent possible, landowners, land users and others who may be directly affected by the plans will also be consulted. Upon completion, the Management Plan is posted on the SARA Public Registry and the public has 60 days to inform the Minister of their views.

Public Consultation

Why are we having these consultations?

Before the Minister of the Environment makes a recommendation to GIC about whether to add a species to the SARA List, he or she will consider the balance between the social and economic benefits and costs associated with adding the species to the SARA List and the potential consequences for the species and Canadians of not adding it. The Government will meet with wildlife management boards, Aboriginal groups or organizations and other members of the public who have either a direct interest in the species under consideration or wish to comment on the issue. This includes – but is not limited to – landowners, land users, non-government environmental organizations, industries and industry groups. This consultation workbook is another way in which you can let us know what you think.

Comments received from Canadians will be carefully reviewed, evaluated and documented in a Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement (RIAS). The RIAS is an important part of the federal government’s regulatory process. In addition, a draft Order (an instrument that serves notice of a decision taken by the executive arm of government) proposing to add the species to the SARA List is prepared. This draft Order along with the RIAS will be published in the Canada Gazette Part I for a period of time to allow Canadians another opportunity to comment. The Minister of the Environment will take into consideration all received comments before recommending to the GIC whether to add the species to the SARA List or not. The GIC’s decision will be published in the Canada Gazette Part II and made available on the SARA Public Registry.

Invitation to submit comments

Consultations concerning adding species to the SARA List are part of the Government’s commitment to encourage public participation in programs designed to protect Canadian plants and animals and their habitat. The Atlantic walrus has been recently reassessed and designated by COSEWIC as a species of Special Concern and are being considered for addition to the SARA List. We welcome your comments about whether Atlantic walrus should be added to the SARA List.

A questionnaire has been provided near the end of this workbook. Please fill it out and mail or fax your answers and comments to one of the following DFO offices:

Central and Arctic Region
SARA Coordinator
Freshwater Institute
Fisheries & Oceans Canada
501 University Avenue
Winnipeg, Manitoba
R3T 2N6
Email: fwisar@dfo-mpo.gc.ca
Fax: 204-983-5192


Quebec Region
SARA Coordinator
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
P.O. Bolx 1000, 850 route de la Mer
Mont-Joli, Quebec
G5H 3Z4
Email:especesperilqc@dfo-mpo.gc.ca
Fax: 418-775-0542
Toll-Free: 1-877-775-0848

 

Newfoundland and Labrador Region
SARA Coordinator
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Box5667
St. John’s Newfoundland
A1C 5X1
Email: Osborned@dfo-mpo.gc.ca
Fax: 709-772-4583


Maritimes Region
SARA Coordinator
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
1 Challenger Drive
Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
B2Y 4A2
Email: XMARSARA@dfo-mpo.gc.ca
Toll-Free: 1-866-891-0771

 

Gulf Region
SARA Coordinator
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
343 Université Avenue
Moncton, New Brunswick
E1C 9B6
Email :GLF-SARA-LEP@dfo-mpo.gc.ca
Fax : 506-851-2620

The deadline for submission of comments is February 28, 2007.

SARA Public Registry

The SARA Public Registry, available on the Internet, is a complete source of information on topics covered by the Act and offers access to public records concerning the administration of SARA. It is a key instrument that allows the government to respect its commitment to support public contribution in the environmental decision-making process. The Public Registry can be found at the following address:

http://www.sararegistry.gc.ca



[1] Governor in Council is the Governor General of Canada acting on the advice of the Queen’s Privy Council of Canada (i.e. Cabinet).

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Information About The Population

Atlantic Walrus

Status: Special Concern

Last examined by COSEWIC:April 2006

Biology

The Atlantic walrus, Odobenus rosmarus rosmarus, is a large, gregarious marine mammal with upper canine teeth that grow into long tusks. Adult males are larger than females; males grow to about 315 cm (~1100 kg) and females to about 277 cm (~800 kg). At birth Atlantic walrus are about 120 cm long and weigh about 55 kg.

Walrus haul out on ice or land, sometimes in large herds. Females mature at 5 to10 years and give birth to a single calf about once every three years. Males mature at 7 to 13 years. The mating season is February-March and calves are born the following May-June after an active gestation of 11 months. Life span may be more than 35 years.

Walrus feed mostly on bottom-dwelling organisms such as clams and sea urchins, but are known to occasionally also eat fish, squid and even ringed and bearded seals. Their preferred habitat is shallow water (80 m or less) with bottom substrates that support a productive mollusc community, the reliable presence of open water over these feeding areas and suitable ice or land nearby upon which to haul out.

Atlantic walrus are currently recognized as comprising four extant populations: South and East Hudson Bay, Northern Hudson Bay-Davis Strait, Foxe Basin and Baffin Bay (High Arctic) (Figure 1). A fifth population, the Nova Scotia-Newfoundland-Gulf of St. Lawrence population, is extirpated.

Where are Atlantic walrus found?

The Nova Scotia-Newfoundland-Gulf of St. Lawrence population, now extripated, was known to occur in the waters of the Scotian Shelf, Gulf of St. Lawrence and as far up the St. Lawrence as Rivière-Ouelle (Figure 2).

The South and East Hudson Bay population is found from the OttawaIslands south to the Ekwan Point area of western James Bay. There are local seasonal movements between the rocky sites where animals haul out during the ice-free period and their wintering areas. In both the Belcher and Sleeper archipelagos, walrus are present at the floe edge in winter and move into the islands and onshore in summer. The winter whereabouts of animals that summer along the Ontario coast and whether walrus move between the Ontario coast and the Belcher Islands are unknown.

The Northern Hudson Bay-Davis Strait population is found from Arviat, on the west coast of Hudson Bay, north and east through Hudson Strait to Clyde River on the east coast of Baffin Island and south along the Labrador coast but rarely beyond Hebron-Okak Bay. Seasonal movements are not well documented. Some animals appear to remain year-round moving inshore or offshore in response to changes in ice conditions. Others appear to undertake significant season migrations. It is likely some walrus that spend the summer off east Baffin Island migrate to West Greenland for the winter and there may be population subdivisions within this broad distribution of walrus.

The Foxe Basin population is restricted to the shallow waters of northern Foxe Basin where walrus live year-round. Most seasonal movements are apparently local in response to changing ice conditions.

The Baffin Bay (High Arctic) population is distributed over an area that extends west to Bathurst Island and north to Kane Basin and northwest Greenland. In late spring-early summer, most walrus in this population move westward into the High Arctic islands by way of Lancaster Sound. There is also a westward movement of walrus from Baffin Bay to Jones Sound in August. In fall some walrus migrate eastward out of central Canadian Arctic through Lancaster Sound while others appear to remain in areas of recurring polynyas or thin ice.

How many Atlantic walrus are there?

The Nova Scotia-Newfoundland-Gulf of St. Lawrence population was believed to originally number in the tens of thousands. It was hunted to extirpation by the late 18th century. There has been no evidence of the population’s re-establishment over the past 200 years although there have been occasional sightings in recent decades.

A comprehensive survey of the South and East Hudson Bay population has not been conducted so there is no accurate estimate of population size or trend.

In the 1980s and 1990s the Northern Hudson Bay-Davis Strait population was estimated to number between about 4,850 and 6,000. These estimates, however, are tentative and based on few sightings in a wide geographic area over a long period. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) conducted summer surveys along southeast Baffin Island in 2005 and 2006 to obtain more recent information on this population; the results are being analyzed now but again will represent only part of the walrus distribution and provide only minimum counts.

An aerial survey conducted in 1989 estimated the Foxe Basin population to consist of 5,500 animals with confidence that the real estimate was between 2700 and 11,200. However, this survey did not correct for submerged animals and did not cover all of northern Foxe Basin. No trend in the population can be determined from the available information.

A comprehensive survey of the Baffin Bay (High Arctic) population has not been conducted. A total of 452 walrus were counted during an aerial survey in 1999. This represents a minimum count for this population.  

Threats to the Atlantic walrus

The Nova Scotia-Newfoundland-Gulf of St. Lawrence population was heavily hunted especially in the 17th and 18th centuries and by the end of the 18th had been extirpated.

The primary current threat to the extant populations of Atlantic walrus is hunting, especially at the southern and northern ends of the species’ current range. Contaminant uptake, industrial development, noise disturbance and climate change are also threats of undetermined severity. The species’ susceptibility to disease is unknown.

COSEWIC Reason for Designation:

Five populations ranging from Nova Scotia to the high Arctic are recognized for management purposes based on geographical distributions, genetics and lead isotope data. Some of the populations appear to be at greater risk than others due to over-hunting, and may be threatened. However, knowledge about population structure is insufficient to assess them separately. The Nova Scotia-Newfoundland-Gulf of St Lawrence population was hunted to extirpation by the late 18th century. Sporadic recent sightings of individuals and small groups in the Gulf of St Lawrence and off Nova Scotia are not considered evidence of re-establishment. The South and East Hudson Bay population is believed to number in the low hundreds, although population size and structure are poorly known. Observations from the late 1930s to the present suggest that numbers declined significantly, but the rate of decline cannot be quantified and it is not known whether the decline is continuing. The small population size suggests it may be vulnerable to disturbances and small increases in hunting effort. The total size of the Northern Hudson Bay-Davis Strait population could be as small as 4,000-6,000 individuals. Its ability to sustain minimum current removals is questionable. Some portion of this population is hunted in Greenland waters. The Foxe Basin population was estimated to be 5,500 in 1989. It is unknown if current exploitation rates are sustainable. Hunting is believed to have reduced the Baffin Bay (High Arctic) population to only a few percent of the number present in 1900. Limited information suggests the current population is small and that a portion of it continues to be hunted at unsustainable levels in the North Water area of Canada and northwest Greenland. However, satellite tracking and genetic information suggest that some animals in this population are resident in the Canadian Archipelago (west Jones Sound and Penny Strait / Lancaster Sound) and are not exposed to over-hunting. Better information is needed on population sizes and composition, seasonal movements, vital rates, and hunting mortality. The biggest threat is over-hunting, particularly on populations that inhabit the southern and northern ends of the species’ current range. The species is near to qualifying for threatened status and requires an effective plan to manage hunting. No Management Plans are currently in place for the species. Although quotas have been set in few communities, it is not known if they are adequate to prevent over-hunting.

What will happen if Atlantic walrus is added to the SARA List?

Adding Atlantic walrus as a Species of Special Concern to the SARA List would result in the development of a management plan, a document to promote conservation of a vulnerable species by establishing specific management or conservation measures.

The Management Plan would be developed jointly by co-management partners and other agencies and individuals with an interest in this population. In areas where walrus are harvested for subsistence, the Plan would assist hunters and trappers organizations to manage the population. Where walrus are not hunted, it would guide non-consumptive activities such as tourism. It is unlikely that any management measures will be required in areas where the walrus is currently extirpated.

The Management Plan could recommend protective measures for walrus, including the following:

  • Designating walrus management zones or habitat protection measures if needed.
  • Developing guidelines to reduce disturbance to walrus from non-consumptive activities such as tourism and shipping if needed.
  • Developing joint management plans for walrus populations that are thought to be shared between Canadaand Greenland so that the combined harvest does not exceed a level that the shared stock is able to support.

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Let Us Know What You Think

By answering the following questions you will help the federal government understand the benefits and impacts of adding the Atlantic walrus to the SARA List.

Please fill out the questionnaire that follows and send us your answers either by mail or fax to one of the following DFO offices

Central and Arctic Region
SARA Coordinator
Freshwater Institute
Fisheries & Oceans Canada
501 University Avenue
Winnipeg, Manitoba
R3T 2N6
Email: fwisar@dfo-mpo.gc.ca
Fax: 204-983-5192

 

Quebec Region
SARA Coordinator
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
P.O. Bolx 1000, 850 route de la Mer
Mont-Joli, Quebec
G5H 3Z4
Email:especesperilqc@dfo-mpo.gc.ca
Fax: 418-775-0542
Toll-Free: 1-877-775-0848

 

Newfoundland and Labrador Region
SARA Coordinator
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Box5667
St. John’s Newfoundland
A1C 5X1
Email: Osborned@dfo-mpo.gc.ca
Fax: 709-772-4583

 

Maritimes Region
SARA Coordinator
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
1 Challenger Drive
Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
B2Y 4A2
Email: XMARSARA@dfo-mpo.gc.ca
Toll-Free: 1-866-891-0771

 

Gulf Region SARA Coordinator Fisheries and Oceans Canada 343 Université Avenue Moncton, New Brunswick E1C 9B6 Email :GLF-SARA-LEP@dfo-mpo.gc.ca

Fax : 506-851-2620

The deadline for receiving comments is February 28, 2007.

For questions or comments concerning the Species at Risk Act or concerning this consultation process, please write to us at one of the addresses given above or call us at 204-984-0599.

THANK YOU

Your name (optional):

Why are Atlantic walrus important to you?  

Please choose an option that best reflects your level of agreement or disagreement with the following statements.

 Strongly disagreeSomewhat disagreeNeither agree nor disagreeSomewhat agreeStrongly agreeI have no opinion
I think that Atlantic walrus are valuable because they play an important role in maintaining healthy marine ecosystems      
I think that Atlantic walrus will be valuable to future generations      
I think that many people in Canada value Atlantic walrus even though they may never personally see one      
I think Atlantic walrus are valuable because they provide food and cultural benefits through subsistence hunts      
Other (please specify)      

1)  Are you in favour of the Government of Canada adding Atlanticwalrus to the SARA List?

 Yes                      No                         Undecided

Why?

 

 

 

 

 

2a) Based on what you have learned about the Species at Risk Act, do you think adding Atlanticwalrus to the SARA List would affect your activities?

 Yes                      No

b)   If “Yes”, do you see these effects as a cost or benefit to you, and in what way?






c) If you think adding Atlanticwalrus to the SARA List will have a negative

     effect on you or your activities, can you suggest ways to reduce the impact?






3.   Do you think you could contribute to the conservation of Atlantic walrus as an individual or organization? Can you give a few examples of activities?






4.    To be effective, the recovery or conservation of a species at risk must be a cooperative process that includes organizations and individuals with knowledge of the population and the threats it faces.  Please tell us which organizations or individuals you think should be involved in the recovery or conservation of Atlantic walrus.






5.   Please add any other comments or concerns (include additional sheets, if necessary).






Please submit comments by February 28, 2007

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Apendix

Approximate Current Distribution

Summer and Winter distribution

Figure 1: Approximate summer and winter distributions of the South and East Hudson Bay (A), Northern Hudson Bay-Davis Strait (B), Foxe Basin (C) and Baffin Bay (High Arctic) (D) Atlantic walrus populations in Canadian waters. Question Marks (?) indicate uncertainty with respect to distributions and/or movements (from 2005 COSEWIC status report).

Approximate Historical Distribution

Historical distribution

Figure 2: Approximate historical distribution of Atlantic walrus in Canada (based on Mansfield (1976) and Reeves (1978))

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