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Recovery Strategy for the Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) in Canada (Proposed)

Burrowing Owl © Dr. Gordon Court

Burrowing Owl


July 2007


Responsible Jurisdictions
Strategic Environmental Assessment

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 SARAoutline 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 Web site of the Recovery Secretariat (http://www.speciesatrisk.gc.ca/recovery/).

Recommended citation:

Environment Canada. 2007. Recovery Strategy for the Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) in Canada [Proposed]. Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series. Environment Canada, Ottawa. v + 25 pp.

Additional copies:

Additional copies can be downloaded from the SARA Public Registry.

Cover illustrations: Dr. Gordon Court
Title page: Paul Geraghty

Également disponible en français sous le titre :

« Programme de rétablissement de la Chevêche des terriers (Athene cunicularia) au Canada [Proposition] »

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

ISBN to come

Catalogue no. to come

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


This recovery strategy has been prepared in cooperation with the jurisdictions responsible for the Burrowing Owl. Environment Canada has reviewed and accepts this document as its recovery strategy for the Burrowing Owl, as required under the Species at Risk Act. This recovery strategy also constitutes advice to other jurisdictions and organizations that may be involved in recovering the species.

The goals, objectives and recovery approaches identified in the strategy are based on the best existing knowledge and are subject to modifications resulting from new findings and revised objectives.

This recovery strategy will be the basis for one or more action plans that will provide details on specific recovery measures to be taken to support conservation and recovery of the species. The Minister of the Environment will report on progress within five years.

Success in the recovery of this species depends on the commitment and cooperation of many different constituencies that will be involved in implementing the directions set out in this strategy and will not be achieved by Environment Canada or any other jurisdiction alone. In the spirit of the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk, the Minister of the Environment invites all responsible jurisdictions and Canadians to join Environment Canada in supporting and implementing this strategy for the benefit of the Burrowing Owl and Canadian society as a whole.

Responsible Jurisdictions

  • Environment Canada
  • Parks Canada Agency
  • Government of Alberta
  • Government of British Columbia
  • Government of Manitoba
  • Government of Saskatchewan


This recovery strategy was prepared by Troy I. Wellicome, L. Danielle Todd, David Stepnisky, and Geoff L. Holroyd.


This recovery strategy is the culmination of a team effort over several years. The current document was prepared by T.I. Wellicome (Chair of the National Burrowing Owl Recovery Team, Canadian Wildlife Service) and L.D. Todd (formerly of the Canadian Wildlife Service), based in part on information contained in a 2001 draft National Recovery Plan compiled by G.L. Holroyd (Canadian Wildlife Service) and D. Stepnisky (formerly of the Canadian Wildlife Service). This document benefited through input from Recovery Team members and advisors. In addition to the authors, other team members and advisors included (in alphabetical order) F. Blouin (Operation Grassland Community, Alberta Fish and Game Association), B. Bristol (Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada), D. Brodie (Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of British Columbia), M. Chutter (British Columbia Ministry of Environment), K. De Smet (Wildlife and Ecosystem Protection, Manitoba Conservation), K. Dohms (Operation Burrowing Owl, Nature Saskatchewan), K. Grisley (Operation Grassland Community, Alberta Fish and Game Association), D. Johnson (Department of Environmental Science, University of Lethbridge), M. Mackintosh (Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of British Columbia), J. Manalo (Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta), S. McAdam (Saskatchewan Environment), G. McMaster (Saskatchewan Watershed Authority), A. Mitchell (Department of Animal Science, University of British Columbia), R. Poulin (Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta), C. Sanders (Saskatchewan Burrowing Owl Interpretive Centre), D. Scobie (Avocet Environmental Inc.), D. Shyry (Sage Environmental Consulting), R. Sissons (Grasslands National Park, Parks Canada Agency), C. Skiftun (Special Areas Office, Alberta Conservation Association), P. Strankman (Canadian Cattleman's Association), J. Surgenor (British Columbia Ministry of Environment), A. Todd (Alberta Fish and Wildlife Division, Sustainable Resource Development), H. Trefry (Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment Canada), L. Veitch (Lands Branch, Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food), and P. Williams (British Columbia Wildlife Park). Thanks are also extended to R. Franken, R. Poulin, C. Seburn, D. Ewing, and D. Duncan (Canadian Wildlife Service) for reviewing various drafts or portions of this recovery strategy.

Strategic Environmental Assessment

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 strategies 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 incorporated directly into the strategy itself, but are also summarized below.

The SEA concluded that this recovery strategy will clearly benefit the environment by promoting the recovery of the Burrowing Owl and associated burrowing mammals and grassland habitat, and that these benefits far outweigh any potentially adverse effects that may result. The strategy includes the possibility of using habitat management near Burrowing Owl nesting areas to modify breeding sites for common predators that have increased in abundance above historical levels. The reader should refer to the following sections of this document for details: 1.4 Needs of the Burrowing Owl; 2.4 Approaches Recommended to Address Threats and Meet Recovery Objectives; and 2.6 Potential Effects on Other Species.


SARA defines residence as:

a dwelling-place, such as a den, nest or other similar area or place, that is occupied or habitually occupied by one or more individuals during all or part of their life cycles, including breeding, rearing, staging, wintering, feeding or hibernating [Subsection 2(1)].

Residence descriptions, or the rationale for why the residence concept does not apply to a given species, are posted on the SARA public registry.


The Burrowing Owl was officially listed as Endangered under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) in June 2003. SARA (Section 37) requires the competent minister to prepare recovery strategies for listed extirpated, endangered, or threatened species. The Canadian Wildlife Service (Prairie and Northern Region, Environment Canada) led the development of this recovery strategy, in cooperation with the British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, Saskatchewan Environment, Manitoba Conservation, Parks Canada Agency, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and the Department of National Defence (Canadian Forces Base Suffield). These agencies, along with the Blood Tribe, Siksika Nation, Piapot First Nation, Osoyoos Indian Band, Nicola Tribal Association, Okanagan Nation Alliance, Shuswap Nation Tribal Council, Upper Nicola Indian Band, and numerous non-government organizations, were invited to review drafts of this proposed strategy. This recovery strategy took into consideration the Assessment and Update Status Report on the Burrowing Owl in Canada, prepared by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC 2006), the Recovery Plan for Burrowing Owl in Alberta, prepared by the Alberta Burrowing Owl Recovery Team (2005), and the draft Recovery Action Plan for Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia hypugaea), prepared by the British Columbia Recovery Implementation Group (Leupin in review). This proposed strategy meets SARA requirements in terms of content and process (Sections 39–41).

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