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6. Broad Strategies and general Approaches to meet objectives

6.1 Actions Already Completed or Currently Underway

Very little work has been done on Gold-edged Gems in Canada to this date. Nevertheless, activities that that have been undertaken and are relevant to this species and its habitat are as follows:

  • Environment Canada has conducted Gold-edged Gem surveys in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba from 2008 to 2011 during the adult emergence period confirming the species’ presence in new occurrences.

  • Lepidopterists associated with the Edgar Harold Strickland Entomological Museum have collected specimens during field trips from 2003-2009 extending the species’ distribution.

  • Environment Canada co-published with Fisheries and Oceans and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada a booklet on species at risk in 2009 in which the Gold-edged Gem is a featured species. The booklet has been distributed to landowners opportunistically and during various public meetings.

  • Since 2007, DND in collaboration with the University of Calgary has applied various treatments such as hand-digging, prescribed burning and placing grazing attractants in an attempt to restore a number of sand dunes to an active state at Suffield NWA. Their actions have been met with varying degrees of success (A. Taylor, pers. comm. 2011). For instance, twelve sand dunes at Suffield NWA were restored using habitat improvements that resulted in conversion to high quality habitat lasting up to four years (Sustainable Resource Development. 2012).

  • The Government of Saskatchewan created the Dune Nature Centre and set up signage along hiking trails within Douglas Provincial Park in Saskatchewan to educate visitors on sand dune ecosystems. The park also monitors the emergence of Leafy Spurge and sprays to eliminate the invasive species when needed (J. Perry, pers. comm. 2011).

  • Spruce Woods Provincial Park in Manitoba has adopted several management approaches to maintain a balance of successional stages of the vegetation communities in the park including prescribed spring burning, aspen mowing along prairie margins, and goat grazing. Several management activities have also been initiated by Manitoba Conservation to deal with Leafy Spurge within Spruce Woods Provincial Park including herbicide applications, spring burning, shrub mowing and release of spurge beetles (Schykulski and Moore 1996).

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6.2 Strategic Direction for Recovery

Table 3. Recovery Planning Table.
Threat or LimitationPriorityGeneral Description of Research and Management Approaches
Broad Strategy: Inventory and Monitoring
All threats and knowledge gaps related to distributionHigh•  Develop and implement a long-term standardized monitoring program throughout the species’ range in Canada to ensure known occurrences are maintained and threats are monitored.
• Conduct surveys for the species in suitable habitat at new sites in an effort to increase knowledge of the species’ distribution in Canada.
• Coordinate Gold-edged Gem monitoring programs with those for other dune specialist lepidoterans in the Canadian Prairies.
Broad Strategy: Habitat Management and Stewardship
All threats except stochastic eventsHigh•  Determine and implement best management practices to achieve conservation of suitable habitat, and reduction or elimination of threats.
• Collaborate with land owners, land managers, government agencies and other relevant parties to promote, coordinate and implement habitat management and conservation efforts.
• Integrate Gold-edged Gem habitat management and stewardship efforts with those for other dune specialist species in the Canadian Prairies.
Broad Strategy: Outreach and Communication
All threats except stochastic eventsMedium•  Increase public awareness of Gold-edged Gems, other sand dune lepidopteran specialist species and their habitat requirements in the Canadian Prairies.
• Educate land users to reduce habitat degradation caused by their activities.
Broad Strategy: Research
All threats and knowledge gaps related to the species’ biologyMedium•  Fill in key knowledge gaps with respect to the species’ life history, ecology, and microhabitat requirements.

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6.3  Narrative to support Recovery Planning Table

Inventory and Monitoring

To determine whether the population and distribution objectives (see section 5) are being achieved, a standardized lepidopteran survey and monitoring protocol should be developed and implemented across the species’ Canadian range. Regular systematic surveys over several consecutive years of known occupied sites and additional sites that have yet to be surveyed are highly recommended. The dataset created by Wolfe (2010) identifying all active sand dunes and blowouts within Canadian Prairie Provinces should be used to facilitate the planning of surveys.

It is estimated that as much as two thirds of potential Gold-edged Gem habitat has not yet been surveyed (COSEWIC 2006, NatureServe 2011, G. Anweiler, pers. comm. 2008). In the future, surveys should be done at key, previously unsurveyed sand hills. Furthermore, Gold-edged Gem monitoring efforts should be coordinated with those of other lepidopteran dune specialist species at risk found in the Canadian Prairies to maximize effectiveness of efforts and costs.

Habitat Management and Stewardship

Habitat management and stewardship are key elements in the recovery strategy. Beneficial management practices (e.g., prescribed burning, suitable grazing, and control of invasive species and vegetation encroachment) should be developed to reduce or eliminate threats and maintain suitable habitat for the species. Collaboration among individuals, organizations and government departments that own, lease, use or manage land where the species occurs will be essential to reduce or eliminate threats and achieve optimal management of the species habitat. Management activities for the Gold-edged Gem should consider the requirements of other species occurring within sand dune ecosystems and be carried out accordingly (see Appendix C).

Ungulate grazing is a necessary natural process in maintaining healthy and diverse grassland ecosystems (SK PCAP, 2008). Grazing management that prevents the landscape from becoming unhealthy or improves the ecological health status benefits numerous species on the landscape (Adams et al. 2005). In order to effectively manage livestock grazing, it is necessary to operate and maintain infrastructure such as fencing, water sources, and salting locations to achieve the goal of rangeland health. Livestock do not graze in a uniform manner resulting in areas of low, high and moderate utilization that provide a patchy bio-diverse rangeland which meets habitat requirements of wildlife and species at risk. As such, grazing and the maintenance of the infrastructure supporting it, may be a beneficial management practice within the critical habitat of the Gold-edged Gem.

Outreach and Communication

Gold-edged Gems and other sand dune specialist lepidopteran species found in the Canadian Prairie are cryptic and land users are often unaware of their existence and activities that negatively affect them.

Featuring Gold-edged Gem and other sand dune specialist lepidopteran species on signs or within information pamphlets of protected areas where the species are found would increase awareness of their existence among the public. Also, land users conducting activities that negatively affect such species or their habitat could be advised on how they can attenuate their impacts.


Effective recovery and management of Gold-edged Gem will depend on scientific research into this species’ biology and ecology as well as habitat associations and the relative importance of various human-related threats. Some key areas for future research include investigating life history attributes and mortality factors especially in relation to habitat selection. Likewise, data is needed for host plant requirements, micro-habitat characteristics and if possible the effects of annual climatic variables and disturbances on host plant distribution and abundance. Several rare and at risk species occur in the active and semi-stabilized sand dune ecosystem (see Appendix C). When possible, collaborative research with recovery teams working on these sand dune specialists would be both practical and appropriate.

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7. Critical Habitat Identification

7.1 Identification of the species’ critical habitat

Critical habitat is defined in SARA (Subsection 2(1)) as “the habitat that is necessary for the survival or recovery of a listed wildlife species and that is identified as the species’ critical habitat in the recovery strategy or in an action plan for the species”. 

Critical habitat identified in this recovery strategy encompasses all nine occurrences known to exist in Canada, and is considered sufficient to achieve the population and distributions objectives, at this time.

Critical habitat is identified at each Gold-edged Gem location as the active open sand dunes and/or blowouts, encompassing the area from the crest of the dune to the edge where native vegetation grows and the dune is stabilized.

Data collected during field surveys conducted between 2004 and 2011, and occurrence information obtained from literature searches were used to identify Gold-edged Gem critical habitat locations.

Critical habitat locations were identified based on the following three criteria:

  1. The presence of one or more Gold-edged Gem has been confirmed by a trained observer at a location prior to December 2011. The rationale for this criterion is as follows:
    • a. Counts of Gold-edged Gem likely underestimate the true abundance of the species at any given location. Gold-edged Gem adults have a patchy distribution, are small, fly rapidly and have a short adult life span (Hardwick 1996, COSEWIC 2006). Furthermore, their detectability may vary with time of day (M.-C. Bélair, unpubl. data). The adult emergence period varies from one year to another (COSEWIC 2006) and the population peaks for only a few days each year (G.Anweiler, pers. comm. 2008). Therefore, the presence of Gold-edged Gems in occupied sand dunes or blowouts could easily go undetected.

    • b. The species is a habitat specialist and has only one known host plant, the Prairie Sunflower (COSEWIC 2006). The abundance of Prairie Sunflower varies annually (G. Anweiler, pers. comm. 2008), thus influencing Gold-edged Gem abundance on a yearly basis.

    • c. Gold-edged Gems are not known to disperse or migrate (COSEWIC 2006) and the extent of their habitat use is estimated at 1 km² (NatureServe 2011). Similar moth species have displayed host plant fidelity and are therefore observed only in the immediate vicinity of host plant colonies (Hardwick 1996, COSEWIC 2005). It is unlikely that the Gold-edged Gem is able to disperse at the landscape level given the lengthy distances of unsuitable habitat separating major sand dune or blowout areas. Thus, it is likely that all individuals observed at a particular dune are resident, reproducing individuals capable of contributing to population persistence at that particular dune. It is unlikely they are vagrants that are simply transitioning from one site to another.
  2. Locations of Gold-edged Gem observations were determined with reasonable accuracy (i.e. where the species’ occurrence had precise geographical coordinates or where the sand dune on which the species had been observed could be precisely located on a map).
  3. Locations are characterized by the following biophysical attributes:
    • (a) active open sand dunes and/or blowouts, encompassing the area from the crest of the dune to the edge where native vegetation grows and the dune is stabilized, as inventoried by Wolfe (2010) or confirmed by ground truthing by a trained individual.
    • (b) The presence of one or more larval host plants (i.e., Prairie Sunflower) and/or one or more adult nectar sources (e.g., Prairie Sunflower, Skeletonweed and Lemon Scurfpea).

Critical habitat for the Gold-edged Gem, as identified above, is located within or adjacent to 23 quarter sections[5] in Alberta, 18 quarter sections in Saskatchewan, and 7 quarter sections in Manitoba (Appendix A and B). Additional critical habitat may be identified across the range of the species as more information becomes available.

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7.2 Activities likely to result in destruction of critical habitat

Destruction is determined on a case by case basis. Destruction would result if part of the critical habitat was degraded, either permanently or temporarily, such that it would not serve its function when needed by the species. Destruction may result from a single activity or multiple activities at one point in time or from the cumulative effects of one or more activities over time (Government of Canada 2009).

Examples of activities that may result in destruction of critical habitat include, but are not limited to:

  1. Stabilization of active sand dune habitat.  Seeding, re-vegetation, the use of flax bales, straw crimping, drift fences, and landscape fabrics, or any other actions that actively stabilize sand dunes or blowouts as a means of decreasing soil erosion, reclaiming disturbed locations, or improving land use productivity would constitute destruction of Gold-edged Gem critical habitat. Sand dune or blowout stabilization changes the plant diversity and structure and directly contributes to the loss of open active sand area.
  2. Alteration of sand dune or blowout habitat and surrounding area. Activities that cause disturbance to soil and/or native vegetation of sand dunes that exceed natural ranges of variability in disturbance dynamics will likely result in destruction of critical habitat. Changes in the frequency, severity, seasonality and extent of natural disturbance events caused by new oil and gas exploration and development, sand extraction, expansion of existing or creation of new anthropogenic structures in or adjacent[6] to sand dune or blowout habitats are activities that would result in destruction of Gold-edged Gem critical habitat. These activities are associated with new access road development, motorized traffic, new pipeline installation, and new construction or expansion of infrastructure that may cause mortality of larval host plants and adult nectar sources, as well as habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation. Although sand and gravel extraction is not known to occur within the identified critical habitat at present, future demand for sand for road building and urban development may increase. Sand extraction results in the direct removal of soil and elimination of the existing seed bank of larval and adult host and/or nectar plants. The listed activities also have the potential to introduce exotic species which in turn contribute to dune stabilization and competition with host and/or nectar plants (see Section 4.2 for species’ threats). They may also alter the local hydrology with possible consequences for the sand dune habitat. Because Gold-edged Gems require active sand dune or blowout habitats within a native prairie matrix and host and/or nectar plants, the species cannot survive in modified landscapes.
  3. Indiscriminant application of harmful chemicals. Non-targettedapplication of certain pesticides may destroy critical habitat by reducing or eliminating pollinators upon which host plants and/or nectar plants rely or by reducing or eliminating the host and nectar plants themselves. Direct application of pesticides at frequencies, intensities and spatial extents that expose pollinators or host and nectar plants to lethal concentrations would destroy the critical habitat. The likelihood of such activities affecting critical habitat may vary by the season of application. In addition, pesticide drift or runoff from nearby croplands or roadsides may also have the potential to destroy the critical habitat, provided that concentrations reaching non-target insects or plants are high enough to be lethal. Fertilizer runoff can alter soil nutrient status, creating new conditions that may be unsuitable for Gold-edged Gem host and/or nectar plants. Changes to soil nutrient status may also influence the outcome of interspecific competition for nutrients for Gold-edged Gem host and/or nectar plants.  
  4. Improper management of grasslands or sand dune/blowout areas.  Reduction or elimination of host and nectar plants due to grazing, trampling, vehicular and recreational traffic, waste application, or deliberate introduction or promotion of invasive exotic species would constitute destruction of critical habitat[7].  The listed activities may result in the mortality or reduction in abundance and productivity of host and/or nectar plants. The introduction or promotion of invasive species may contribute to the stabilization of dune habitat and may result in displacement of host and nectar plants by the exotic species.

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8. Measuring Progress

The performance indicator presented below provides a way to define and measure progress toward achieving the population and distribution objectives. Progress towards meeting the population and distribution objectives must be reported within five years after this recovery strategy is finalized.

  • The distribution of all known occurrences in the Canadian range of the species, and any additional occurrence discovered in Canada in the future are maintained or increased by 2018.

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9. Statement on Action Plans

One or more action plans for the Gold-edged Gem will be completed by 2017. A multi-species action plan(s) for various species inhabiting the active dune ecosystem would be beneficial and cost-effective.

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4 The term “sand hills” refers to a well-defined region where several sand dune occurrences exist (David 1977).

5 The Dominion Land Survey system (McKercher and Wolfe 1986) is the grid system used in the Prairie Provinces to describe land locations. One unit of this system, the quarter-section (65 ha), is particularly useful for mapping critical habitat as it is used for ownership and management purposes. The quarter-section level is used in this strategy to aid in describing the location of Gold edged Gem critical habitat.

6 Adjacent is defined as “not distant, having a common endpoint or border, and immediately preceding or following” (Merriam-Webster 2012).

7 Properly managed grazing systems and the maintenance of existing infrastructure supporting it, may be a beneficial management practice within the critical habitat of the Gold-edged Gem because grazing by cattle simulates the role of native ungulate grazing in maintaining open, active sand dunes.  Activities or infrastructure in Gold-edged Gem critical habitat related to maintaining proper grazing systems may include: maintenance of existing trails (mowing or grading), existing fence lines, existing prairie tracks for vehicles including two-track trails, and existing fire guards.