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Recovery Strategy for the Ross's Gull (Rhodostethia rosea) in Canada

2. Recovery

2.1 Rationale for Recovery Feasibility

Maintaining the Ross's Gull breeding population and distribution within Canada is considered feasible based on four criteria (Environment Canada 2005). First, there are currently no known factors negatively affecting their productivity in Canada. Second, there is sufficient suitable habitat available to support the species. Third, significant threats to the species or its habitat can be avoided or mitigated through recovery actions. Finally, the techniques for effective recovery appear achievable for this species.

2.2 Recovery Goal

The Ross's Gull has always been rare in Canada, and does not appear to be declining. Because of its limited population numbers, there is little potential for this species to be downlisted from Threatened. Despite its small population size, maintaining Ross's Gull at its current distribution and population numbers should be feasible.

The recovery goal for the Ross's Gull is to ensure its long-term survival by maintaining the population at its current level1 and by maintaining current and some historical breeding locations.2

2.3 Recovery Objectives for the Ross's Gull (2007-2011)

The short-term objectives for the recovery of Ross's Gulls in Canada are to:

  1. maintain known current distribution and number of pairs of Ross's Gulls breeding in Canada over a five-year average (Priority – Urgent);
  2. encourage further research and surveys that may reveal previously unknown nesting concentrations in the Canadian Arctic (Priority – Urgent);
  3. protect breeding habitat through stewardship and conservation agreements and undertake studies to identify critical habitat (Priority – Necessary); and
  4. determine the significance of threats at breeding locations and implement management strategies to reduce threats (Priority – Beneficial).

2.4 Approaches Recommended to Meet Recovery Objectives

Table 1 provides a general description of the research and management activities needed to meet the recovery objectives, and broad strategies to address threats to the Ross's Gull. An action plan will contain more detail on the specific activities and will include an implementation schedule.

Table 1. Recovery planning table for Ross's Gull
PriorityObjective numberThreat addressedBroad strategy to address threatsRecommended approaches to meet recovery objectives
Urgent1, 2AllInventory and Monitoring
  • Develop and implement standardized monitoring protocols.
  • Complete annual surveys at three of the four current breeding sites (Prince Charles Island poses high logistic challenges and should be surveyed when possible).
  • Concurrently monitor breeding success.
  • Identify additional areas to be surveyed.
  • Survey additional suitable habitat every five years.
  • Assess threats to Ross's Gulls and their habitat at all known breeding sites. Determine effects of disturbance on breeding Ross's Gulls.
  • Prioritize knowledge gaps and promote/conduct research to address gaps in order of urgency.
  • Obtain aboriginal knowledge on Ross's Gull life history and breeding locations.
Necessary1, 4Human disturbanceCommunication and Stewardship
  • Develop educational products on Ross's Gull, its status, and threats (including human disturbance), to be distributed to bird watchers and tourists in Churchill.
  • Work with tour operators in Churchill to identify methods to provide viewing opportunities for birders and photographers without disrupting breeding.
  • Develop management strategies to address the threat of human disturbance, including establishing set-back distances from nests.
  • Identify additional target audiences and develop an effective communication strategy.
  • Cooperate with other governments internationally to address threats to Ross's Gulls outside Canada.
  • Mitigate exploration and development-related disturbances around known and potential nest sites in Nunavut through improved communication with development proponents (e.g., permit review).
Urgent1, 4PredationMonitoring
and site management
  • Determine whether predation is affecting survival and productivity.
  • Develop site-specific management plans, such as predator deterrents in areas where predators are a threat, to reduce predation.
Urgent3, 4Habitat Loss and DestructionHabitat Protection and Stewardship
  • Evaluate habitat where breeding is known to have occurred and identify new areas to be surveyed based on breeding habitat characteristics.
  • Identify areas of critical habitat.
  • Develop adaptive management strategies and stewardship agreements to protect and enhance nesting locations.
  • Protect and manage critical habitat through stewardship agreements--this may include increased enforcement in the Churchill area during Ross's Gull breeding season.

2.5 Critical Habitat for Ross's Gull

The federal Species at Risk Act defines critical habitat 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 a recovery strategy or in an action plan for the species.”

Critical habitat is not identified in this recovery strategy. This species is relatively unstudied in Canada, and we do not know what habitat is necessary for the survival and recovery of this species. There are very few breeding records for this species in Canada, occupation at the few known nesting sites appears to be intermittent, and fidelity to breeding areas is unknown. With such limited information, it is not possible to identify critical habitat at this time. Critical habitat will be identified through activities outlined in 2.5.1 (Schedule of Studies to Identify Critical Habitat) and will be included in a forthcoming action plan and/or a revised recovery strategy.

The nests of Ross's Gulls are protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and as a “residence” under the Species at Risk Act throughout Canada.

2.5.1 Schedule of Studies to Identify Critical Habitat

Studies to identify critical habitat will be concentrated in the High Arctic, near one of the sites where the birds may nest (Mallory et al. 2006). (Conducting studies near Churchill would probably lead tourists to the active nesting areas..

Broad studies and actions to support the identification of critical habitat are outlined in Table 1.

This section outlines specific studies and actions necessary to identify critical habitat.

  • By August 2008, identify characteristics of habitat occupied by breeding Ross's Gulls. Also undertake studies to determine impacts of disturbance on breeding gulls (including Ross's Gulls) in remote locations.
  • On an ongoing basis, survey additional suitable habitat for presence of Ross's Gulls in the High Arctic and around Churchill. These surveys may identify additional critical habitat if new nesting areas are found.
  • By December 2008, apply knowledge of significant habitat features to all areas within the breeding range and map known and potential breeding habitat.
  • By December 2008, use synthesized information on abundance, distribution, and habitat use to identify critical habitat within an action plan and/or revised recovery strategy.
  • Opportunistically identify potential foraging sites, resting sites, or transit sites that may be considered critical habitat.

2.6 Existing Protection

This species and its nests are protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, and Ross's Gull as a species is covered under the Species at Risk Act. The Migratory Birds Convention of 1916 prohibits the hunting or collecting of the eggs, nests, and birds (“take”) of listed species in Canada and the United States. In addition, the Ross's Gull is listed as an endangered species under Manitoba's Endangered Species Act. Under this act, no person shall kill, injure, possess, disturb or interfere with an endangered species; destroy, disturb or interfere with the habitat of an endangered species; or damage, destroy, obstruct or remove a natural resource on which an endangered species depends for its life and propagation. Hunting of Ross's Gulls is also prohibited in Russia (Macey 1981).

The Churchill Special Conservation Area (35 823.1 ha), designated under the Manitoba Wildlife Act, was established to conserve and protect Ross's Gull nesting habitat around Churchill. Both the original and current breeding sites are located within the Churchill Special Conservation Area (G. Suggett, pers. comm.). In addition, the current Churchill breeding site is more difficult to access, thus limiting human disturbance. The northern breeding locations in Nunavut are not protected, but their remote and inaccessible locations limit human disturbance at these sites. Moreover, the locations of these sites are known to land administration and permitting agencies, and any land use projects near these sites are reviewed and environmental impacts assessed through the Nunavut Impact Review Board for possible effects on breeding colonies, pursuant to Article 12 of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.

2.7 Recommended Approach for Conservation and Habitat Protection

The Manitoba site is located on Crown land. The federal and provincial government will work cooperatively to determine the appropriate approach for habitat protection of this site. Education and communication with the community and birdwatchers may be a useful tool in ensuring the conservation of this area.

In Nunavut, known breeding locations are all on Crown land and are extremely remote and difficult for tourists or even Inuit hunters to access during the breeding season. Thus, stewardship and conservation agreements should focus more on engaging community hunters' and trappers' organizations to assist in reporting sightings of birds during migration or breeding and in minimizing the incidental harvest of eggs or birds when hunters are after other species (e.g., Arctic Terns). Agreements should leave open the possibility of future habitat protection measures3, should they be required. To ensure habitat protection in Nunavut, proper engagement and consultation on possible stewardship and conservation agreements will be crucial.  Engagement in Nunavut should involve the principle federal land manager, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, as well as key Inuit organizations (Qikiqtani Inuit Association, Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, Hunters’ and Trappers’ Associations) and institutes of public government (Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, Nunavut Impact Review Board, Nunavut Planning Commission).  

2.8 Performance Measures

The implementation of approaches identified within this recovery strategy to maintain the distribution and abundance of Ross's Gull will be considered successful if the following evaluation criteria are met:

  • critical habitat has been protected at all designated locations through stewardship or conservation agreements.
  • monitoring of Ross's Gulls demonstrates they are continuing to breed at known locations; and
  • identification of threats to Ross's Gulls and their habitat (on a site-by-site basis) has resulted in the development and implementation of measures that eliminate, reduce, or mitigate threats.

2.9 Effects on Other Species

This recovery strategy may potentially benefit other species such as the Arctic Tern and Sabine's Gull, as Ross's Gulls are often found nesting in association with these birds. In addition, other northern breeding birds found in similar habitat may benefit from any conservation activities resulting from this strategy and the upcoming action plan. These species include Arctic Loon (Gavia arctica), Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus), Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis), Common Eider (Somateria mollissima), King Eider (Somateria spectabilis), Greater Scaup (Aythya marila), Hudsonian Godwit (Limosa haemastica), Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes), Stilt Sandpiper (Calidris himantopus), Common Redpoll (Carduelis flammea), and Smith's Longspur (Calcarius pictus) (Chartier and Cooke 1980).

While many species may benefit from the implementation of this recovery strategy and the upcoming action plan, some local populations of species may be negatively affected. For example, using deterrents to discourage Herring Gulls in the vicinity of Ross's Gull colonies could reduce Herring Gull reproductive success locally, but, given their abundance and wide distribution, this action would be unlikely to affect Herring Gull populations overall.

2.10 Statement of When One or More Action Plans Will Be Completed

The action plan for the Ross's Gull will be completed by June 2009. Steps to achieve recovery as listed in the recovery objectives will be ongoing in the interim.

1 Within its natural range of variability as observed between 1990 and 2005.

2 Includes Churchill (Manitoba) and three sites in Nunavut.

3 Habitat protection measures may take a variety of forms using tools available in the Species At Risk Act, or through environmental assessment and land use planning processes, and will be determined in cooperation with responsible federal and territorial government departments, as well as Inuit organizations and institutes of public government.