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COSEWIC Annual Report - 2006

Item I - COSEWIC Activities

1. Species Assessment Meeting – Spring, 2006

Date: April 23-28, 2006
Location: Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, Saskatchewan
(hosted by both the Province of Saskatchewan and the Province of Alberta).


Members - 45 members/alternates
Secretariat Staff – 10
Observers – 17 (8 Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge (ATK) Subcommittee members, 2 from the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) Prairie and Northern Region, 2 from CWS Headquarters, 1 from Canadian Wildlife Federation, 2 from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 2 Métis elders from the local area)


As in previous years, at the end of each species assessment meeting, COSEWIC held a teleconference with the Canadian Wildlife Directors Committee, followed by one with the Wildlife Management Boards (WMBs) to inform all jurisdictions about the assessments. For the first time this year, the National Aboriginal Council on Species at Risk (NACOSAR) was included in the teleconference with the WMBs.

COSEWIC Non-government Member / Members at Large:

COSEWIC decided to rename “members at large ” (previously also called non-government members) as “non-government science members” in all communications.

2. Summary of the Species Assessment Meeting

In April 2006, COSEWIC assessed/ reassessed the status of 68 wildlife species (species, subspecies and populations) based on 64 Status Reports, of which seven were unsolicited.

The species assessment results include the following:

Extirpated:Atlantic Salmon, Lake Ontario population
Endangered:Ord's Kangaroo Rat, Pacific Water Shrew, Burrowing Owl, Ivory Gull, Vesper Sparrow affinissubspecies, Lake Erie Watersnake, Western Painted Turtle, Pacific Coast population, Atlantic Salmon, Inner Bay of Fundy populations, Speckled Dace, White Shark, Atlantic population, Aweme Borer, Eastern Persius Duskywing, Five-spotted Bogus Yucca Moth, Gold-edged Gem, Half-moon Hairstreak, Non-pollinating Yucca Moth, Blue-grey Taildropper Slug, Mapleleaf Mussel, Saskatchewan-Nelson Population, Rainbow Mussel, American Columbo, Brook Spike-primrose, Cherry Birch, Coast Microseris, Contorted-pod Evening-primrose, Dwarf Woolly-heads, Southern Mountain population, Rough Agalinis, Short-rayed Alkali Aster, Seaside Centipede Lichen.
Threatened:Northern Fur Seal, Golden-winged Warbler, Northern Saw-whet Owl brooksi subspecies, Carmine Shiner, Chinook Salmon, Okanagan population, Shortfin Mako, Atlantic population, Mapleleaf Mussel, Great Lakes- Western St. Lawrence population, Bolander's Quillwort, Green-scaled Willow, Smooth Goosefoot.
Special Concern: Atlantic Walrus, Harbour Porpoise, Northwest Atlantic population, Nuttall's Cottontail nuttallii subspecies, McCown's Longspur, Rusty Blackbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, Western Painted Turtle, Intermountain-Rocky Mountain population, American Eel, Blue Shark, Atlantic population, Deepwater Sculpin, Great Lakes-Western St. Lawrence populations, River Redhorse, Sonora Skipper, Dwarf Woolly-heads, Prairie population, Cryptic Paw, Ghost Antler.

In addition, 11 species were assessed as Not at Risk and 3 were examined and found to be Data Deficient.

As of May 2006, the COSEWIC assessment results includes 529 species in various categories, including 205 endangered species, 136 threatened species and 153 species of special concern. In addition, 22 species are extirpated (no longer existing in the wild in Canada) and 13 are extinct.

See Appendix I for the COSEWIC Press Release from the April, 2006 Species Assessment Meeting.

3. Important Notes Regarding Status Assessments:

The reassessment of the Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) that was scheduled for the April 2006 COSEWIC meeting was deferred so that the basis for delineating designatable units could be better documented. An update status report to support COSEWIC's previous assessment from May 2005 is currently not available. COSEWIC will defer forwarding its assessment of the Lake Sturgeon to the Minister of the Environment in consideration of being added to Schedule 1 of SARA until it approves an update status report.

The reassessment of the Westslope Cutthroat Trout (Oncorynchus clarkii lewesi) that was scheduled for the April 2006 COSEWIC meeting was deferred and the report withdrawn until there is a resolution of eligibility of populations to be assessed. A status report to support COSEWIC's previous assessment from May 2005 is currently not available. COSEWIC will defer forwarding its assessment of Westslope Cutthroat trout to the Minister of the Environment in consideration of it being added to Schedule 1 of SARA until it approves a status report.

The Status of Dwarf Woolly-heads (Psilocarphus brevissimus ) was reassessed at the April 2006 COSEWIC meeting. Two populations were recognized: Dwarf Woolly-heads, Prairie population was assessed as Special Concern; Dwarf Woolly-heads, Southern Mountain population was assessed as Endangered. The Dwarf Woolly-heads was first assessed by COSEWIC as Endangered in Canada in 2003. However, because the original status report failed to note the presence of the Prairie Population, which is present at numerous sites in southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan, COSEWIC requested that an update report be prepared for an early re-evaluation of the species' conservation status which was done in April 2006.

In May 2006, following the reassessment of the Dwarf Woolly-heads (Psilocarphus brevissimus) and at the request of COSEWIC, the vascular plants specialists of the Plants and Lichens Subcommittee revised the 2001 Tall Woolly-heads (Psilocarphus elatior) status report to remove all references to the misidentified plants of the Prairie Population. Accordingly, as the Prairie Population of Tall Woolly-heads never existed, it was deactivated and the Pacific Population of the Tall Woolly-heads has been renamed Tall Woolly-heads.

Two species from SARA's Schedule 2 were reassessed by COSEWIC in April 2006, namely the Great Lakes Deepwater Sculpin (Myoxocephalus thompsonii) reassessed as Special Concern (and now identified as Great Lakes-Western St. Lawrence populations) and the Lake Erie Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon insularum), reassessed as Endangered. There is only one species from SARA's Schedule 2 left to be reassessed by COSEWIC, the Blackfin Cisco (Coregonus nigripinnis) and COSEWIC expects to reassess this species before June 2007 (deadline of the extension).

4. Species Assessments returned by the Minister to COSEWICfor further information or consideration:

The assessments returned to COSEWIC for further consideration - the Atlantic Cod , Arctic population (Gadus morhua) the Bocaccio Rockfish (Sebastes paucispinis), the Cusk (Brosme brosme), the Lake Winnipeg Physa (Physa sp.), the Harbour Porpoise, Northwest Atlantic population, (Phocoena phocoena) and the Shortjaw Cisco (Coregonus zenithicus) -- were discussed at the COSEWIC Species Assessment Meeting in April, 2006, following which the Chair of COSEWIC wrote to the Minister of the Environment (May 24, 2006) to communicate COSEWIC's responses to each of these species referrals.

5. Emergency Assessment:

On February 10, 2006, cosewic received a request for an emergency assessment of the Sakinaw Lake population of sockeye salmon, Oncorhynchus nerka. This request followed two previous assessments of this population by cosewic. Both assessments resulted in a status of 'Endangered', but the population was not listed under SARA.

The Sakinaw Lake population was deemed a designatable unit by COSEWIC on the basis of unique genetic and biological characteristics. COSEWIC conducted an emergency status assessment of the population in October 2002 and designated it as Endangered. During its Species Assessment Meeting in May 2003, cosewic re-examined the status of Sakinaw sockeye on the basis of a new status report, and confirmed its status as Endangered because of a precipitous decline of 87-99% in the number of spawners over three generations (12 years). Only 14-122 fish per year returned to spawn between 1999 and 2002. Given the extremely small number of adults, the population was considered to be at imminent risk of extinction from a number of threats, including but not limited to, over-exploitation, impediments to spawning migration and ecological impacts to the lake environment.

The new request for an emergency assessment included new information about the number of adult salmon that returned to spawn in 2004 and 2005. The Chair of COSEWIC established an Emergency Assessment Subcommittee (EAS), following the COSEWIC Operations and Procedures Manual. He informed the Minister of the Environment on February 23, 2006, that an Emergency Assessment was underway. The COSEWIC EAS considered this information, as well as information obtained from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) about recovery activities recently implemented for Sakinaw sockeye salmon, and estimated exploitation rates for the population in 2004 and 2005. The EAS discussed all available information in two teleconferences held in February and April 2006.

The new information revealed that the number of returning mature sockeye was 99 (45 females, 54 males) in 2004, and 27 (13 females, 14 males) in 2005. Population abundance appears to have stabilized since the mid-1990's (with the annual fluctuations typical of sockeye populations), although at a critically low level. Abundance remains two orders of magnitude below levels observed until the mid-1980's. The EAS acknowledged the recovery plan put in place by DFO, which includes extensive fishery closures to limit exploitation in mixed-stock fisheries, habitat enhancement and monitoring initiatives, and a gene banking programme to breed Sakinaw sockeye in captivity. The EAS noted that it is too soon for the effectiveness of these measures to be evaluated, and that COSEWIC's mandate is limited to an assessment of current status. Sakinaw sockeye remain subject to harvest in mixed-stock fisheries. Harvest rate estimates in 2004 and 2005 were subject to a high degree of uncertainty, but the best estimate of the exploitation rate in 2004 (15%) exceeded the target rate in the management plan of 10-12%, while the estimated exploitation rate in 2005 was 4%. On the basis of all available information, and in particular based on the critically low abundance of mature adults, the COSEWIC EAS concluded that the risk of extinction remains very high for Sakinaw sockeye, and was unanimous in its assessment of the population as Endangered.

The EASwas also unanimous in its recommendation that the conservation status of the Sakinaw Lake population of Sockeye salmon warrants an Emergency Listing under Section 29(1) of the Species at Risk Act.

This was communicated to the Minister of the Environment in a letter dated April 20, 2006.

6. Species Selected for Status Report Preparation to be included in the Next Call for Bids Fall 2006

COSEWIC's process for determining the species for which status reports are to be commissioned was described in the 2005 Report to CESCC. This procedure was followed during the 2005-2006 year, and at the April 2006 COSEWIC meeting, 11 species from COSEWIC's candidate list were chosen for status report commissioning in the Fall of 2006. In addition, 16 species were identified as requiring update status reports. Three other species that had been included in previous COSEWIC Calls for Bids are to be recommissioned.

See Appendix II for a list of these species.

7. Annual Subcommittee Meetings:

Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge Subcommittee

All members of the ATK Subcommittee (ATK SC) and the Chair of COSEWIC participated in the first ATK SC meeting held February 27-28, 2006 in Kelowna, British Columbia. The ATK SC co-chairs welcomed 10 new members who were nominated by their national organizations (the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Métis National Council, the Native Women's Association of Canada and the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples). It was unanimously decided by the ATK SC members that Henry Lickers of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, co-chair, be recommended for renewal for a further four-year term from January 1, 2007 to December 31, 2010. Larry Carpenter, the other co-chair, from the Wildlife Management Advisory Council of the Northwest Territories, will continue until the end of his current term of office, December 31, 2007.

The Chair of COSEWIC provided the Minister of the Environment the list of the following members of the ATK SC for appointment with terms to be in effect until December 31, 2009.

  • Dan Benoit, Seven Sisters Falls, Manitoba
  • Dean Trumbley, Armstrong, British Columbia
  • Jason Harquail, Fredericton, New Brunswick
  • Dr. Donna Hurlburt, Caledonia, Nova Scotia
  • Sue Chiblow, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario
  • Jeannette Armstrong, Penticton, British Columbia
  • Ron Gruben, Inuvik, Northwest Territories
  • Norma Kassi, Whitehorse, Yukon
  • Gabriel Nirlungayuk, Rankin Inlet, Nunavut
  • Josephine Mandamin Thunder Bay, Ontario

ATK SC members who will contribute to ATK inclusion on COSEWIC Species Specialist Subcommittees were identified. Two working groups were established to develop ATK processes and protocols and to produce a prioritized list of species of interest/concern for Aboriginal Peoples. A number of ATK Subcommittee members attended a portion of the COSEWIC Species Assessment Meeting which took place in late April at Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, Saskatchewan.

Species Specialist Subcommittees:

Species Specialist Subcommittee meetings take place annually in different locations in Canada or, alternatively, may be held via teleconference. During these meetings, observers are invited to attend and sometimes a public information session occurs. Important issues during these meetings include the results of the most recent COSEWIC Species Assessment Meeting, status reports in preparation, results of public calls for bids for the preparation of status reports, including updates, review of candidate lists of species proposed for assessment, results of the public calls for membership, update on COSEWIC Operations and Procedures, orientation of new members and special projects and plans.

Indicated below are the names of the COSEWIC Species Specialist Subcommittees and, where relevant, a summary of special activities, projects and plans undertaken by the subcommittee.

COSEWIC is very grateful for the important work of the Species Specialist Subcommittee members who provide their time and expertise on a volunteer basis.

Amphibians & Reptiles Specialist Subcommittee

No special projects

Arthropods Specialist Subcommittee
  • The Subcommittee is continuing its work on the prioritization scheme for butterflies.
  • A working group was established to consider Subcommittee priorities for the next decade. The working group decided that the Subcommittee required new expertise in Orthoptera, Coleoptera, Arachnids and continuing expertise in Odonata and Lepidoptera so as to deal with major insect groups in a comprehensive way. Regional coverage across Canada was also considered important.
Birds Specialist Subcommittee

The Subcommittee agreed to oversee the completion by the summer of 2006 of a database/matrix indicating the status of Canadian birds to be used to identify candidate species.

Freshwater Fishes Specialist Subcommittee
  • A review of the Freshwater Ecological Areas was proposed, particularly with reference to further delineation of Area 13-Western Arctic, which could be further defined as two areas. Following completion of a study of the existing protocol, further discussion of this issue will take place at the next meeting. It was agreed that the name for Area 10 should be changed to Great Lakes, Upper St. Lawrence, rather than Great Lakes, Western St. Lawrence.
  • The Whitefish Designatable Units project will be put to a call for bids in the 2006/07 fiscal year.
  • The Subcommittee intends to commence production of background summaries for all species on the Candidate species list. It is hoped that the project will be completed within two years.
Marine Fishes Specialist Subcommittee

The Subcommittee has been using different approaches to establishing candidate and priority lists for Atlantic and Pacific species. In the Pacific, RAMAS software was applied to a wide range of species and those identified as priorities were put forward for assessment. The final report of the RAMAS project was received in February 2006. In the Atlantic, species were identified mainly on the basis of temporal changes in fisheries-independent trawl survey catch rates.

At the Subcommittee meeting, it was concluded that the Subcommittee should attempt to devise a system for identifying candidate and priority species which would work for all coasts. The RAMAS software was suggested for all coasts, but although this method has many advantages (consistency in particular) the results from this type of algorithm-based approach can be difficult to interpret when quality of information available varies among species. A suggested alternative approach was, to (a) identify priority groups based on life history and ecological characteristics, (b) tabulate life history and ecological characteristics, decline rates and other relevant information for species in those groups, and then c) use the results to identify priorities. The priority groups to be considered, in the first instance: (1) anadromous species; (2) elasmobranches; (3) species of high maximum age; and (4) species of high maximum length. The Subcommittee decided to develop this approach further and a member was tasked to take the lead on further development. Results from the Pacific RAMAS project are available and can be compared with results from alternative approaches. The Subcommittee noted that status reports are in preparation for most Pacific species identified as high priority and for which data are available.

Marine Mammals Specialist Subcommittee

No special projects were undertaken. However, the Subcommittee decided to initiate a reassessment of the Northwest Atlantic Harbour Porpoise population in response to the Governor in Council's decision to return the initial assessment to COSEWIC for reconsideration.

Molluscs Specialist Subcommittee

A set of guidelines for terrestrial molluscs was proposed for use with other groups of molluscs.

The Subcommittee plans to develop:

  • a candidate list for the land snails of Ontario and Quebec
  • French common names for all molluscs on the candidate list
  • a list of French common names for the freshwater gastropods with the marine and terrestrial species to follow if feasible
  • methodologies for identifying and prioritizing candidate species of molluscs.
Plants & Lichens Specialist Subcommittee
  • Using information provided by the National General Status database, the Vascular Plants Specialists will undertake a further review of the current extensive candidate list of vascular plants.
  • The work to update the moss prioritization database is completed, and work has begun to develop the prioritization list.
  • Efforts to develop a lichen prioritization database and list is ongoing.
Terrestrial Mammals Specialist Subcommittee

No special projects.