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Assessment and Update on the Northern Goshawk

Protection Currently Provided

Section 34 of the Wildlife Act of British Columbia protects goshawks, their eggs, nestlings, and their nests when the nests are occupied. A “nest” is defined as a structure, or part of a structure, prepared by or used by a bird species to hold its eggs or offspring. A nest is considered occupied from the time it is under construction to when fledglings leave the nest.

Persecution (shooting, trapping, poisoning or any other measure of killing) of goshawks in British Columbia is illegal under section 34 of the Wildlife Act, though allowances can be made when domestic animals are being defended. Current penalties for conviction for offences under section 34 include a fine of up to $50,000 and six months in jail for a first offence.

Federal endangered species legislation is currently being developed. The National Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk has been signed by most of the provinces as of the spring of 1998. It states that any province that signs on to the accord commits to developing complementary programs or legislation to meet 14 areas listed on the accord. This includes protection of Red-listed species and their habitat and, therefore, would apply in British Columbia to the Queen Charlotte Goshawk.

The Forest Practices Code of British Columbia has several legal components for the protection of species at risk. Among them are legally established management practices designed to protect critical or limiting habitat of certain species at risk, including the Queen Charlotte Goshawk, that have been signed off as Identified Wildlife by the Chief Forester and the Deputy Minister of Environment, Lands and Parks (Sections 70 Operational Planning Regulation, B.C. Reg. 107/98) (Province of British Columbia 1999).

There has been no estimate of the population of Queen Charlotte Goshawks, or of the relative suitability of habitat that occurs in existing protected areas. Such an assessment was one recommendation in a recent review of the status of goshawks in British Columbia (Cooper and Stevens 2000). We agree that surveys for breeding pairs and habitat assessments in protected areas are required in order to adequately estimate the provincial population and to properly assess the urgency for conservation.

If we assume that the Queen Charlotte Goshawk is evenly distributed across forested areas, which is unlikely, and that most of the populations occur within the Coastal Douglas-fir and Coastal Western Hemlock biogeoclimatic zones, then according to Table 1, about 10% of the population on Vancouver Island and 23% of the population on the Queen Charlotte Islands occurs in protected areas. If we assume that Vancouver Island has 300 pairs and the Queen Charlotte Islands has 50 pairs, then a maximum of 40 pairs may be conserved in protected areas.

Evaluation

The Queen Charlotte Goshawk has a relatively restricted global range, and the bulk of this range occurs in coastal British Columbia. Population sizes in British Columbia are thought to be small, on the order of 350-425 breeding pairs, with most concentrated on Vancouver Island. Protected forested habitat, which may or may not contain Queen Charlotte Goshawks, is limited to about 12% on Vancouver Island and 23% on the Queen Charlotte Islands. Threats to habitat include large-scale industrial logging in habitats that appear to contain the highest value habitat. The two most important causes of concern are the continued harvesting of old-growth forests, and the shortening of rotations for the harvesting of second-growth timber. Fragmentation of contiguous old-growth forest may decrease food availability, decrease availability of suitable nesting habitat, reduce insolation qualities, and increase risk of predation and competition from species better adapted to fragmented forest, all of which are likely to lead to lower population sizes. The adaptability of the Queen Charlotte Goshawk to nesting in younger second-growth stands is uncertain and the long term effects of current logging practices may significantly compromise population stability.

The Queen Charlotte Goshawk has a small population size, a very restricted range in Canada, is subject to large-scale threats to habitat, and has a relatively low capability to increase populations. Long term potential threats of increased fragmentation of old-growth forests remain uncertain, but are likely negative. More positively, it has a widespread distribution within that restricted range, has some adaptability in utilizing second-growth forests, and has a current high legislated priority for habitat conservation. However, because threats to habitat will likely continue, populations appear to be small, and there is a very limited range, we suggest the status of the Queen Charlotte Goshawk should be changed from Vulnerable to Threatened in Canada.