Polar Bear and other Species at Risk Assessed by Independent Canadian Science Body

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) met in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories from April 20 to 25, 2008.

Polar Bear Future Uncertain

COSEWIC reassessed the Polar Bear as a species of Special Concern. “The Polar Bear was one of the most challenging species ever assessed by COSEWIC” said Dr. Jeff Hutchings, Chair. Extensive inventory, research, a wealth of Aboriginal traditional and community knowledge and the emerging threats posed by climate change and northern development were considered. In some areas, the bear appears to be increasing; in others it is declining. The reduction of sea ice, a consequence of increasing temperatures, is a threat to the species, especially in the southern part of its range. Future stresses on the population mean that harvest will have to be managed particularly carefully in coming years.

Shrinking habitat: a leading cause of species decline

The Western Chorus Frog, a harbinger of spring, was previously assessed as Not at Risk across its range. It is now considered as Threatened in Quebec and southeastern Ontario. This quarter-sized frog has suffered rapid declines due to increasing development and the loss of wetlands.

Similarly, the Eastern Foxsnake, about the length of an average person, is Endangered due to loss of wetlands and habitat fragmentation.

Canada’s largest hawk, the Ferruginous Hawk, was assessed as Threatened due to fragmentation and degradation of native prairie grasslands.

There are fewer than 20 Spotted Owls remaining in Canada. Their decline is due largely to the loss of old-growth forests.

Number of Endangered species grows; some still Endangered after 30 years

One of the first species assessed by COSEWIC was the endemic Vancouver Island Marmot. Thirty years later, its population has further declined and remains at critically low levels.

COSEWIC assessed a dragonfly for the first time. The Endangered Rapids Clubtail, which requires clean, fast-flowing streams, is restricted to two locations in southern Ontario both of which are subject to increasing pressures of urban development.

Formerly numbering in the millions, the Fawnsfoot, an attractive freshwater mussel, is now facing extinction in southern Ontario. The Fawnsfoot has declined drastically in number due to invasive alien species.

Increasing winter storms threaten species on both coasts

Many climate change models predict an increase in the intensity and frequency of winter storms. The Beach Pinweed, a plant known from coastal dunes in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, is at risk from high storm surges. The Seaside Bone, a lichen which grows on pines, occurs only on the southern tip of Vancouver Island in British Columbia. It is Threatened by the loss of host trees during winter storms.

About COSEWIC

COSEWIC assesses the status of wild species, subspecies, varieties, or other important units of biological diversity, considered to be at risk in Canada. To do so, COSEWIC uses scientific, Aboriginal traditional and community knowledge provided by experts from governments, academia and other organizations. Summaries of assessments are currently available to the public on the COSEWIC website (and will be submitted to the Federal Minister of the Environment in fall 2008 for listing consideration under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). At this time, the status reports and status appraisal summaries will be publicly available on the Species at Risk Public Registry.

There are now 565 species in various COSEWIC risk categories, including 235 Endangered, 143 Threatened, 152 Special Concern, and 22 Extirpated Species (i.e. no longer found in the wild in Canada). In addition, 13 are Extinct and 45 are Data Deficient.

COSEWIC comprises members from each provincial and territorial government wildlife agency, four federal entities (Canadian Wildlife Service, Parks Canada Agency, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and the Canadian Museum of Nature), three Non-government Science Members, and the Co-chairs of the Species Specialist and the Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge Subcommittees.

Definition of COSEWIC terms and status categories:

Wildlife Species: A species, subspecies, variety, or geographically or genetically distinct population of animal, plant or other organism, other than a bacterium or virus, that is wild by nature and is either native to Canada or has extended its range into Canada without human intervention and has been present in Canada for at least 50 years.
Extinct (X): A wildlife species that no longer exists.
Extirpated (XT): A wildlife species that no longer exists in the wild in Canada, but exists elsewhere.
Endangered (E): A wildlife species facing imminent extirpation or extinction.
Threatened (T): A wildlife species that is likely to become Endangered if nothing is done to reverse the factors leading to its extirpation or extinction.
Special Concern (SC): A wildlife species that may become Threatened or Endangered because of a combination of biological characteristics and identified threats.
Not at Risk (NAR): A wildlife species that has been evaluated and found to be not at risk of extinction given the current circumstances.
Data Deficient (DD): A category that applies when the available information is insufficient (a) to resolve a wildlife species’ eligibility for assessment or (b) to permit an assessment of the wildlife species’ risk of extinction.
Species at Risk: A wildlife species that has been assessed as Extirpated, Endangered, Threatened or Special Concern.

Dr. Jeffrey Hutchings
Chair, COSEWIC
Department of Biology
Dalhousie University
Telephone (1): (902) 494-2687
Telephone (2): (902) 494-3515
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For general inquiries:
COSEWIC Secretariat
Canadian Wildlife Service
Environment and Climate Change Canada
351 St. Joseph Blvd, 16th floor
Gatineau QC K1A 0H3
Telephone: 819-938-4125
Fax: 819-938-3984
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Cosewic
For inquiries on birds:
Richard Cannings
1330 East Debeck Road
R.R. 1, Site 11-Comp. 96
Naramata BC V0H 1N0
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For inquiries on mammals:
Dr. Marco Festa-Bianchet
Département de biologie
Université de Sherbrooke
Telephone: (819) 821-8000 ext. 62061
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For inquiries on arthropods (insects and related taxa):
Dr. Paul Catling
Research Scientist and Curator
Central Experimental Farm
Telephone: (613) 759-1373
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For inquiries on plants:
Dr. Erich Haber
Telephone: (613) 435-0216
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For inquiries on frogs:
Dr. David Green
Redpath Museum
McGill University
Telephone: (514) 398-4086 ext. 4088
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For inquiries on snakes:
Dr. Ronald Brooks
Department of Zoology
University of Guelph
Telephone: (519) 824-4120 ext. 53944
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For information on lichens:
Dr. René Belland
Devonian Botanic Garden
University of Alberta
Telephone: (780) 987-3054
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About us

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) is an independent advisory panel to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada that meets twice a year to assess the status of wildlife species at risk of extinction. Members are wildlife biology experts from academia, government, non-governmental organizations and the private sector responsible for designating wildlife species in danger of disappearing from Canada.


COSEWIC secretariat
Canadian Wildlife Service
Environment and Climate Change Canada
351 St. Joseph Blvd, 16th floor
Gatineau QC K1A 0H3

Telephone: 819-938-4125
Fax: 819-938-3984
Email: ec.cosepac-cosewic.ec@canada.ca

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