Brief history: Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) was created in 1977 as a result of a decision made at the Conference of Federal-Provincial-Territorial Wildlife Directors held in 1976 in Fredericton, New Brunswick. It arose from the need for a single, official, scientifically sound, national classification of wildlife species at risk. COSEWIC made its first status designations in April 1978 and has met annually since then. With time and experience, COSEWIC developed and periodically modified its operating procedures, the categories of risk and their definitions, and it's assessment procedures. Even after over thirty-five years of existence, COSEWIC continues to evolve and to fine-tune its operations in an effort to do its job in the best possible manner.

Originally, the wildlife directors gave COSEWIC the mandate to consider vertebrates (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fishes) and plants. In 1994, COSEWIC's mandate was expanded to include molluscs, lepidopterans (butterflies and moths), lichens and mosses. In 2003, COSEWIC received approval from the wildlife directors to begin assessing the status of other arthropods in addition to the lepidopterans. Arthropods are a very diverse group of animals, including dragonflies, beetles, crayfish and spiders.

COSEWIC has always had the power to designate wildlife species on an emergency basis when there is a clear immediate danger of serious decline in the wildlife species population and/or range, or when such a decline is already in progress and will continue unless immediate corrective actions are taken, and when the delay involved with going through the normal process could contribute to the wildlife species' jeopardy. COSEWIC made its first emergency status assessment in November 1999.

In 2000, COSEWIC added a new subcommittee to assist it in the acquisition and incorporation of Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge into the COSEWIC status assessment process. The Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge (ATK) Subcommittee is in it's formative stages, and will ultimately ensure ATK is included in the status assessment process.

In 2002, COSEWIC celebrated twenty-five years of science-based assessment of the status of wildlife species at risk in Canada.

In June 2003, the Species at Risk Act (SARA) established COSEWIC as an advisory body, thus ensuring that wildlife species will continue to be assessed using the best available scientific and Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge. Under SARA, the government of Canada will take COSEWIC's designations into consideration when establishing the legal list of wildlife species at risk.

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