COSEWIC was created in 1977 to provide a single, scientifically-sound classification of wildlife species at risk of extinction. Each year it meets to assign risk categories for all native mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, arthropods, molluscs, vascular plants, mosses and lichens included in its current mandate. As an independent, arms-length advisory panel to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada, members are wildlife biology experts drawn from academia, government, non-governmental organizations and the private sector.
Over time it has developed and periodically modified operating procedures, categories of risk and their definitions, and assessment procedures. By 1994, COSEWIC's mandate was expanded to include molluscs, lepidopterans (butterflies and moths), lichens and mosses. A new subcommittee was added in 2000 to ensure the inclusion of Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge into the COSEWIC status assessment process.
In 2003, the Species at Risk Act (SARA) established COSEWIC as an advisory body and the mandate was further expanded to include the assessment of other arthropods. Under SARA, the government of Canada will take COSEWIC designations into consideration when establishing the official list of wildlife species at risk. It requires that results are reported to the Canadian government and the public, and for the Minister for Environment and Climate Change Canada to provide an official response to the assessment results.
Wildlife species that have been designated by COSEWIC may then qualify for legal protection and recovery under the Act. It is up to the government to legally protect wildlife species designated by COSEWIC and the assessments do not take political, social or economic factors into account. The Act only applies to those wildlife species listed on the official SARA list.
For more detailed information, consult the following:
How COSEWIC Works