Community knowledge and the COSEWIC assessment process

Incorporating Community Knowledge Into COSEWIC Assessment Process


The Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk and the federal Species At Risk Act (SARA) mandate the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) to assess the conservation status of wildlife species suspected of being at risk of extinction. COSEWIC is required to carry out its assessment using the best available information on the biological status of a species, including scientific knowledge, Community Knowledge and Aboriginal traditional knowledge.

The knowledge brought forward by communities may complement known information on a species life history characteristics, ecological relationships, changes in distribution and abundance as well as threats affecting the species. In some cases, Community Knowledge will be more practical to acquire than scientific information, particularly for species which are poorly studied and/or difficult to survey.

COSEWIC is now identifying means for accessing, gathering, validating and incorporating this knowledge in the assessment process.

Defining Community Knowledge useful for COSEWIC

For the purpose of its species assessment process, COSEWIC defines Community Knowledge related to the biological status of wildlife species as follows:

"Information derived from observation, personal experience and culture informing about a species (or a group of species) current and/or past population distribution and abundance), habitat use and availability, life history traits, ecological relationships and potential threats to the species survival"

COSEWIC seeks information on the current or historic status of species, not opinions or comments on the consequences of possible conservation measures. COSEWIC seeks information that a person or a group has directly obtained or has inherited and that is not otherwise available (for example in the scientific literature or in government reports).

Verifiable documentation (such as fur returns, catch statistics, or neatly compiled records of sightings) would be extremely useful. Historical information (including that transmitted through generations) on changes in abundance, distribution, habitat and land use or behavior is most useful for species assessment.

In making its status recommendations, COSEWIC will consider all available information related to the biological status of wildlife species. All sources of information will be considered, with a weight assigned to each according to COSEWIC's assessment of their relative strengths and weaknesses.

Defining Community types

Here are some examples of people that may possess Community Knowledge useful for the COSEWIC Assessment Process: (please note that Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge is being collected by the Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge Subcommittee - Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge)

  • Long-time residents of rural areas who note species they see compared to what they used to see;
  • Members of community organizations providing care or protection for wildlife, land, and water. Information collected over many years would be most valuable to COSEWIC;
  • Naturalist groups that may collect records of plants, mushrooms or butterflies, or bird watchers with long-term records of the identity and location of species they observed;
  • Non-government organizations gathering information about wildlife species and threats to wildlife;
  • Commercial/recreational users of wildlife species, such as associations of hunters, trappers, fishers, and anglers. Members of these organizations often have decades of experience in monitoring the status of species they harvest.

If you possess community knowledge useful for assessing the conservation status of wildlife species, visit the community knowledge web-based questionnaire to complete.

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, 14th floor
Gatineau QC K1A 0H3


Social Media