COSEWIC terms of reference

Revised and Approved by COSEWIC January 2021


To assess the conservation status of species that may be at risk in Canada, to report the results of its assessments, including their reasons and uncertainties, to the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) and to the Canadian public. COSEWIC uses the best available scientific, Aboriginal and community knowledge to assess species. The assessment process is independent and transparent.


On behalf of the CESCC, the Canadian Wildlife Directors Committee provides general direction to COSEWIC on matters of organization and procedures, such as membership, structure and criteria. Within this framework, COSEWIC's assessments are carried out and reported in an independent and transparent manner. To determine candidate species for assessment, COSEWIC uses, among other sources of information, the evaluations provided by the National General Status Working Group. COSEWIC documentation is provided to the National Recovery Working Group as a starting point for recovery planning.

Structure and Composition:

COSEWIC includes scientific experts in conservation biology, ecology, taxonomy, wildlife management, stock assessment, population biology, Aboriginal or community knowledge, and related fields. It is composed of experts from each of the provinces and territories (at least 2 members from each ), two from each of four federal agencies/departments (Canadian Wildlife Service, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Parks Canada, and the Canadian Museum of Nature), the two Co-chairs of the Species Specialist Subcommittees, the two Co-chairs of the Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge Subcommittee, four Non-government Science Members, and two early career scientists. All members are appointed under federal legislation to four-year, renewable terms. Details of member selection are provided in Annex 1. The Chair of COSEWIC is a two-year appointment elected by COSEWIC from among its members by secret ballot.

  • Species Specialist Subcommittees – Species Specialist Subcommittees (SSCs, Annex 2) include two Co-chairs and a minimum of five members. They develop status reports for COSEWIC assessments. The need for new Species Specialist Subcommittees is assessed by COSEWIC.

  • Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge Subcommittee - The Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge Subcommittee facilitates the integration of Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge into the COSEWIC status assessment process. It is led by two Co-chairs, selected by the Subcommittee from among its members.

  • Co-chairs Subcommittee - The COSEWIC Co-chairs Subcommittee includes the Co-chairs of the Species Specialist and Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge Subcommittees, and is chaired by the chair of COSEWIC. It deals with technical aspects of the work of the SSCs and provides advice on such matters to COSEWIC.

  • Jurisdictional Subcommittee - The COSEWIC Jurisdictional Subcommittee includes jurisdictional members, the O&P Subcommittee Chair, COSEWIC Secretariat and is chaired by the Chair of COSEWIC. It acts as a forum to discuss issues common to the various jurisdictions and identify potential solutions to be brought forward to COSEWIC.

  • Emergency Assessment Subcommittee - The Chair of COSEWIC may set up an Emergency Assessment Subcommittee to deal specifically with a request for Emergency Assessment. An Emergency Assessment Subcommittee includes the Chair of COSEWIC, COSEWIC members from the species’ range jurisdictions, the Co-chairs of the appropriate SSC and other COSEWIC members at the Chair’s discretion. The Subcommittee assesses the available evidence and may classify the species into an appropriate risk category. As soon as possible, a report on the species will be examined by COSEWIC at a Wildlife Species Assessment Meeting and the species will be re-assessed.

  • Operations and Procedures Subcommittee – This Subcommittee is composed of COSEWIC members and updates the COSEWIC Operations and Procedures Manual as requested by COSEWIC. All substantive changes to the Manual must be approved by COSEWIC.

  • Secretariat - Administration services and technical support will be provided by a Secretariat funded and staffed by the Canadian Wildlife Service.

Mode of operation

  • Assessments are made on the basis of the best available biological information, including scientific, Aboriginal and community knowledge.

  • COSEWIC will be guided by the precautionary approach as set out in the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk in Canada.

  • COSEWIC meets at least once a year. Quorum is two thirds of the voting members appointed by the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change (Appendix B3).

  • COSEWIC develops its own operations and procedures, including the creation of subcommittees and working groups, recognizing its accountability to the Canadian Wildlife Directors Committee.

  • Assessment decisions are made on the basis of consensus whenever possible. When unanimity is not possible, decisions are based on a two-thirds majority vote.

  • COSEWIC provides to CESCC and to the public the complete reasons for each status assessment and identifies any uncertainties noted during the assessment.

  • The Chair of COSEWIC may seek advice from appropriate members on any issue of concern to COSEWIC.



  • To review and approve the COSEWIC Candidate List.

  • To assess the status of species using accepted criteria and definitions.

  • To report its assessments, review of classifications and findings to the CESCC, and to publish its assessments, status reports and status appraisal summaries.

  • To develop and periodically review scientific definitions, guidelines, standards and criteria to assess the status of wildlife species.

  • To review plans, annual reports, budgets, and activities of COSEWIC and its Subcommittees.

  • To establish working groups to deal with specific issues.

  • To provide direction to the Secretariat.

  • To prepare an annual report of all COSEWIC activities.

  • To receive unsolicited reports that have been reviewed by the appropriate SSC.

Species Specialist Subcommittees

  • To establish SSC candidate lists.

  • To commission status reports on eligible candidate species.

  • To review unsolicited reports and ensure that they meet the standards of commissioned reports.

  • In cooperation with COSEWIC members from range jurisdictions, wildlife management boards and outside experts, to review draft status reports to ensure accuracy, completeness, quality of analysis and application of relevant listing criteria.

  • To recommend a status to COSEWIC.

Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge subcommittee

  • To perform their duties in an independent manner.

  • To attend ATK Subcommittee, SSC, and other meetings in support of the functioning of the ATK Subcommittee.

  • To develop and maintain relationships with ATK holders and their communities.

  • To advise writers of status reports of known sources of ATK, suggest wildlife species for candidate lists, facilitate access of contractors to knowledge holders or ATK using approved protocols, review draft and interim reports, and provide regional expertise on the status of, and threats to wildlife species.

  • To facilitate the access to relevant ATK for wildlife species assessment using appropriate processes and protocols related to ATK gathering.

  • To review draft and interim status reports for ATK content and contribute to status assessment deliberations to the best of their knowledge and ability.

Co-chairs Subcommittee

  • To establish guidelines for the selection of competing bids for status reports, the drafting of status reports, and for the assessment of the quality and suitability of unsolicited reports.

  • To undertake actions requested by COSEWIC.

  • To provide advice to COSEWIC on matters related to the work of SSCs.

Jurisdictional Members

  • To advise writers of status reports of known sources of information.

  • To suggest species for the SSC candidate lists and for status reports.

  • To guide report writers to appropriate contacts within their jurisdictions.

  • To review draft and interim reports, receive, collate, and distribute one set of review comments within their jurisdiction to SSC Co-chairs.

  • To provide regional expertise on the status of, and threats to species within their jurisdiction.

  • To take an active part in COSEWIC deliberations, participate in COSEWIC standing committees and ad hoc working groups when requested by the Chair, and brief officials in parent organization about COSEWIC procedures, activities and decisions.


  • To provide administrative services, such as organizing and servicing meetings, and technical support to COSEWIC and its subcommittees.

  • To administer contracts for the preparation of COSEWIC products such as COSEWIC Status Reports.

  • To maintain files, records and other archival materials.

  • To administer the financial support provided to the Committee following Government of Canada regulations, standards, policies and guidelines.

  • To prepare and annually revise a four-year rolling COSEWIC annual workplan based on the priorities of the Committee for approval by the Chair of COSEWIC.

  • To prepare and annually revise a budget associated with the four-year rolling annual workplan for review by the Chair of COSEWIC and review and approval by the Director General of Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment and Climate Change Canada or his/her delegate.

  • To release Committee decisions, including results of Committee assessments, and advice upon approval of the Chair of COSEWIC.

  • To disseminate Committee-related information to the public, including the publication of status reports in both official languages.

  • To undertake other specific tasks agreed between the Chair of COSEWIC and the Director General of the Canadian Wildlife Service or delegate.



  • To perform their duties in an independent manner.

  • To attend COSEWIC meetings, including Emergency Assessment meetings as requested by the Chair.

  • To review draft and interim status reports and contribute to status assessment deliberations to the best of their knowledge and ability.

  • To manage and facilitate the process of preparation and review of draft and provisional status reports and status appraisal summaries. In the case of jurisdictional members and Non-government Science Members, this function is carried out upon request by the Chair.


  • To ensure that meetings proceed in an orderly fashion maintaining the principles of independence, transparency, and scientific integrity upon which COSEWIC is based.

  • To head the Co-chairs subcommittee.

  • To initiate Emergency Status Assessments.

  • To serve as contact person and spokesperson to CESCC, news media, and the general public.


At the discretion of the Chair, observers may attend COSEWIC meetings with advance special permission if their presence assists COSEWIC in fulfilling its mandate. Observers will maintain confidentiality over the proceedings and decisions of COSEWIC.

Annex 1

Selection of COSEWIC membership:

Species Specialist Subcommittee Co-chairs and Non-government Science Members are recommended after an open competition by COSEWIC for appointment by the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change after consultation with the CESCC. SSC members are selected by the SSC through an open competition. Jurisdictional members are recommended by their jurisdiction for appointment by the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change after consultation with the CESCC. The Co-chairs of the ATK Subcommittee are selected by the Subcommittee from among its members and are recommended by COSEWIC for appointment by the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change after consultation with the CESCC.

Annex 2

COSEWIC Species Specialist Subcommittees:

There are 10 Species Specialist Subcommittees representing birds, terrestrial mammals, freshwater fishes, marine fishes, marine mammals, vascular plants, mosses and lichens, amphibians and reptiles, molluscs and arthropods.

Annex 3

COSEWIC Membership and voting structure:

Members of COSEWIC include 2 early career members, 4 Non-government Science Members, 20 Co-chairs of Species Specialist Subcommittees, 2 Co-chairs of the Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge Subcommittee, and2 Members of the following Federal Agencies: Parks Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service, and the Canadian Museum of Nature. Membership from each of the following Provincial and Territorial agencies is as follows, with at least 2 members from each:

Province Department
Yukon Department of Environment
Northwest Territories Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Nunavut Department of Environment
British Columbia Ministry of Environment
Alberta Department of Sustainable Resource Development
Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment
Manitoba Manitoba Conservation
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources
Québec (1) Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune (for animals) and (2) Ministère du Développement durable, de l’Environnement et des Parcs (for plants, mosses and lichens)
New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources
Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources
Prince Edward Island (1) Department of Environment, Energy and Forestry (for terrestrial species) and (2) Department of Aquaculture and Rural Development (for marine species)
Newfoundland and Labrador (1) Department of Environment and Conservation (for plants and animals except marine fishes) and (2) Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture (for marine, pelagic and demersal fish species)

There are 34 voting members: the 4 Non-government Science Members, 2 early career members, 1 Co-chair for each of the 10 Species Specialist Subcommittees, 1 Co-chair of the Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge Subcommittee, 1 for each of the 4 Federal agencies and 1 for each of the 10 provinces and 3 territories.

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


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