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Species at risk languishing in limbo

barn swallow, credit: GrrlScientist CC BY 2.0

barn swallow, Credit: GrrlScientist CC BY 2.0

When governments pass laws that set out explicit requirements and timelines for action to be taken, you would expect that they’d be prepared to obey the law. Not so with Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA).

Under SARA, the federal government must decide whether to list a species within nine months of receiving its designation as at risk by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). Yet about 150 designated species at risk are stuck in limbo awaiting listing decisions.

Until they are listed under SARA, species at risk fall outside the law and its safeguards. No recovery plans. No action plans. No management plans. No protection against harm to the species or its habitat.

 In our view, these delays are unlawful.


gypsy cuckoo bumble bee credit: Sheila Colla

Credit: Sheila Colla

Gypsy cuckoo bumble bee: Once widespread across Canada, COSEWIC designated this bee as endangered in May 2014.



wood thrush, Credit: Juan Zamora CC BY 2.0

Credit: Juan Zamora CC BY 2.0

Wood thrush: This forest-dwelling bird has shown significant long-term population declines and COSEWIC designated it as threatened in November, 2012.



barn swallow, Credit:Glendon Rolston CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Credit: Glendon Rolston CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Barn swallow: This beloved bird is one of many aerial insectivores experiencing alarming population declines. COSEWIC designed it as threatened in May 2011.



American eel, credit: Mike Laptew and Laptew Productions

Credit: Mike Laptew and Laptew Productions

American eel: COSEWIC designated this fish as special concern in 2006 and reassessed it as threatened in May 2012.



lake sturgeon, Credit:Katie Steiger-Meister/USFWS

Credit: Katie Steiger-Meister/USFWS

Lake sturgeon: Several populations of this fish are at risk in Ontario and other provinces. COSEWIC designated the Great Lakes – Upper St. Lawrence population as threatened, and the Winnipeg River and English River populations as endangered in November 2006.



hickorynut mussel, Credit: Naturalis Biodiversity Center

Credit: Naturalis Biodiversity Center

Hickorynut: One of several freshwater mussels at risk in Ontario, the hickorynut was designated as endangered by COSEWIC in 2003.




Dr. Anne Bell has been directing Ontario Nature’s conservation and education programs since 2007.