S3

Species at Risk

This evaluation tracks the number of species that have been assessed as Extinct, Extirpated, Endangered, Threatened and Special Concern by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife under Canada’s Species at Risk Act each year and the total number in each province.

%

The average annual increase in the number of species assessed as at risk in Canada. 

BC, Ontario and Quebec have the greatest number of species at risk.

Number of species assessed as at risk that are not listed under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.

Why do species at risk matter?

  • The number of species at risk in Canada has increased by an average of just under 4% every year since Canada’s Species at Risk Act was enacted in 2002. 
  • Canada now has 875 species assessed as Extinct (25), Extirpated (21), Endangered (371), Threatened (200) or Special Concern (258) by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) (Figure 1). 
  • BC, Ontario, and Quebec have the greatest number of species at risk (Figure 2). 
  • Assessments from 2023 include the addition of three bat species with declining populations. Two species have been reassessed as Extinct and two species uplisted from Special Concern to Endangered. The nationally endemic Gulf of St. Lawrence Aster was uplisted because of the impacts of climate change. 
  • There are 187 species (21% of eligible species) that have been assessed as at risk (Extirpated, Endangered, Threatened or Special Concern) by COSEWIC that are currently not listed under Canada’s Species at Risk Act. 
  • Vascular plants (217), freshwater fishes (110), marine fishes (108), and birds (92) are the taxonomic groups with the largest number of species at risk in Canada. 
  • Many species at risk with small ranges and populations will trigger Key Biodiversity Areas, and benefit from land protection and stewardship.  

Calls to action

Addressing the biodiversity crisis in Canada will require transformative change. See our backgrounder on transformative change for more information. More specific actions include:

Federal, provincial, territorial & Indigenous governments:  

  • Identify and target hotspots of species at risk for ecosystem-based recovery actions. Establish and effectively manage protected and conserved areas to protect the habitat for species at risk, particularly those with small ranges and populations. 
  • Bolster funding and programs aimed at preventing the endangerment of species, and before cost-intensive management actions are needed.  
  • Invest in actions to accelerate the identification of Key Biodiversity Areas and critical habitat mapping across Canada. 
  • Include candidate species at risk in federal environmental assessments so they get extra attention and impacts can be avoided or effectively mitigated. 
  • Prepare and implement recovery and action plans to reduce threats to species at risk. 
  • Support Conservation Data Centres across Canada in surveying and ranking species at risk to track and report on their status and trends. 

 

Local governments & communities: 

  • Inventory and map species at risk based on best available information and incorporate them into land use planning. 
  • Leverage the uniqueness and importance of species at risk to foster community pride and sense of place and build support for local conservation actions. 

 

Civil societies, community organizations, universities, colleges & museums: 

  • Land trusts and naturalist groups can target species at risk for land protection and stewardship actions. Species that have small ranges and can be effectively conserved through habitat protection and management. 
  • Support and advocate for the designation of Key Biodiversity Areas that include species at risk. 
  • Build awareness about the importance of conserving species at risk and the local actions we can take to protect biodiversity. 
  • Develop and implement recovery strategies for candidate species at risk that are not currently included in the federal Species at Risk Act or provincial/ territorial species at risk legislation. 

 

Businesses & corporations: 

  • Incorporate biodiversity, including species at risk, into sustainability plans. 
  • Use the Key Biodiversity Areas registry and other resources to identify species at risk that can be protected and stewarded by your business. 
  • Avoid projects that could impact species at risk and their habitat and seek opportunities for ‘nature-positive’ actions that will improve their status. 
  • “Adopt” species at risk and fund communities and organizations that are protecting these species. 

 

Everyone: 

  • Learn about species at risk that occur near your home. 
  • Support Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) or other conservation projects near you that help to conserve species at risk. Volunteer as a KBA caretaker or create a caretaker group.

Other information

Species that are extinct are not included as species at risk under the Species at Risk Act but are tracked in tracked in this evaluation. Wildlife species are defined under Canada’s Species at Risk Act as native species, subspecies, variety or geographically or genetically distinct population of animal, plant or other organism, other than a bacterium or virus, that is wild by nature.  

 

NatureServe and the IUCN Red List use complimentary, but different criteria for assessing global conservation status. Status assessments by NatureServe have been completed for a much larger number of species than IUCN Red List assessments. 

 

Additional background on species assessments can be found in in our backgrounder on species assessments and at these links: 

IUCN Red List     NatureServe     COSEWIC 

Confidence and limitations

High confidence – this information is based on assessments by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada and published on Canada’s Species at Risk registry. 

 

Changes in the number of at-risk species is a result of both increasing endangerment (e.g., Northern Myotis) and COSEWIC’s capacity to assess additional species. There are many additional species that are at risk in Canada but have not yet been assessed.  

S5_New sea sponge_Sally Leys

Some species at risk such as Red Bat are still common but have shown a rapid rate of decline.

Photos: Chris Cheatle (iNaturalist).

S5_Hine's Emerald_Bonnie Kinder

Species, such as Hibberson’s Trillium are endemic to Canada and at risk due to a small population and range. Photo: iancruickshank (iNaturalist) 

Applications and next steps

This evaluation can be used to track the annual change in the number of species at risk nationally and by jurisdiction and taxonomic group. Next steps will include assessing the number of new assessments compared to reassessments, and comparing the number of species assessed by COSEWIC to the number of species that may be at risk in Canada (CESCC, 2022). 

Number of Native Canadian Wild Species by Status Category

Figure 1. Number of Wildlife Species assessed as at risk or extinct, by year.

Number of Native Canadian Wild Species by Status Category

Figure 2. Number of Wildlife Species assessed as at risk or extinct, by province and territory.

Related Evaluations

S1: Knowledge of Canadian Species

P2: Provincial & Territorial Species at Risk Laws

P3: Delays in Protecting Species at Risk

How to Cite

Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Canada. 2023. Species at risk (version 2.0), in SHAPE of Nature. https://shapeofnature.ca/

For More Information

Contact us for more information or for a copy of the data in XL at https://shapeofnature.ca/take-action/ or wcscanada@wcs.org

Data sources & methods

Current numbers are based on a query of the Species at Risk public registry website (‘species search’) by ‘range’, ‘COSEWIC status’, and ‘taxonomic group’, plus updates from the December 2023 COSEWIC meeting. Historical numbers have been extracted from COSEWIC annual reports (2003-present) and figures available through web searches (1999-2002). Reviews of COSEWIC history present numbers from 1978-1998 (Cook & Muir, 1984; Shank, 1999). 

The number of species assessed in a risk category (Extirpated, Endangered, Threatened or Special Concern) by COSEWIC that are not listed under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA) was calculated by subtracting the number of species listed under SARA on the Species at Risk public registry website (‘schedule status’) from the total number of species assessed in a risk category by COSEWIC. Species listed under SARA that have recently been reassessed as Not at Risk or Extinct by COSEWIC are removed from the totals since these will be ineligible when listings are updated. 

The query was generated on December 12, 2023. 

Updates

This evaluation is updated annually after the last COSEWIC meeting of the calendar year. The next update will be in December 2024.

Species

S1 Edge of Extinction

S2 Globally Threatened Species

S3 Species at Risk

S4 Endemic Species

S5 Knowledge of Species

S6 State of Canada's Trees

S7 State of Canada's Whales

S8 State of Canada's Frogs

S9 Migratory Species

Habitats

H1 Globally Threatened Ecosystems

H2 Wetland Loss

Actions

A1 Protected & Conserved Areas

A2 Recovery Plans for Species at Risk

Policies

P1 Biodiversity Laws, Policies & Plans

P2 Provincial & Territorial Species at Risk Laws

P3 Delays in Protecting Species at Risk