Species At Risk

The Nature Conservancy of Canada defines species at risk as plants and animals that are in danger of disappearing from the wild. The survival of a species can be jeopardized by a variety of factors, and determining the cause and solution is often a complex scientific process.

The World Wildlife Fund Canada’s 2020 report, Living Planet Report Card Canada shows populations of species assessed as at risk nationally by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada have declined by 59 per cent, on average, from 1970–2016. Species of global conservation concern — assessed as threatened on the IUCN Red List — also have declined in Canada by 42 per cent, on average, from 1970–2016. At-risk species in Canada face an average of five threats, including the accelerating threat of climate change. The David Suzuki Foundation reports that in 2020, 521 plant and animal species are considered at risk under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.

Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake / Serpent Massasauga – Don Wilkes

The Nature Conservancy of Canada and Nature Serve Canada in their 2020 Ours to Save document report that Canada is home to over 300 different plant and animal species that live nowhere else on Earth. Unfortunately, the first comprehensive survey of these uniquely Canadian species shows that many could be vulnerable to extinction. These are known as endemic species that can only be found in a specific geographical area, such as an ecological region or country. This raises the stakes considerably as if one of these species disappears from Canada, they disappear from the globe. Ontario has a total of 28 endemic species, including a liverwort only found on the Saugeen Bruce Peninsula and at Eugenia Falls, and a lichen species only found on the peninsula and Manitoulin Island.

In his biologist’s manifesto, famed ecologist, E.O. Wilson stated: “The ongoing mass extinction of species, and with it the extinction of genes and ecosystems, ranks with pandemics, world war, and climate change as among the deadliest threats that humanity has imposed on itself”.

Saugeen Bruce Peninsula

The Nature Conservancy of Canada notes that the Saugeen Bruce Peninsula is one of the most intact natural landscapes in Ontario south of the Canadian Shield. It presents a rare opportunity to conserve a large, functional ecosystem in southern Ontario. This in turn benefits wide-ranging mammals such as the fisher, red-shouldered hawk, ovenbird, northern flying squirrels, and black bear. The peninsula supports an abundance of species diversity, including 11 globally rare species such as massasauga rattlesnake, rams-head orchid, and lakeside daisy. Cabot Head, on the northeastern Saugeen Bruce Peninsula, is an important stopover site for migratory birds. Many species gather here in globally significant concentrations during their spring and fall migrations. In the spring, red-necked grebes also congregate in the area. This appears to be their most significant gathering point on the Great Lakes.

National Parks

Bruce Peninsula National Park contains the largest contiguous forest in southwestern Ontario. It also protects globally-rare ecosystems such as limestone barrens (alvars) and cliff-edge forests. At 154 km2 in size, some of the natural values that make the park special include:

  •     Ancient eastern white cedar trees growing on the cliffs of the Niagara Escarpment. Many of these trees are over 1,000 years old – the oldest trees in eastern North America;
  •     An isolated and genetically distinct population of black bear;
  •     Ontario’s only venomous snake, the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake;
  •     43 species of orchids; and,
  •     Extensive karst landform features including caves, sinkholes and disappearing streams.

Located in the heart of the Great Lakes, the 114km2 Fathom Five National Marine Park protects a significant portion of the main channel connecting Georgian Bay to Lake Huron, and Fathom Five is recognized as a hotspot for biodiversity in the Great Lakes due to the wide diversity of globally at-risk habitat it protects, including cliff and talus slopes, cobble shorelines, and alvar communities, and providing habitat for rare, endemic and ancient flora and fauna.

Black Bear – Bill Caulfeild-Browne

Fathom Five is situated along the edge of a 400 million-year old landform known as the Niagara Escarpment in Ontario and the Michigan Basin more widely that stretches from western New York, passes north through southern Ontario to Manitoulin and on to Wisconsin. In Fathom Five, the escarpment descends from the Bruce Peninsula National Park shoreline 165m into Georgian Bay forming a complex lakebed of post-glacial riverbeds, waterfalls and drowned forests. The Escarpment periodically emerges as an archipelago of islands, smaller islets, reefs and shoals between the Bruce Peninsula and Manitoulin Island continuing into Wisconsin and Michigan.

The 20 islands feature many important habitats. For example, Flowerpot Island has a range of geological features including cliffs, two limestone erosive formations (‘flowerpots’), and 157 caves. Together, Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park have the largest collection of lacustrine wave-cut caves in Canada.

The 2016 Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park Multi-Species Action Plan identifies 41 species at risk including:

  •     Eastern Prairie-fringed Orchid
  •     Hill’s Thistle
  •     Lakeside Daisy
  •     Massasauga Rattlesnake
  •     Snapping Turtle
  •     Short-jaw cisco fish

Responding to Species at Risk: Parks Canada’s Conservation and Restoration Program

The Conservation and Restoration (CoRe) program seeks to restore ecosystems or species that are in poor to fair condition as identified in the State of the Park Report, and the Multi-Species Action Plan.

In Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park several CoRe projects are underway.

Orchids – Bill Caulfeild-Browne

  •     On the Road to Recovery addresses the key environmental threats associated with roads which impact multiple species at risk within Bruce Peninsula National Park.
  • The Together with Giigoonag CoRe project supports research into the recent declines in Lake Whitefish, including the potential for novel species interactions due to ecosystem changes in     Lake Huron, and the functional role that serve the water surrounding the Saugeen-Bruce Peninsula for Lake Whitefish. The knowledge gathered through this project, by applying the principle of “two-eyed seeing”, will foster a collaborative learning relationship and provide evidence for resource managers to make informed decisions. The following are the five key components: Indigenous knowledge/land uses; larval fish work; fish telemetry; spawning shoal quality/productivity; and Lake Trout – Lake     Whitefish interactions.

Other Species at Risk Projects:

  • Parks Canada, the Saugeen Ojibway Nation and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry are developing a Black Bear Conservation Plan.
  • The same three partners are studying at-risk deep-water cisco and sculpin fish species.
  • Parks Canada is also conducting monitoring surveys on at-risk bat populations, peregrine falcon nesting sites, and determining the status of Provancher’s fleabane, Eastern Prairie Fringed orchid, and Hill’s pondweed.
  • In addition, Parks Canada is partnering with universities such as the University of Guelph to assist Hill’s thistle.
  • Parks Canada carries out on-going invasive species management work (i.e., phragmites, garlic mustard, purple loosestrife, and emerald ash borer).

Parks Canada’s Resource Conservation section undertakes much of this work and produces an annual report. The 2018 report can be found here. The 2019-2020 report is in preparation.

Other Species at Risk Projects on the Saugeen Bruce Peninsula

  • Bruce Peninsula Biosphere Association has a multi-year phragmites removal project and is embarking on a red-headed woodpecker community survey.
  • The Nature Conservancy of Canada has a Queen Snake survey program, and is working on invasive species.

Written by Brian McHattie