Taylor's Checkerspot, Mark Wynja / CC-BY-NC
Taylor's Checkerspot © Mark Wynja / CC-BY-NC

We can be the generation that holds on tight to our natural wealth


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Daniel Kraus
Director of National Conservation

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Published

2024-01-05

Looking back over the past few years in biodiversity, there is one measure that stands out: the decline and extinction of wild species.

This article was published in the National Observer.

We have literally been watching global temperatures climb to new heights this fall in chart after chart of global temperature trends. It’s an easy way for us to grasp just how fast climate change is moving, but it also makes me wish we could present an equally clear and simple picture of biodiversity trends.

Looking back over the past few years in biodiversity, there is one measure that stands out: the decline and extinction of wild species. Wildlife Conservation Society Canada’s 2023 annual evaluation of edge of extinction species found a 40% increase in the number of species in Canada at imminent risk of disappearing. This growing number is a combination of both more information on the actual risk facing some species and the growing concern for others we know are already at risk.

Edge of extinction species are found across Canada, with the highest numbers found in BC, Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, and Nova Scotia. But perhaps more troubling than the number or location is the trend, which, just like global temperature averages, continues up, up, up.

We know our planet is becoming a lonelier place because of our displacement of diversity. Baring technological de-extinction, no human will ever again witness the Great Auk, Passenger Pigeon, Tasmanian Tiger or Stellar’s Sea Cow, and hundreds of other wild things. But despite this evidence of extinction, the risk of more wildlife disappearing has only accelerated with estimates that up to one million species could be at risk of extinction in the coming decades.

Preventing extinction is not just a task for tropical countries and it’s not just about pandas and polar bears. Every country has a role to play in stopping the loss of all life on Earth. Here in Canada, despite still holding some of the last big wild places left on the planet, one in five species is at some level of risk. Of these thousands of species of conservation concern, there is a group that is urgently important for conservation action. Those species that are teetering at the edge of global extinction.

Using data from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and NatureServe, Wildlife Conservation Society Canada has identified 187 species found in Canada that are at imminent risk of disappearing forever. For species such as Whooping Crane and Sand-verbena Moth we share the conservation responsibility with other nations. Others including Gulf of St. Lawrence Aster and Vancouver Island Marmot are only found in Canada, and their extinction or recovery is entirely up to us.

Canada’s edge of extinction species face many threats that include invasive species, habitat loss, and climate change. For some of these species our actions have not been enough to stop their decline. For others, we don’t even have a plan to halt their extinction.

It’s too late to save Canada’s Labrador Duck or Dawson Caribou from extinction. But we can be the generation that holds on tighter to our collective natural wealth. There is evidence for hope. Conservation actions in the past have prevented the extinction of wildlife ranging from Pronghorn to Eastern Bluebird. But we need to amplify these actions and make wildlife conservation an integral part of our economy and society. From identifying and conserving Key Biodiversity Areas to businesses investing in nature-positive outcomes, many of the solutions to stop extinction and reverse the decline of wildlife are waiting for us to act. We all have a role to stop extinctions and reverse the decline of wildlife.

Dan Kraus is WCS Canada's Director of National Conservation.

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