Blackpoll warbler, southern Yukon, Jukka Jantunen / WCS Canada
Blackpoll warbler, southern Yukon © Jukka Jantunen / WCS Canada

Wildlife without boundaries


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Daniel Kraus
Director of National Conservation

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Boreal birds Biodiversity

Published

2024-03-01

Migratory wildlife species are a shared heritage and a shared responsibility.

This op-ed appeared in the Hill Times.

Songbirds from South America travel thousands of kilometres to nest in Canada’s boreal forests. Caribou herds traverse vast tundra distances to find safe areas to calve and then travel back with their young in tow. Whales transit from one ocean to another to reach feeding grounds. Bats make long and perilous journeys to southern forests in the United States to avoid our cold winters.

But where was Canada when it came to discussing the fate of migratory wildlife like these at the recent talks convened by the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS)? Where was this country when other nations were working side-by-side to address the linkage between how to help migratory species and how to implement the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (KMGBF) that Canada signed on to in December 2022?

Not at the table. Canada has not signed this important global conservation treaty, which came into existence almost 45 years ago. And that’s more than a shame because things have certainly not improved for these species over the past half century. In fact, according to the new State of the World’s Migratory Species report issued by CMS a few weeks ago, more than 40% of migratory species are in trouble, with half of that total sliding toward extinction.

Canada does have a long-standing agreement in place with the United States, the Migratory Birds Convention Act, to help protect many bird species that transit our two countries. But as our work on unravelling the story of Blackpoll Warbler migration routes demonstrates, this convention is far too limited to address the full needs of many migratory species. These tiny birds make a nonstop, three-day, 3,000-kilometer transoceanic flight to South America every fall, starting from as far away as the Yukon.

It is the same story with many other migratory species: long journeys that take them over continents and oceans and that present a wide array of obstacles and threats along the way. The sheer number of these challenges – from habitat loss and light pollution to house cats, declining food sources and growing ship traffic – are both why migratory species are in decline and why coordinated international action is needed.

The KMGBF that Canada recently signed is groundbreaking in its recognition of the need for a wide-ranging suite of integrated actions to stop and reverse biodiversity loss. The framework explicitly requires countries to take action on multiple fronts simultaneously to address the cumulative impacts of human actions, including the additional pressures being put on species by climate change.

Canada played a leadership role in shepherding the KMGBF agreement to a successful outcome a year ago in Montreal. Now it is working on a strategy for implementing the agreement on the ground here. Increasing protected and conserved areas to 30% of our most important lands and waters by 2030 should be a central part of this effort. We need to make sure that as part of this effort we protect key areas for migratory species, like places where species congregate before or during migration to rest, refuel, and reproduce. Identifying these critical migration stopovers is the focus for our work on Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) here in Canada and global efforts map KBAs around the world.

But taking better care of places that are critical to the survival of migratory species within Canada is obviously only one part of the solution to reversing the decline of these species. We need to coordinate action with other countries to address the numerous threats facing wildlife. And we need to recognize that it is not just species that transit in and out of Canada that are important to conserve – migration is a fascinating and important global ecological mechanism that helps shape the natural systems we all depend on. It’s in our own interest to see migratory species everywhere make successful journeys.

Migratory wildlife species are a shared heritage and a shared responsibility. We need to coordinate our actions with international partners to help species on the move. A good place to start would be by signing the CMS and then rolling up our sleeves to work out how we can save migratory species before it is too late – together.

Dan Kraus is the director of national conservation at Wildlife Conservation Society Canada. He is a transdisciplinary conservation scientist with over 25 years of experience in biodiversity, endangered species, and landscape ecology. Dan has authored reports on topics ranging from Great Lakes islands to freshwater Key Biodiversity Areas to natural capital. Most recently he published papers on nationally endemic species, Canada’s “crisis” ecoregions, ecological corridors, and coastal conservation. Dan is member of Canada’s Nature Advisory Committee, researches and teaches about endangered species recovery at the University of Waterloo, and served on the Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario for over a decade. His editorials on nature and conservation have appeared in media across Canada.

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