Keep calm and save our biodiversity: How Canada can tackle wildlife decline

Keep calm and save our biodiversity

How Canada can tackle wildlife decline

Keep calm and save our biodiversity

How Canada can tackle wildlife decline

The latest WWF report found that humans have shifted the natural equilibrium of ecosystems. But there are many ways we can tackle wildlife decline in Canada.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) recently published the 2020 Living Planet Report for Canada. Last released in 2017, this flagship report outlines our nation’s ecological health while detailing vital solutions for biodiversity loss. After analyzing wildlife population trends, they sadly found that we’re not doing enough to “protect and recover vulnerable wildlife at local, provincial and national scales”. They also found that “human activity has shifted the natural equilibrium of ecosystems.”

Canada has over 300 species that do not exist anywhere else in the world. Iconic species like the Vancouver Island marmot, Barren-ground caribou and the Atlantic puffin are sadly under threat as a result of human activity. And together with 4 other countries, Canada is home to 70% of the last remaining intact ecosystems on the planet. That means we have a chance to be some of the greatest environmental stewards in the world.

Two atlantic puffin sitting on cliff with pink flowers
Photo by Wynand van Poortvliet on Unsplash

WWF analyzed population trends of 139 native vertebrate species that were deemed as at risk by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). They found that they have declined by 59% from 1970 to 2016. They also found that species that are of global concern in Canada and that are assessed as threatened on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN Red List), declined by 42% during the same period. While managing their conservation is complex as outlined by Dr Sarah Otto in a previous post, it’s entirely possible with systematic and multifaceted approaches.

WWF Report Takeaways

One of the main takeaways from the report is the importance of addressing multiple threats to ensure the survival of various species. While researchers found that 87% of the monitored species included in the study faced at least 1 threat, on average, the assessed species actually face 5 threats. These include overexploitation, climate change, pollution, invasion and disease, human disturbance, energy production, urban development, transport, agricultural activity, system modification, and geological events. Together, these threats create cumulative and heightened effects. For example, many species are at risk as a result of habitat loss. However, the impact of climate change can further restrict their migratory range.

The report uses the western tiger salamander to illustrate the impact of multiple threats. This amphibian faces 6 threats in total, including dams and water management, pollution, road mortality, climate change, invasive species, and agricultural activity. If dams and water management are addressed but road mortality and agricultural activity are not, for example, salamander populations could still decline as a result of the other threats.

Western Tiger Salamander on gravel
Photo by colorado_herper, (CC BY-NC) via iNaturalist

How do we tackle multiple threats to wildlife at once?

WWF highlights a series of solutions in the Living Planet Report. Until recently, climate change and biodiversity loss were treated as separate issues. And as a result, solutions were often siloed. WWF emphasizes the importance of systematic and multifaceted approaches that tackle these two issues together, like Nature-Based Climate Solutions (NbCS). These land and sea-based climate solutions mitigate the effects of climate change through carbon sequestration while helping to stop the loss of wildlife. Ultimately, the goal is to “protect, sustainably manage and restore natural carbon sinks,” according to WWF. Another solution is the restoration of habitats — including forests, wetlands, and grasslands — that have been damaged through human activity. This will enhance the systems that provide for humans while helping species-at-risk recover and restoring native species.

Establishing Protected Areas

The report also recommends the expansion of protected areas in Canada as they are an important conservation solution. These geographically defined spaces protect biodiversity through long-term conservation efforts. They also enhance the systems in nature that we rely on for our health, wellbeing, and livelihoods. They come in many different shapes and forms, including national and provincial parks, nature reserves and sanctuaries as well as wild spaces. There are also Indigenous Conserved and Protected Areas (IPCA’s), which include protected areas, conserved areas, tribal parks and Indigenous cultural landscapes. They are intended to not only protect and conserve ecosystems but also situate culture and language at the centre of the process. This is achieved by applying Indigenous laws, governance and Knowledge systems, according to the Indigenous Circle of Experts report, We Rise Together.

The report also emphasizes the importance of elevating Indigenous knowledge systems and Indigenous-led conservation. Given that First Nations, Inuit, and Métis have been stewards of the lands and waters for thousands of years, “supporting Indigenous knowledge, governance, sovereignty and leadership is essential to advancing reconciliation and conservation,” as outlined by WWF.