Canadian Institute for Ecology and Evolution workshop, Nov. 19-23rd, 2008

An interim scientific assessment of the present and projected effectiveness of the Canadian Species at Risk Act

Koffler Scientific Reserve at Jokers Hill
17000 Dufferin Street
King City, Ontario L7B 1K5

Here is a little write-up in the local paper, with a picture of us!


    We submitted a brief letter and a full report (subequently published in a paper in BioScience ) to the Federal Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development in 2009, and appeared as witnesses before on May 4, 2010. The unofficial transcript from that appearance can be found here (as .pdf).

    A presentation based on the workshop (given in Vancouver, October 2009) can be found here (as .pdf, 10MB).

    Academic Participants

      Dan Doak, PhD. Professor, Zoology and Physiology, University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY 82071 USA.
      David M. Green, PhD. Director, Redpath Museum, McGill University, Montreal, QC; H3A 2K6.
      Lisa Manne, PhD., Past Assistant Professor, Dept. of Biological Sciences, University of Toronto at Scarborough, Scarborough, currently CUNY Staten Island.
      Arne Mooers, D.Phil., Associate Professor of Biodiversity, Biological Sciences, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby BC V5A 1S6.
      Murray Rudd, PhD., Past Canada Research Chair in Ecological Economics, Sir Wilfred Grenfell College, Corner Brook, NL, Canada, currently York University, UK.
      Jeannette Whitton, PhD. UBC Herbarium Director, Department of Botany, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4.

      -top of page-

      Interim Report (2009)

        The CIEE's inaugural thematic workshop, "An interim scientific assessment of the present and projected effectiveness of the Canadian Species at Risk Act" was held Nov. 19-23rd, 2008, at the Koffler Scientific Reserve of the University of Toronto. Canada was the first industrialized country in the world (and the fourth overall) to ratify the 1992 Rio Convention on Biodiversity, and our government passed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) in 2002 partly in order to meet the international obligations that flowed from this historic Convention. The workshop's goal was to inform the impending Parliamentary review of this law and to explore options for greater independent scientific involvement in species-at-risk listing, conservation, and recovery in Canada.

        Members of our group of experts found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that implementation of the Species at Risk Act is imperfect in how science has been used to inform policy on protection and recovery of imperiled species. Of the 564 wildlife species that have been assessed as imperiled by COSEWIC, fewer than 350 have been legally listed, fewer than 100 have approved recovery strategies and only one imperiled species has an action plan in place for implementing its recovery. There are several issues that warrant attention, such as definitions of 'survival' and 'recovery' and the triggering of species monitoring following legal listing. However, the most immediate and grave problem from a scientific perspective is that the full range of scientific expertise available in Canada that may be applied immediately to recovery of at-risk species is not being brought to bear. There is a need for greater engagement of, and consultation by, independent scientists.

        Although the process of assessment of species-at-risk by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) is openly independent and informed by science, potentially valuable scientific input is generally under-utilized at both the pre-listing phase (during consultation and the preparation of the Regulatory Impact Assessment Statement [RIAS]), and during the phase of formulating recovery strategies. Our main recommendation is that science, and independent natural and social scientists, be more fully engaged both in the development and review of realistic science-based recovery scenarios, in the analysis of pertinent socio-economic information pursuant to legal listing, and in the planning and eventual implementation of well-defined recovery strategies. Scientific analyses of the facts must be clear and transparently separated from government discretion on listing and implementation.

        For socio-economic analyses, proposed Treasury Board 'triage' guidelines allow for use of either 'low-impact' or 'medium- to high-impact' RIAS templates. We suggest that for the majority of species, for which listing is uncontroversial, the simple 'low-impact' template may be used. However, whenever there is a significant likelihood of rejecting a legal listing, use of the 'medium- to high-impact' RIAS template is warranted. Information stemming from both the natural and social sciences must be harnessed effectively in aid of the necessary quantitative analyses. We suggest that such 'medium- to high-impact' RIASs would greatly benefit from peer-review by fully independent, academic scientists and be made public in the interests of full transparency in listing decisions.

        To assist in the timely production and approval of recovery strategies within the timelines specified by the law, including ecosystem approaches to recovery, we propose the creation of a Committee for the Recovery of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COREWIC), modeled to the extent possible on COSEWIC. This independent committee, consisting of government and non-government scientists and aboriginal and community knowledge holders akin to the makeup of COSEWIC, would provide independent review and quality control for all draft recovery strategies. COREWIC would review, evaluate and process draft recovery strategies and make their reviews public. We suggest that following COREWIC's work on a recovery strategy, only an extra section outlining government's policy decisions with respect to the contents of the strategy might be needed in making it official. This process would allow for a clear differentiation between the information provision, so much of it relying upon science, and information use in regulatory and policy decisions, the latter being based on government's wider societal goals and objectives.

        We believe that the recommendations suggested above will result in a stronger implementation of the Act that is more fully supported by Canadian science and in decisions and investments that are transparent at all stages of the assessment, listing, protection, and recovery of Canadian species at risk.

        -top of page-