Wed. Nov 29th, 2023
From the abundant to the rare, parks protect them all

Today’s post comes from Natural Heritage Education Supervisor Alistair MacKenzie at Pinery Provincial Park.

The landscape of Ontario’s parks is famous as a refuge for countless species, both common and rare.

A primary goal of Ontario Parks is the maintenance and restoration of ecological integrity, and the strengths of our protected areas are evident in the diversity of life found within them.

Together, all the native species found in Ontario make up the biodiversity of the province. Ontario’s biodiversity is made up of species that are abundant and widespread throughout the province, as well as others that are very rare and found only in isolated populations.

Conserving all the species we have is key to ensuring healthy natural communities continue to thrive and provide ecological services to humans.

Environmentalists often talk about species at risk (SAR) and much of the conservation work done in Ontario and elsewhere focuses on interventions to try to save these species.

So what exactly is a species at risk (SAR) and why are some species on the list and others not?

A SAR is a species that is at risk of extinction or disappearance from Ontario.

barn drinkBarn swallow: special concern

There are multiple categories to which a species can be assigned based on the degree of risk. They are:

  • not at risk: the species is not in danger of extinction
  • poor data: There is not enough data available to accurately assign a risk level
  • special concern: The species lives in the wild in Ontario and is not currently endangered or threatened, but may become so if threats are not addressed
  • threatened: The species lives in the wild in Ontario and is not in danger of extinction, but is likely to become so if steps are not taken to address the factors that threaten it.
  • endangered: The species lives in the wild in Ontario but faces imminent extinction or extirpation
  • excised: at one time lived in the wild in Ontario, but is no longer found in the province; however, it still exists in the wild in other parts of the world.
  • extinct: the species has been lost forever
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How does a species become SAR?

Ontario provides protection for at-risk species and their habitats under the Endangered Species Act of 2007 (ESA).

staff conducting research

In Ontario, the independent expert body that evaluates species for SAR designation is called the Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario (COSSARO). COSSARO examines a group of candidate species each year and evaluates all available data on the species through the review.

Once a species is designated as endangered or threatened under the ESA, a recovery strategy is created that evaluates the species’ life history, distribution, abundance, threats, and knowledge gaps and provides recommendations for protection and recovery of the species in Ontario.

Once the government receives the recovery strategy, a Government Response Statement is drafted. This is a species-specific policy that sets out the provincial recovery goal for the species and provides a summary of the priority actions that the government intends to lead and support in response to the associated recovery strategy.

Where do we fit?

Provincial parks act as refuges across much of the Ontario landscape where natural communities are protected; These habitats are key areas where SAR can be protected and studied.

Staff showing snake in discovery program.Eastern fox snake: Georgian Bay population threatened, Carolina population endangered

Ontario Parks is also well positioned to help Ontarians and visitors interact and learn about species at risk through personal experiences, participation in the Discovery program, and through self-directed activities such as participation in community science initiatives.

labeled butterflyMonarch butterfly: special concern

Despite being protected in Ontario’s numerous park protected areas across the province, parks alone cannot reverse the declining trend across all SARs.

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We must all work together to save our species.

There are actions you can take to educate and inform yourself about SAR and how to reduce or eliminate threats to them.

hunter toadFowler’s toad: endangered

By spending time in nature, you can help protect these species and do the following:

Stay tuned as we profile some of Ontario’s at-risk species and the efforts being made in Ontario parks to reverse the declining trend.

This is the fourth edition of our 2023 Species at Risk series.

Read our previous edition: About Rattlesnakes in Killbear Provincial Park