British Columbia is home to a wide diversity of different species of animals, plants, fungi and other organisms. And some of them are in trouble – threatened with extinction or extirpation.
For more information on the diversity of species in British Columbia, and to find out what is being done to protect the diversity of ecosystems that these species rely upon, go to the Guide’s Biological Diversity page.
This page focuses on laws and planning processes designed to protect specific species from extinction or extirpation.
Identifying Species At Risk
A first step in protecting endangered species is to identify what species are at risk of extinction, or what populations of a species are at risk of extirpation. Scientists continue to identify new species in B.C.’s forests – and it is quite possible that we will, or perhaps have, wipe out a species without ever knowing it existed. Once identified, it is important to get a sense of how serious the risk to that species is.
Both the federal and provincial governments have their own lists of species at risk, developed by different agencies:
- B.C. Conservation Data Centre – An office within the Ministry of Environment, the CDC “systematically collects and disseminates information on the rare and endangered plants, animals and plant communities of British Columbia.”
- Committee on the Status of Endangered Species in Canada – The Committee, known as COSEWIC, maintains lists of endangered, threatened or species of special concern across Canada.
- Endangered Species Legislation in Canada
The federal government’ Species At Risk Act, which should become law in 2003, creates a number of powers to protect endangered species, particularly on federally-owned land. The Act can apply to land other than federally owned land if the federal cabinet decides that it should, but will not do so automatically. The Act also gives a legal basis for ongoing Recovery Planning efforts (efforts to promote the recovery of an endangered or threatened species) led by the federal and provincial governments.
British Columbia does not have any legislation aimed directly at protecting endangered species. The province’s Wildlife Act does allow the government to designate a species as an endangered species and to designate its habitat as a “critical wildlife area”. However, since 1980 only 4 species have been designated as endangered (the burrowing owl, white pelican, sea otter and Vancouver Island marmot) and only 1 critical wildlife area has been created.
In addition, the province’s Identified Wildlife Management Strategy (IWMS) identifies key habitat for endangered species and designates them as “Wildlife Habitat Areas” (WHAs) under the Forest and Range Practices Act. Wildlife Habitat Areas place restrictions on logging designed to ensure that the species’ habitat is protected. However, environmentalists remain concern about the slow pace with which habitat is being designated and government policies that say that WHAs will not have a significant impact on the volume of timber cut.
For some species the province has also developed Recovery Strategies designed to coordinate steps to protect the species. Such strategies have no legal effect, but can influence how government makes decisions under other acts.
Related Guide Pages
For More Information about Endangered Species:
- Endangered Species in British Columbia – Ministries of Sustainable Resource Management and Water, Land and Air Protection.
- Rich Wildlife, Poor Protection – A report of the David Suzuki Foundation.
- Species At Risk Recovery Efforts – Information on recovery plans being developed by the federal government in conjunction with the provinces.