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At least 2,253 species are at risk of being wiped out, according to a comprehensive new report on the status of wild plants, animals, insects and fungi in Canada.

Among those in greatest danger are North Atlantic and North Pacific right whales, the blue whale, the Sei whale, the common grey fox and the Vancouver Island marmot, which were listed as critically imperiled.

“The first step in preventing species loss is to identify which species exist, where they are found and their status. That's why a national assessment every five years is so, so essential,” said Terry Duguid, parliamentary secretary to Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, at a Nov. 29 press conference on Parliament Hill.

The Wild Species 2020 report, released Nov. 29, catalogued over 20,000 more species than any previous edition. Duguid described the report, published every five years and produced by researchers working for the federal, provincial and territorial governments, as “one of the most comprehensive national species inventories in the world.”

If you exclude viruses and bacteria, Canada is home to about 80,000 species. Of these, 50,534 — including plants, animals, moths, butterflies, beetles and fungi — are accounted for in the latest report. The first report, published in 2000, catalogued only 1,670 species.

In the newest report, researchers had enough information to rank 24,483 of the species studied based on the level of risk and what percentage of their habitat is in Canada. Nearly 22,000 species were unrankable due to insufficient data or weren’t assigned a ranking because they were introduced by human activities and considered “exotic.”

The report found 873 species are critically imperiled, 1,245 are imperiled, 2,765 are vulnerable, 9,562 are apparently secure and 10,038 are secure. A total of 105 species identified as at risk are only found in Canada — in other words, their fate rests with us.

Screenshot from the Wild Species 2020 report.

The northern fur seal, barn owl and Atlantic cod are examples of species the report identified as imperiled. Vascular plants, moths and butterflies, and beetles are the taxonomic groups that have the most endemic species ranked as having likely disappeared from Canada, being critically imperiled and being imperiled at the national level in Canada, the report says.

At least 2,253 species are at risk of being wiped out, according to a comprehensive new report on the status of wild plants, animals, insects and fungi in Canada. #COP15 #cdnpoli #WildSpeciesReport
an oil sits on an artificial perch
Barn owls were identified as an imperiled species in the Wild Species 2020 report. Photo by Ronnie Macdonald / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Canada has pledged to protect 30 per cent of its land and waters by 2030 to protect biodiversity. “You can't do that without a solid baseline of science because, as we know, knowledge is power,” said Duguid.

This also isn’t possible without the provinces and territories rising to the occasion, said Duguid. The federal government is getting co-operation from cities “in spades,” and “we wish we were getting this kind of co-operation from provinces,” he added. “But provinces absolutely need to step up. We are, with money and with effort, and we're challenging them to work with us to preserve this natural heritage for our kids and our grandkids.”

In Budget 2021, the Government of Canada invested $2.3 billion over five years to support work with other governments, Indigenous groups and non-profit organizations that furthers the 30 by 30 goal and improves the country’s natural environment.

Next week, Canada is hosting the landmark global United Nations biodiversity conference in Montreal, commonly known as COP15, where nations will come together to negotiate a global framework to address the biodiversity crisis.

“At the recent G20 Leaders Summit, leaders called for the same ambition for this nature COP as we saw on climate with the Paris Agreement … the stakes are high to work with our partners around the world to develop a common global framework to restore and protect biodiversity,” said Duguid.

Reports like the Wild Species report are an important part of the evidence environmental organizations will bring to COP15 to bolster calls for a strong global biodiversity framework, said Emily Giles, senior specialist in species conservation for the World Wildlife Fund Canada.

While B.C. has the greatest biological diversity of any province or territory, it is also home to the greatest number of species at risk.

“The new Wild Species Report shows Canada is facing a biodiversity crisis and our species and wildlife are going extinct. This will have devastating impacts on people’s well-being, food supplies and livelihoods,” NDP environment critic Laurel Collins said in an emailed statement to Canada’s National Observer. She said at COP15, New Democrats are calling for “a real climate plan that prioritizes ending biodiversity loss and stops all fossil fuel subsidies — while protecting workers and Indigenous communities.”

Natasha Bulowski / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer