List of Wildlife Species at Risk (referral back to COSEWIC) Order: SI/2022-7
Canada Gazette, Part II, Volume 156, Number 4
SI/2022-7 February 16, 2022
SPECIES AT RISK ACT
List of Wildlife Species at Risk (referral back to COSEWIC) Order
P.C. 2022-75 February 3, 2022
Her Excellency the Governor General in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, pursuant to subsections 27(1.1) and (1.2) of the Species at Risk Act footnote a,
- (a) refers the following assessments back to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) for further information or consideration:
- (i) the assessment of the status of the Caribou (Rangifer tarandus) Northern Mountain population,
- (ii) the assessment of the status of the Caribou (Rangifer tarandus) Central Mountain population, and
- (iii) the assessment of the status of the Caribou (Rangifer tarandus) Southern Mountain population; and
- (b) approves that the Minister of the Environment include in the public registry established under section 120 of that Act the statement that is attached as the annex to this Order and that sets out the reasons for the referral back to COSEWIC.
Statement Setting Out the Reasons for Referring the Assessments of the Caribou (Rangifer tarandus) — Northern Mountain Population, Central Mountain Population and Southern Mountain Population — Back to COSEWIC
Two mountain caribou populations in western Canada are currently listed in Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act— the Woodland Caribou (Southern Mountain population), listed as a threatened species in 2003, and the Woodland Caribou (Northern Mountain population), listed as a species of special concern in 2005.
In 2011, COSEWIC defined twelve new designatable units (DUs) to support assessments of caribou across Canada. In particular, it split the two currently listed mountain caribou populations in western Canada into three new DUs and modified their boundaries.
In 2014, COSEWIC provided its assessment of the status of the newly structured DUs for mountain caribou in western Canada in its “COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Caribou Rangifer tarandus, Northern Mountain population, Central Mountain population and Southern Mountain population in Canada – 2014” (the 2014 report).
Based on the uncertainties relating to the delineation of the three DUs for mountain caribou in western Canada, insufficient genetic information, the lack of inclusion of Indigenous knowledge with respect to the creation of the DUs, as well as recent changes in population size of some affected herds, the assessments in the 2014 report are referred back to COSEWIC for further information or consideration. The Department of the Environment is committed to working with COSEWIC on this matter.
(This note is not part of the Order.)
Pursuant to subsections 27(1.1) and (1.2) of the Species at Risk Act (the Act or SARA), this Order refers the assessments of the following species back to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) for further information or consideration: Caribou, Northern Mountain population; Caribou, Central Mountain population; and Caribou, Southern Mountain population.
The objective of this Order is to refer the assessments of the aforementioned species back to COSEWIC for further information or consideration.
The purpose of SARA is to prevent wildlife species from being extirpated or becoming extinct; to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered, or threatened as a result of human activity; and to manage species of special concern to prevent them from becoming endangered or threatened. COSEWIC was established as an independent scientific body in 1977 with a mandate to provide a single, official, scientifically sound, national classification of wildlife species at risk in Canada. The Committee provides the Minister of the Environment with assessments of the status of wildlife species in Canada.
Under subsection 27(1.1) of SARA, after receiving an assessment of the status of a species by COSEWIC from the Minister of the Environment, the Governor in Council (GIC) reviews the COSEWIC assessment and, on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, may
- (a) accept the assessment and add the species to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk (the List);
- (b) decide not to add the species to the List; or
- (c) refer the matter back to COSEWIC for further information or consideration.
By way of this Order, the GIC is referring the assessments of the Caribou, Northern Mountain population; Caribou, Central Mountain population; and Caribou, Southern Mountain population back to COSEWIC for further information or consideration.
The Minister of the Environment, in accordance with subsection 27(1.2) of SARA, will include a statement in the Species at Risk Public Registry setting out the reasons for the decision to refer these assessments back to COSEWIC.
Schedule 1 of SARA currently includes the following two mountain caribou populations in western Canada as listed wildlife species:
- Woodland Caribou (Southern Mountain population) — threatened (listed in 2003); and
- Woodland Caribou (Northern Mountain population) — special concern (listed in 2005).
The definition of “wildlife species” under SARA includes species, subspecies, varieties, or geographically or genetically distinct populations. Therefore, COSEWIC may assess taxonomic entities below the species level (using “species” in the accepted sense of the taxonomic hierarchy). COSEWIC uses the concept of designatable units (DUs) to provide a consistent approach for describing “wildlife species” in a way that is consistent with the SARA definition.
In 2011, COSEWIC created 12 new DUs to support future status assessments and reassessments of caribou across Canada in a report titled Designatable Units for Caribou (Rangifer tarandus) in Canada (PDF). In October 2014, COSEWIC assessed the three mountain caribou DUs in western Canada as follows:
- Caribou (Northern Mountain population) [DU7] — special concern;
- Caribou (Central Mountain population) [DU8] — endangered; and
- Caribou (Southern Mountain population) [DU9] — endangered.
The following table provides a comparison of the current wildlife species listed on Schedule 1 of SARA and the designatable units assessed by COSEWIC in 2014.
SARA Schedule 1 status
SARA Schedule 1 Caribou groups / populations, number of herds in group, and population size estimates
2014 COSEWIC assessment of designatable units
Woodland Caribou (Northern Mountain population)
Northern Mountain population
2014: >40 000 caribou
Caribou (Northern Mountain population) [DU7]
Northern BC, NWT, YK
Woodland Caribou (Southern Mountain population)
2014: ~3 700 caribou
2020: ~2 000 caribou
West central and North central BC
2014: ~563 caribou
2020: ~583 caribou
Caribou (Central Mountain population) [DU8]
10 extant + 2 extirpated herds
East central BC and West central AB
2014: ~1 540 caribou
2020: ~1 217 caribou
Caribou (Southern Mountain population) [DU9]
15 extant + 2 extirpated herds
South Eastern BC
The Order referring the assessments back to COSEWIC for further information or consideration is based on three factors: uncertainties with the delineation of the three mountain caribou DUs in western Canada due to insufficient genetic information; consideration of Indigenous knowledge with respect to the assignment of the DUs; and recent changes in population size of some affected herds.
The 2011 DU report stated that further genetic work was required to help delineate the boundaries between the DUs and that population assignment remained “uncertain due to lack of comparative analyses and overall poor understanding of the ecology and evolutionary origin of mountain populations.” The 2014 status report included the observation that “further work is required to fill information gaps, especially for caribou in northern and west-central BC” and “to clarify genetic relationships in the Southern Mountain and Northern Mountain DUs.” Research continues to further refine and expand on the population genetics and genomic analysis caribou samples from across British Columbia, which could help refine recommendations for future herd assignments, and identify groups to be prioritized for conservation actions. The results are expected to be available for future COSEWIC assessments.
The 2011 DU report noted that Indigenous knowledge (IK) would be “particularly important in local areas where caribou DUs overlap, to help identify boundaries and assign populations.” During consultations on the proposed listing of the three DUs, several Indigenous communities communicated their dissatisfaction that there was no formal inclusion of Indigenous knowledge as a source of information for distinguishing different kinds of caribou and also that phylogenetic analysis on the herds in their region had not taken place. These observations applied to both the 2011 DU report, and the status report for the three mountain DUs.
An improved consideration of IK in future assessments of caribou has the potential to refine and clarify caribou population structure and boundaries between groups. Work to identify Indigenous language and classification systems related to caribou will help provide additional insight into caribou taxonomy. Specifically, because IK systems and languages evolved in close association with the local ecology, they are especially suited to identifying fine scale population structure and can distinguish relational aspects of systems that may be overlooked by Western scientific approaches. footnote 1
Since the preparation of the 2014 COSEWIC status report, the population sizes of nine herds (the Northern Group) that were reassigned to DU7, proposed by COSEWIC to be reclassified as a species of special concern, have declined significantly from approximately 3 700 to 2 000 individuals. This new information would be an important consideration for future COSEWIC reassessments.
The general prohibitions found in sections 32 and 33 of SARA, and the possibility of future critical habitat protection under SARA, are only applicable to wildlife species that are listed as extirpated, endangered, or threatened. The application on federal lands and the possible application of these prohibitions on provincial lands would no longer be available to the nine herds of the Northern Group if the 2014 COSEWIC assessments and the revised population structures were accepted.
Initial consultations concerning the three DUs of caribou assessed by COSEWIC took place from January to October 2015 through a request for comments via the Species at Risk Public Registry, and targeted meetings and communications. During this time, eight comments were received in writing from a variety of sources.
Seven of the comments were related to the Caribou (Northern Mountain population) [DU7]. Six of these comments, from environmental non-governmental organizations, territorial governments, and wildlife management boards, were supportive of the addition of the three DUs to Schedule 1 of SARA. One territorial government expressed neither support nor opposition. One Indigenous group opposed the proposed listing, based on a lack of genetic evidence used in the designation of Caribou (Northern Mountain population) [DU7]. This Indigenous group specified that evidence was inadequate to support the designation, particularly given the implications of the resulting change in status from threatened to special concern.
Following the initial consultations in 2015, several Indigenous groups expressed dissatisfaction with the new DU structure and the potential loss of protection for nine herds if down listed from threatened to special concern.
Further Indigenous engagement was undertaken in relation to the Woodland Caribou (Southern Mountain population) in 2018 with correspondence to 118 Indigenous communities providing information and seeking comments on a variety of topics, including the possible amendments to Schedule 1 of SARA.
In response, some Indigenous communities indicated that they wished to be included and updated on any further actions. One specific comment was received in regards to the possible amendments to Schedule 1 from several Indigenous groups. This stated the Indigenous groups’ opposition to the proposed down listing of the nine “northern group” herds currently included in Woodland Caribou (Southern Mountain population) from threatened to special concern.
Canadian Wildlife Service
Environment and Climate Change Canada