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Factsheet - Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada
For over 25 years, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), has been assessing the status of national wild species, subspecies, varieties and other designatable units that are considered to be at risk of extinction or extirpation across their range in Canada.
COSEWIC carries out its assessment based on the best available information on the biological status of a species, including scientific knowledge, community knowledge and Aboriginal traditional knowledge.
COSEWIC assesses species using a standardized process adapted from the World Conservation Union (IUCN) criteria and classifies species into the following categories:
- Extinct: A species that no longer exists
- Extirpated: A species that no longer exists in the wild in Canada, but occurs elsewhere
- Endangered: A species facing imminent extirpation or extinction
- Threatened: A species that is likely to become endangered if limiting factors are not reversed
- Special Concern: A species of special concern because of characteristics that make it particularly sensitive to human activities or natural events
- Not at Risk: A species that has been evaluated and found to be not at risk
- Data Deficient: A species for which there is insufficient scientific information to support status designation
The Species at Risk Act establishes COSEWIC and ensures that species are assessed under a rigorous and independent scientific process that operates at arm's length from the government.
COSEWIC members must have expertise in relevant scientific fields, and/or expertise with Aboriginal traditional knowledge or community knowledge. Members must meet the credentials established by COSEWIC for membership. These expert members come from provincial and territorial government wildlife agencies, four federal agencies, wildlife management boards, Aboriginal organizations, universities and museums. There are also three non-jurisdictional members with expertise in the conservation of wildlife species in Canada. COSEWIC is currently composed of 29 voting members. The members are appointed by the Minister of the Environment after consultation with the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) and appropriate experts.
Ongoing monitoring of the general status of wildlife species in Canada is an important source of information used by COSEWIC when deciding on which species should be included on the COSEWIC candidate list of species to be assessed. Other sources of information are the World Conservation Union, the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species and the Nature Conservancy ranking scheme, as well as recommendations from experts.
There are five main steps in the assessment and classification process:
- Determining eligibility: COSEWIC looks at whether the species is taxonomically valid, if it is native to Canada, if it occurs regularly in Canada and if it is a non-resident or migratory species that is dependant on Canadian lands or waters for key parts of its life cycle.
- Choosing species and assigning priorities: COSEWIC Species Specialist Subcommittees (SSCs) develop lists of candidate species. They are assisted by the General Status of Wild Species in Canada project under the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk. Other sources of information are also used: multijurisdictional monitoring and international assessment processes, published ranking systems and expert knowledge. The SSCs produce lists of species to be considered for assessment, based on factors such as population size and distribution, geographic range, sensitivity to human activities, and threats.
- Status Report Preparation and Species Assessment of the risk of extinction: The appropriate SSC will then commission the preparation of status reports on the species. These reports follow precise guidelines specifying the types of information needed to be included for assessment purposes. Status reports normally take up to two years to prepare. The reports are used by COSEWIC during their Species Assessment Meeting.
- Presentation of COSEWIC's Assessments Results including the reason for designation: Once COSEWIC assigns the status of the species as part of its annual /semi annual Species Assessment Meeting, this information is provided to the Minister of the Environment and to the CESCC.
- The COSEWIC Assessment Results are also posted in the public registry. COSEWIC must annually prepare a complete list of every wildlife species it has assessed and a copy of this publication must be included in the public registry. In addition, following each Assessment Meeting, Status Reports for the species assessed are finalized and made available in the public registry.
For More Information
For more information, please see the COSEWIC web site:
SARA public registry web site:
or contact the COSEWIC Secretariat:
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