HALF OF CANADA'S WILDLIFE SPECIES ARE IN DECLINE: LIVING PLANET REPORT
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On September 13, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Canada released the Living Planet Report Canada, which paints a stark picture of wildlife populations across the country. Large numbers of species are in various stages of population decline. This should be setting off alarm bells for Canadians.
David Miller, President and CEO of WWF Canada, said WWF "works every day trying to protect nature and help reverse the decline of wildlife populations, even we found these numbers staggering."
The 2017 Living Planet Report Canada indicates that 50% of wildlife species in the country have declining populations and of those species the "index shows, on average, a decline of 83%, from 1970 to 2014."
Miller said that "the message to Canadians is, the decline of wildlife is not just an issue in remote part of the world it's an issue for us here in Canada, it's extremely serious and it's urgent that we act." Miller is hopeful that "we can build on some less successful lessons from the past to start to reverse this decline." The plan he envisions involves all segments of society from government to the individual.
Miller admits that "the challenges to us are not capable [of being resolved] with a single solution anymore [and] we have to think about entire ecosystems." He uses the example of the "Southern Resident Killer Whales in the Salish Sea [which] are facing multiple threats noise from ships, pollution, habitat loss and quite serious food loss because chinook salmon populations are diminishing," illustrating a system-wide issue.
Miller underlined that "we need a very broad approach that's why we need to engage individual Canadians, industry, government as well as organizations."
The Science Behind The Report
We also spoke with James Snider, WWF Canada's Vice President of Science, Research and Innovation as well as the Lead Researcher on the report. Snider explained that "the Living Planet Index (LPI) is a methodology that was developed by the Zoological Society of London." He added that the "LPI is a peer-reviewed indicator that really aggregates trends in wildlife populations, across populations and species."
WWF is looking for "measures of population data, meaning the number of individuals of a given species in a given place," Snider said. That information can "usually be found in a range of surveys and monitoring in Canada," he added. They compile "publicly available scientific studies that look at trends over time," Snider said.
The LPI looks specifically at vertebrate species, and Snider admits that "in this analysis, we don't look at invertebrates which are important to freshwater systems." The reason behind why invertebrates are absent from this report is due to "a lack of comparable measures for a lot of invertebrates so that they could be systematically included in the LPI," Snider said.
Snider outlined that "for the last 18 months or so the team has been gathering data from various sources build on what the Zoological Society of London had in their international database for Canada." WWF has included "over 900 species in the study, approximately 3600 populations, from more than 400 different data sources," Snider added.
Even though half of the wildlife populations are in decline, Snider pointed to cases "where dedicated conservation action has lead to the recovery and increases of individuals for a species." The news is not all bad, Snider said that "when we take systematic effort at broad scales we can make a difference in terms of bringing back important wildlife [populations]."
This doesn't mean that we should wait for the government to get around to setting up a program to address this issue. Snider said that "when we take a deeper look at some of these declining trends, there is some urgency here towards action to reverse wildlife decline." He underlined that "there are examples right across the country of significant declines in major species groups."
This loss is not limited to one type of ecosystem, Snider explained that this is happening in "marine systems, terrestrial systems, [and] freshwater ecosystems as well."
The Next Step
Matt DeMille, Manager of Fish & Wildlife for the Ontario Federation of Anglers (OFAH) and Hunters, said that they "recognize the importance of monitoring trends in fish and wildlife populations, which is vital to ensuring sustainability." He added that the OFAH "has opposed the single-species management paradigm that characterizes the species at risk program, [and] we are pleased to see that WWF Canada has also recognized that this approach is inadequate and not cost-effective."
David Miller said that "what is missing is a National effort based on the science [in the report] to show where the problems are, to come together so we have a National strategy to address wildlife decline in Canada." To that end WWF Canada is hosting "a summit in Toronto next spring to bring together scientists, community organizations, individuals, industry and government," Miller said.
WWF Canada is being proactive by bringing together stakeholders and different segments of Canadian society to address wildlife decline. This is positive because this way there will be a clear set of actions and directives that government and individuals can take to make a difference. It's a good thing, future generations have the right to see majestic national symbols like the Barren-Ground Caribou, and not only when they're making a phone call.