May 15 is Endangered Species Day: Extirpated species in Ontario

Endangered Species Day: Extirpated species in Ontario and what you can do to help

Endangered Species Day: Extirpated species in Ontario and what you can do to help

Ontario has many endangered, threatened, special concern and extirpated animals and plants that need special consideration on Endangered Species Day. I've celebrated this in awareness day in the past. Sometimes we can be less concerned about animals we've never seen before. The term endangered species often makes people think of Beluga whales, Polar Bears, wolves, and other mammals that get a lot of publicity. Cute, furry animals that we're familiar with. Or ferocious predators. Birds, bugs, and slimy species aren't on our radar. We see more wolves and polar bears used in awareness campaigns than we do the Karner Blue butterfly. It's one of the four extirpated insect species in Ontario. There are 23 bugs on Ontario's list of insects at risk- and the Karner Blue is one of the most striking of them all. This butterfly used to be widespread in Toronto, London, and Sarnia until habitat loss resulted in a huge decline in the species. 

The sad truth is the list will keep getting longer if we don't make positive changes to the way we live and act as consumers. I'd like to shift focus to other Ontario Species at Risk that may go overlooked on this important day of awareness. But first, let's break down the different terms used to define species at risk.

Breaking down species at risk

There are four terms used in Ontario to categorize species at risk. This is not including 'extinct' which describes a species that no longer lives anywhere in the world. 

Special concern: describes those species that may become threatened or endangered because they have threats facing their habitat or themselves.

Threatened: a species is called this if it lives in the wild in Ontario, is not endangered, but is likely to become endangered if steps are not taken to stop the things that threaten it.

Endangered: a species is called this if it lives in the wild in Ontario but is very close to becoming extinct or extirpated. We need to act to help things that are in this category before we lose them, maybe forever. 

Extirpated: a species is called this if it lives somewhere in the world, and it at one time lived in the wild in Ontario, but no longer lives in Ontario. Extirpation is the last stage or category before an organism becomes extinct, and humans need to protect it to prevent this from happening.

At-risk feathered friends in Ontario

In Ontario, there's a long list of endangered birds. Since birds need viable habitats in the sky, on land, and in the water, it's no surprise many bird species are at risk. Even a slight decline in bio-diversity can have a huge effect on a bird's lifestyle. Climate change, logging, invasive species, pollution hunting, and the expansion of agriculture are all to blame. A global study found that one in eight bird species is threatened with extinction. 

Among the 41 birds on the at-risk species list in Ontario, two are listed as extirpated: the Eskimo Curlew and the Greater Prairie-Chicken. According to the Ontario Species At Risk List, the Eskimo Curlew (which is only pictured as an illustration) "passed through Ontario on migration from its summer nesting grounds in the Northwest Territories to its winter home in South America. Its route south took it along the Hudson and upper James Bay coasts."

As for its decline, that can be attributed to three main factors; uncontrolled commercial hunting in the 19th century, habitat fragmentation and loss, and a decline in the food supply at spring migration stopover sites- specifically a decline in grasshoppers, the Eskimo Curwel's main source of food.

The Greater Prarie-chicken is the other extirpated bird in Ontario. In the 19th century, this chicken was thriving until more land started being cleared for agriculture purposes. According to the Ontario Species at Risk List, its decline was due to human impact on their habitat. "The cultivation of native prairie was initially a benefit to the prairie-chicken but then became the major threat to its survival. The first settler’s grain crops supplied high energy food for the birds and their populations flourished. Then as prairie land was increasingly converted to farming, the prairie chickens were restricted to smaller and smaller areas."

Endangered Species Day: Extirpated species in Ontario and what you can do to help

Creepy, crawly and at-risk

Amphibians (frogs, toads, and salamanders) are also among the forgotten species at risk. While only 10 make the list in Ontario, three on that list are extirpated: the Spring Salamander, the Eastern Tiger Salamander, and the Blanchard's Cricket Frog

Endangered Species Day: Extirpated species in Ontario and what you can do to help

The Blanchard's Cricket Frog was found only on Pelee Island and Point Pelee in southwestern Ontario. "The most significant factor which led to the decline and disappearance of Blanchard’s Cricket Frog is the loss of wetlands due to development. Habitat degradation was also a factor since this frog does not tolerate pollution. Runoff of pesticides and fertilizers is believed to have been a major contributor to the disappearance of this species."

Endangered Species Day: Extirpated species in Ontario and what you can do to help

While there are limited records of the Spring Salamander and the Eastern Tiger Salamander in Ontario, the decline in both species is likely due to a reduction in wetlands. Salamanders are very vulnerable. In regards to the Eastern Tiger Salamander according to the Ontario Species at Risk List "the main threats to this species are water pollution, fish stocking of lakes, and disease. Pesticide run-off into lakes and ponds is known to affect salamander development and survival. Salamanders are vulnerable to fish predation during the larval stages and are generally found in fish-free lakes. Viral diseases are known to have caused die-offs in Eastern Tiger Salamander populations in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and some U.S. regions. Disease epidemics are particularly threatening to small, isolated populations."

Endangered Species Day: Extirpated species in Ontario and what you can do to help

What is being done for extirpated species?

Luckily if extirpated species are located, they (and their habitat) are protected since they are on the list of species at risk. Ontario is trying to conserve biodiversity by supporting projects that help protect and recover species at risk- the Species at Risk Stewardship Program

"The Ontario Species at Risk Stewardship Program encourages people to get involved in helping to protect and recover Ontario’s species at risk in a proactive and collaborative way. The program provides support to communities, organizations, landowners, Indigenous communities/groups, industry, and academics across Ontario to implement on-the-ground activities that benefit species at risk and/or their habitats."

These programs do everything from supporting breeding and migration to working with farmers to preserve species and soil, to controlling invasive species, to recording sightings of species at risk. The most important task is to protect and recover these species so they don't become extinct. 

What can you do to help at-risk species?

There are a few things you can do, most notably is to register your own project. Not that organized? That's okay! You can also do any of the following:

  • Do your part to conserve biodiversity at home and in your community- learn how!
  • Sightings! Record and report rare species
  • Raise awareness by sharing to social media, writing a blog, or presenting to a group of children about endangered species
  • Give your input on draft documents related to protecting animals and plants at risk of disappearing from Ontario- learn how!
  • Donate to the Canadian Wildlife Federation
  • Adopt an endangered animal (plush toy) from the Canadian Wildlife Federation
  • Plant native foliage and flowers that attract endangered species 
  • Canadian Wildlife Federation has tons of free educational resources including webinars, printable colouring pages, and handouts
  • The Endangered Species Coalition is holding lots of virtual events for Endangered Species Day, including a storytime on their Facebook where they will read children books that feature species at risk
  • Clean up litter, consume less, re-use more and do your part to protect the environment 
  • Reduce your carbon footprint! 

Endangered Species Day: Extirpated species in Ontario and what you can do to help

May 15 is Endangered Species Day! 

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