Save an Ecosystem, Save the Planet | Carolinian Canada

Save an Ecosystem, Save the Planet

  1. Introduction
  2. Acting Up for Species at Risk
  3. Levels of Risk
  4. Caretakers for the Planet

How do we protect our Species at Risk? For the first 30 years of Canada-wide recovery efforts, Recovery Teams were set up to focus on single species. A recovery team is a group of experts who are familiar with the species and the factors impacting it. It may include ecologists, agencies, local groups, landowners, industry stakeholders. Each Recovery Team has a responsibility to collect all available information on the species, initiate more research if necessary, and produce a Recovery Plan and Action Plan. Many Recovery Teams have been in operation for several years and Conservation Authorities and local interest groups are increasingly taking up the responsibilities of stewardship actions. You can explore different plans at In the last decade, the focus has changed to Recovery Teams that look at entire ecosystems instead of a single species. This multi-species approach addresses more species more quickly. Today, Recovery Plans might still be directed towards a single species (e.g. Eastern Loggerhead Shrike), a few species (e.g. Acadian Flycatcher and Hooded Warbler), a whole family of species (e.g. National Mussel Recovery Team), a watershed (e.g. Sydenham River Corridor), an ecosystem (e.g. Tallgrass Prairie Recovery Team) or a landscape (e.g. Walpole Island First Nation). The ecosystem approach works well in Carolinian Canada where a mosaic of habitats across small areas of land are home to hundreds of rare species.


Acting Up for Species at Risk

The Federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) passed into law in June 2003 protecting most species designated by COSEWIC. It takes effect when these species are not protected by another level of Government. This act was designed to meet one of Canada's key commitments under the international Convention on Biological Diversity. The goal of SARA is to prevent endangered or threatened wildlife from becoming extinct or lost from the wild, and to help in the recovery of those species. It is also intended to manage species of special concern and to prevent them from declining. SARA sets out a process for determining recovery and protection actions. It also identifies ways that governments, organizations and individuals can work together, and establishes penalties for failure to obey the law. Stewardship is an essential part of the cooperative process entrenched in the Act. It brings together landowners, conservationists, governments and other partners to protect species and habitat. Under SARA, stewardship is the first response to protecting the habitats of Species At Risk. Find out more about the Habitat Stewardship Program at

The Ontario Endangered Species Act regulates species-at-risk identified when the bill was passed in the 1970s. Charges under this Act are limited to persons who have been proven to willfully contravene the act. Check out Ontario programs at


Levels of Risk

There are many levels of Risk for wild species. Two official committees thoroughly examine the best known data on plants and animals in Carolinian Canada to designate a Species-at-Risk. This is a thorough and lengthy process that may result in the species becoming protected under law.

Website Website
Committee On the Status of Endangered Wildlife In Canada Committee On the Status of Species At Risk in Ontario
Endangered A species facing imminent extirpation or extinction. Any native species that, on the basis of the best available scientific evidence, is at risk of extinction or extirpation throughout all or a significant part of its Ontario range if the limiting factors are not reversed
Threatened A species likely to become endangered if limiting factors are not reversed. Any native species that, on the basis of the best available scientific evidence, is at risk of becoming endangered throughout all or a significant part of its Ontario range if the limiting factors are not reversed
Special Concern / Vulnerable A species of special concern because of characteristics that make it particularly sensitive to human activities or natural events. Any native species that, on the basis of the best available scientific evidence, is a species of special concern in Ontario, but is not a threatened or endangered species.


How Rare is Rare?

The term species at risk is also used for rare species in very low or declining numbers that have not yet been evaluated by COSEWIC or COSSARO. The Natural Heritage Information Centre (NHIC), Ontario's Conservation Data Centre (CDC) and tracks all our plants, animals and habitats using internationally recognized guidelines. NHIC can tell us how many known records exist of any natural elements, up-to-the-minute, so to speak. Selected plants, animals and plant communities profiled in this booklet are considered imperiled because they have a ranking of S1, S2 or S3. For the most updated information on these species, check the NHIC website at

S-Ranks G-Ranks
Rarity in Ontario
Rarity in the World
Extremely rare S1: less than 5 occurrences G1 especially vulnerable to extirpation
Very rare S2: 5 - 20 G2 susceptible to extirpation
Rare to uncommon S3: 20 - 100 G3 may be susceptible to large-scale disturbances
Common S4: more than 100 G4 apparently secure
Very common S5 G5 demonstrably secure


Caretakers for the Planet

Some species are at high risk because they have a very limited global range. Global rarity is tracked by NatureServe, which collects data from many CDCs across North America. A well-known example is the Whooping Crane, which breeds in a very limited area in northern Canada and winters in an even smaller refuge in Texas. Despite decades of conservation efforts there are still just over 125 wild birds and so this species is highly susceptible to extinction from catastrophic events such as a hurricanes which could wipe out the few remaining birds in a single event. Obviously this species needs ongoing efforts to sustain its existence.

In the Carolinian life zone, globally rare species share similar dangers. The Eastern Fox Snake is restricted to the coastal wetlands of southern the southern Great Lakes, so 30% of its world range, is in Carolinian Canada. It is common in parts of the zone but declining, vulnerable to draining and degradation of wetlands, pollution, collection for the pet trade and persecution by people who mistake it for poisonous.

What does ELC Mean to Me?

Ecological Land Classification (ELC) is the scientific standard used to identify habitats in southern Ontario. ELC describes natural areas at the levels of Site Region, System, Community Class, Community Series, Ecosite and Vegetation Type. The Carolinian Life Zone is a Site Region. Habitat chapters in this booklet correspond roughly to the Community Series level and Rare Plant Communities correspond to Vegetation Types. Interested in ecology? Learn more about ELC at



Carolinian Canada Coalition 2009

Content based on 2004 guide by Michelle Kanter, Dave Martin, Veronique LeHouk, and Jane Bowles

Many Thanks to Photographers who donated their work for this project:
Jane Bowles, Allen Woodliffe, John Ambrose, Scott Gillingwater, Ben Porchuk, Rob Willson, Mathis Nativik, Shawn Staton, David Mihilik, Joe Milner, George Brackx, Kevin Railsback, Hamilton Conservation Authority, Essex Region Conservation Authority, Margaret Pickles, Leora Berman, Donald Kirk, Upper Thames River Conservation Authority, Larry Lamb, Peggy Hurst, Michelle Kanter, Gregory Peck, Jim Flynn and Rick Battson. 

Thanks also to expert support from Dan Kraus, Mike Nelson and Paul Smith.

 Assistance for this project was provided by the Ministry of Natural Resources.


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