With a human population size less than that of California, spread out across the second largest country in the world, surely the loss of wildlife species in Canada is not a concern?
Unfortunately, it is…and should be to people other than scientists and conservationists.
In a recent report conducted by the WWF Living Planet Canada Report, wildlife population trends spanning 44 years were monitored for 903 species.
The study showed that mammals declined by 43%, grassland birds by 69%, reptiles and amphibians by almost 34%, and fish populations by 20%. Overall half of the species studied were already in decline, the loss of which is already at almost 83%.
A shocking revelation for a country where people inhabit disproportionally less land that the rest of the world.
This is a red-flag reminder that we are currently experiencing the Sixth extinction – aptly named as dozens of species go extinct every single day due to human activity. Just this week the world was informed of the loss of the Eastern puma. Which species is next as thousands teeter on the brink?
So, what is driving this kind of loss?
In short: exponential human population and economic growth on a global scale. The more people, the more demand on resources – which are limited, finite and already stretched.
But let’s have a look at how this actually applies to Canada and our wide open spaces
- Overexploitation and unsustainable harvesting pushes the recovery ability of wildlife populations to the point of no return. The action of ‘just one more’ could the hypothetical nail in that species’ coffin.
- Habitat loss in particular of intact forests being affected by the forestry and energy sectors affect the home ranges of endangered species that rely on old growth and undisturbed habitat.
- Invasive species wreak havoc on ecosystems and sensitive species. From parasites to fish, the cost to native wildlife can be permanent and detrimental if not controlled through remedial action, often upwards of billions of dollars.
- Pollution. We all think of plastics and our consumptive use of packaging, but what about sewage effluent, heat generation and noise? Light pollution for example can affect the circadian cycle of species, making them more vulnerable to other predators as they change their activity habits in response to the imposed environmental change.
- Climate change has global and localized impacts – from the large-scale melting of polar ice caps to the extinction of endemic reptiles whose offspring sex is determined by temperature resulting in a skewed unsustainable population – the effects of global warming are far reaching and unselective.
Is it worth it and at what cost?
We understand that development and urbanization is not about to stop, if anything the demand for goods and services will only increase as human populations and the rise in affluence continues, however a conscious effort can be made to understand and deliberate over the tradeoffs involved.
By understanding the cumulative and cascading effects of human activity on the environment, establishing globally accessible species population monitoring systems and ecosystem-orientated approaches rather than single-species conservation; we can try to lessen the flood of wildlife lost to a trickle.
Want to know more?
For further reading, download the WWF Living Planet Canada Report: A national look at wildlife loss available from https://assets.wwf.ca/downloads/WEB_WWF_REPORT.pdf