WHAT WE DO :: Species at Risk

Species at Risk

Species at risk are those species with small populations, limited ranges and/or are associated with habitats that have been drastically reduced or are in danger of being lost completely. British Columbia’s grasslands are now home to over 30 percent of the province's species at risk. The special conditions found in BC's grasslands, those of hot dry summers and mild winters, allow many special species to survive.

The majority of BC is forested. Our grasslands cover less than 1% of the province’s area. Unfortunately, large areas of grasslands have been converted to towns and cities, or to agricultural fields, orchards and vineyards. The grasslands that remain have been altered by livestock grazing, recreational activities and the invasion of non-native invasive plants. Fire suppression has also caused grassland area to shrink, as trees encroach on areas that were once part of the grassland ecosystem. As grasslands have been lost or altered, so has the habitat for the species that lived there.

The grasslands of BC are a northern extension of the grasslands of the Great Basin of the Western United States and are different from the prairie grasslands found east of the Rocky Mountains. The plants and animals found in BC's grasslands live in the northern limit of their habitat, and they have adapted to survive in harsh climatic conditions. Scientists are now finding that these uniquely adapted species make particularly important contributions to continental and global biodiversity, which makes BC's grasslands especially important.

Within BC grasslands, one area stands out as being particularly diverse. More species at risk are found in the grasslands of the South Okanagan than in any other area of Canada. Many of the species found in the Okanagan are found nowhere else in Canada, and a few are found nowhere else in the world. Unfortunately, Okanagan grasslands are very restricted, being in narrow, lowland valleys where there is intensive land use and where cities, towns and rural communities are concentrated.

Keeping Track of Species at Risk

Both the federal government and BC’s provincial government produce and track lists of species at risk. These lists define different categories of risk and assign actions required for recovery and maintenance of those species. Click on the links below to find out more.

The British Columbia Conservation Data Centre (CDC) was established in 1991 to collect and disseminate data about the rare plants, animals, and plant communities in the province. This information is compiled and maintained in a computerized database that provides a centralized scientific source of information on the status, locations, and levels of protection of rare organisms and ecosystems.

The CDC is part of the Registries and Resource Information Division in the British Columbia Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management. It is also part of NatureServe, an international organization of conservation data centres and natural heritage programs all using the same methodology to gather and exchange information on the threatened elements of biodiversity.

The BC Wildlife Act is a provincial law that provides the legislative foundation for the interaction of people and wildlife in BC. It provides the legal mechanism for designating species at risk as either Threatened or Endangered in BC. At present, only four species are designated under this legislation. One of these, the Burrowing Owl (designated as Endangered) is a grassland species.

Provincial Red and Blue Lists

Red List:
This list includes any indigenous species or subspecies that have, or are candidates for extirpated, endangered, or threatened status in British Columbia. Extirpated taxa no longer exist in the wild in British Columbia, but do occur elsewhere. Endangered taxa are facing imminent extirpation or extinction. Threatened taza are likely to become endangered if limiting factors are not reversed. Not all red-listed taxa will necessarily become formally designated. Placing taxa on these lists flags them as being at risk and requiring investigation.

Blue List:
This list included any indigenous species or subspecies considered to be vulnerable in British Columbia. Vulnerable taxa are of special concern because of characteristics that make them particularly sensitive to human activities or natural events. Blue-listed taxa are at risk, but are not extirpated, endangered, or threatened.

Relationship of Red and Blue Lists to CDC Ranks

Species are assigned to the red or blue list on the basis of the provincial Conservation Status Rank (SRANK) assigned by the Conservation Data Centre. For a fuller explanation of how the red and blue lists are related to the Centre, see How Conservation Status is Ranked in British Columbia.

Purpose of the Red and Blue Lists

The red and blue lists serve two purposes:

To provide a list of species for consideration for more formal designation as endangered or threatened, either provincially under the British Columbia Wildlife Act, or nationally by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).
As a method of assigning conservation priorities for species considered at risk in British Columbia.
The rankings highlight species that face particular threats, suffer declining population trends, or have restricted distributions that indicate that they require special attention. These lists serve as a practical method to assist in making conservation and land-use decisions and prioritize research, inventory, management, and protection activities. For example, Operational Planning Regulations in the Forest Practices Code of British Columbia Act uses the red and blue lists in the development of the list of Identified Wildlife.

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) determines the national status of wild Canadian species, subspecies and populations suspected of being at risk. COSEWIC bases its decisions on the best up-to-date scientific information and Aboriginal traditional knowledge available. All native mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, molluscs, lepidopterans (butterflies and moths), vascular plants, mosses, and lichens are included in its current mandate.

COSEWIC maintains three lists:

Species at Risk: species designated in the extinct, extirpated, endangered, threatened, or special concern categories;
Species Not at Risk: species that have been evaluated and found to be not at risk;
Data Deficient: species for which there is insufficient scientific information to support a risk or not at risk designation.

Terms and risk categories:

  • Species: any indigenous species, subspecies, variety, or geographically or genetically distinct population of wild fauna and flora
  • Extinct: a species that no longer exists
  • Extirpated: a species or subspecies that no longer exists in the wild in a particular region, province or country, 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