Wednesday, 03 Jun 2020

Canadian Turtles in Trouble

WINDSOR, ON: The Midland Painted Turtle, a familiar sight along Ontario lakeshores and ponds, is now in trouble. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) added this turtle to a growing list of species found to be at risk in the region between Toronto and Windsor, Canada's most species-rich biodiversity hotspot.

Painted Turtles take about 10 years to mature, and lay small numbers of eggs. This means that even small increases in adult deaths can lead to large declines in population size. Although the Painted Turtle still thrives in some regions of Canada, the increasing numbers of turtles killed by vehicles and the historical loss of 70% of southern Ontario wetland habitat led COSEWIC to conclude that the species is of Special Concern. Every one of Canada's ten native freshwater turtle species is now at risk in at least some part of the country.

The Gray Ratsnake, another southwestern Ontario species, was confirmed to be Endangered. This harmless snake is Canada's largest, reaching lengths up to two metres in length. It overwinters in a shrinking number of small islands of natural woodland, surrounded by a sea of less-friendly habitat crisscrossed by dangerous roads.

Over a quarter of Canada's at-risk species - 217 in total - live, or lived, in the heavily altered landscape of southwestern Ontario. Thirty-three have not been seen for decades.

At the Windsor meeting, COSEWIC members witnessed first hand many threats to species, but also saw promising ways to address the problems. Covered in restored tallgrass prairie, Ontario's largest eco-passage allows threatened species to move safely over the new Windsor-Essex Parkway. "We need to continue to protect the few natural places we have left, and we must also be proactive and creative in how we reconnect them one to another," said Karen Cedar, Ojibway Prairie Complex Naturalist. Dr. Trevor Pitcher, Director of the Freshwater Restoration Ecology Centre at the University of Windsor, highlighted habitat restoration of the Detroit River for local Lake Sturgeon, a threatened species assessed by COSEWIC in 2017: "We put down ten tons of gravel and the sturgeon immediately started laying eggs - they had been waiting almost a century."

COSEWIC assessed a total of 44 wildlife species from across Canada at the April 2018 Species Assessment Meeting. Other examples (with assessment status) include:

Coastal Vesper Sparrow, last seen nesting near Nanaimo in 2014 (Endangered)
Common Nighthawk and Olive-sided Flycatcher, two birds whose numbers seem to be stabilizing after precipitous drops in recent decades (both moved from Threatened to Special Concern)
Whitefish species that have coevolved together, and are so interdependent that a decline in one can lead to the loss of both from their Yukon and Ontario lakes (Threatened/Extinct)
Smoker's Lung Lichen, a grey-green component of BC's humid, old-growth forests (Threatened)
Banff Springs Snail, a Canadian endemic, still in hot water in some of the thermal springs of Banff (Endangered)

(PRN | 2 years ago)