Species At Risk (SAR) are plants and animals in Canada that are protected by law due to their being extirpated, endangered, threatened, or of special concern. The official Species at Risk in Ontario list can be found online at www.ontario.ca. Currently there are more than 200 species that are at risk of disappearing from Ontario.
It is safe to say that nearly all, if not all, of these species are disappearing due to human caused changes in the environment. Climate change, pollution, habitat loss, poaching, and road mortality are just some of the factors involved in the decline in populations of species at risk in Ontario.
Many of these species, both plant and animal, have highly specialized habitat requirements. Some plants need acidic, boggy, soil to thrive. Other plants need the dappled light provided by high canopies of old growth trees. Some insects disappeared from Ontario when their primary food plant was also wiped out. A perfect example of this is the Frosted Elfin butterfly that was last seen in Ontario in 1988. It depended on wild lupines for food and when the population of wild lupine declined, the Frosted Elfin became extirpated from Ontario. Extirpation is what happens when a species is no longer present in a part of it’s native range.
Fractured habitats, intersected by roads, agriculture, or other development, can make it difficult or impossible for segmented populations of SAR animals to find one another for mating. This becomes a very serious issue for animals that mate infrequently or take many years to reach sexual maturity. The long term survival of these species depends on regular successful breeding. If the adult males and females can’t find each other due to fragmented habitats, reproduction doesn’t stand a chance of occurring. Blanding’s turtles are particularly susceptible to low reproductive rates due to fractured habitats, as well as suffering high road mortality as they search for mates and return from mating to lay eggs.
The SWCR is a critically important haven for all wildlife and even more so for SAR. The hundreds of hectares in the reserve contain various habitats, from wetlands and oak savanna, to sand dunes and mixed forests. One of the prime mandates of the SWCR is protecting and increasing species at risk habitat. Most of the work that is done in the CR is to further increase SAR habitat and to make the CR accessible to the public in a low impact, responsible manner. To that end, the CR has trails that are designated “Pedestrian Only” where horse or motor vehicle traffic would be detrimental to the surrounding habitat. By following posted signs, trail users can contribute to the protection of species at risk in Ontario.
Finally, one major threat to several of Ontario’s species at risk is the illegal pet trade. Everyone can help put a stop to this abhorrent crime. Never capture a wild animal to keep as a pet. Sick and injured animals need to be taken to a certified wildlife rehab center in order to have their best chance at being released back to the wild. If you are aware of trade in Ontario wildlife, please call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS or contact the MNRF at their hotline 1-877-TIPS-MNR