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Threatened and Endangered Wildlife  

Most of our wildlife enjoy healthy populations and abundant natural habitat.  For some species, however, the future is not so secure.  Alberta Environment identifies these "threatened" or "endangered" species so that action can be taken to restore and maintain our wildlife diversity.

In Alberta, the term "threatened" is used by wildlife managers to describe species, which may be at risk of extinction.  The term "endangered" is used to describe species at serious risk of extirpation or extinction.  These terms are classified the national Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).

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Trumpeter SwansThe loss of habitat is the greatest risk facing threatened wildlife.  Human activities like harvesting forests for wood and paper can affect forest species such as Woodland Caribou.  Draining wetlands and marshes for agriculture can limit the availability of nesting habitat for Piping Plovers and Trumpeter Swans.  Similarly, changing water quality or altering lake and river levels can degrade habitat for species like the American white pelican.

Other factors besides habitat loss can threaten wildlife.  The use of harmful chemicals can have damaging effects on a species, as shown by the rapid decline of the Peregrine Falcon after the pesticide DDT was introduced into North America in the 1940s.

Sometimes a threatened species loses a food source that peopleSwift Fox consider to be an unwanted pest.  Both the Burrowing Owl and the Swift Fox rely on prey species like grasshoppers and mice for food.  Poisoning these prey species can harm their predators.  Likewise, the poisoning and shooting of the Richardson's Ground Squirrel have led to a loss of burrows for burrowing owls and a loss of major food source for Ferruginous Hawks.

When a species is designated as threatened, wildlife managers try to identify the factors causing the decline.  Habitat loss, decreased food and supply, increased predation or repeated human disturbance may be examined to determine their effect on the species.  Once the cause of the decline is identified, managers can take appropriate actions to restore the population to its former status. 

Providing nesting platforms for Ferruginous Hawks and protecting gravel shorelines for Piping Plovers are actions that have helped to resolve problems for these species.

Some species in Alberta have declined so dramatically that only a few individuals remain or the species has disappeared completely from the province.  For example, the swift fox was extirpated from the province 70 years ago as a result of habitat change, trapping and predator-control programs.  Fortunately, healthy populations of this species still existed in the Midwestern United States.  These populations provided individuals for the Canadian reintroduction and after 15 years of releases, a small number of Swift Fox are once again sharing the Canadian prairie.  Their status has improved from extirpated to endangered.

For more information check out Species at Risk or visit the Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, Fish and Wildlife website!

Reprinted from Focus On Wildlife Management  (1999) with permission of Alberta Environment.

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