The Government of Ontario has completed the 2022 Review of Progress towards the Protection and Recovery of Ontario’s Species at Risk, which includes progress reports for 12 species at risk, and highlights recent activities undertaken as part of the province’s species at risk program. Ontario is committed to the protection and recovery of these species, so that future generations can enjoy our province’s rich biodiversity for years to come.

Under the Endangered Species Act, 2007 (ESA), reviews of progress towards the protection and recovery of a species are required to be conducted no later than the time specified in the government response statement (GRS) for each threatened, endangered or extirpated species, or not later than five years after the GRS is published if no time is specified for each species.

Progress made towards the protection and recovery of a species, as reported in the reviews of progress, is based on progress made towards implementing the actions set out in the species’ GRS. Further, depending upon the information and resources available at the time of the review, the review can also help identify implementation gaps as well as opportunities to adjust protection and recovery actions to achieve the recovery goal for the species.

In 2022, reviews of progress towards protection and recovery are required for 12 species for which GRSs were published in 2017 and 2019:

Progress towards the protection and recovery of these 12 species is reported in a total of eight reports – six single-species reports, and two multi-species reports. One multi-species report covers King Rail and Least Bittern, while the other multi-species report covers Blue Racer, Lake Erie Watersnake, Small-mouthed Salamander, Unisexual Ambystoma (Small-mouthed Salamander dependent population).

This progress report consists of an Introduction, which provides an update of recent activities under Ontario’s species at risk program, and eight chapters, with detailed information on the progress made toward the protection and recovery of the above-listed species.

Successful species at risk recovery requires inter-governmental cooperation and the involvement of many individuals, organizations and communities, as documented in this review of progress. Highlights of recent projects and activities undertaken by Ontario as part of the broad provincial species at risk recovery program are described below.

Species at risk stewardship in Ontario Parks

Ontario Parks is a key partner in carrying out actions that contribute to species at risk protection and recovery in Ontario. Each year, Ontario Parks staff contribute to projects comprising research and monitoring, habitat creation, management, and restoration, and education and outreach, which further the realization of recovery goals and priorities for species at risk. Some of the Ontario Parks projects related to this year’s Review of Progress species include:

  • supporting Loggerhead Shrike research in Carden Alvar Provincial Park
  • improving public awareness of and managing recreational pressures on species at risk across Ontario Parks, such as through providing signage near recreation areas regarding nesting habitat for Bank Swallow at Pinery Provincial Park to reduce activity and disturbance in the vicinity
  • management of invasive Phragmites and other invasive species to contribute to habitat protection for species such as Least Bittern, King Rail, and Acadian Flycatcher and Channel Darter at provincial parks and nature reserves including Rondeau Provincial Park, Long Point Provincial Park, Komoka Provincial Park, and Lighthouse Point and Fish Point Provincial Nature Reserves

Species at risk research and monitoring across Ontario Parks

Ontario Parks supports species at risk through a range of research and inventory activities undertaken throughout Ontario’s parks and conservation reserves, and by facilitating activities of other organizations and individuals.

Parks staff regularly conduct inventory and monitoring in provincial protected areas. Ongoing monitoring programs in the south have been established for many species at risk, such as Fowler’s Toad, Jefferson’s Salamander, American Ginseng, Bluehearts, Kentucky Coffee-tree, Hill’s and Pitcher’s Thistle. In northern zones, Parks staff undertake annual monitoring for species at risk bats and Lake Superior Coastal Range caribou. For Wood Turtle, in addition to routine monitoring that occurs in parks with known populations of the species, an ongoing mark/recapture study is underway to document survivorship and recruitment. To protect a variety of reptiles and amphibians, Ontario Parks has established, monitors and maintains artificial nesting structures, drift fencing and eco-passages in several parks. Ontario Parks also engages in and facilitates work to protect Piping Plovers occupying park beaches.

Work undertaken by partner organizations and researchers to support provincial species at risk within protected areas is facilitated by authorizations issued by Ontario Parks. One such partner is the Third Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas (Atlas-3), authorized to conduct atlassing activities (e.g. counting and recording the presence of breeding birds) within provincial parks and facilitated through the provision of logistical support including free day use and camping for volunteer birders. This initiative, in which Parks staff participate, has resulted in information related to most species at risk birds in 2021 (the first year of data collection), and will continue to provide information on these species throughout the next four breeding seasons. To further support Atlas-3, Ontario Parks has deployed automated recording units (ARU) in several park zones. In Algonquin Provincial Park, ARU’s were deployed specifically in wetland habitats to target detection of wetland bird species including species at risk, and has resulted in the detection of Olive-sided Flycatcher and Canada Warbler.

Birds Canada’s Marsh Bird Monitoring Program includes work in many parks with significant wetland habitats that is facilitated by a research authorization issued by Ontario Parks, and support by Ontario Parks staff who conduct the marsh monitoring in some parks. This has enabled ongoing monitoring within parks across southern Ontario for wetland bird species including Least Bittern and King Rail.

Finally, Ontario Parks issues research authorizations to universities, government and non-profit organizations involved in monitoring activities ranging from turtles to Loggerhead Shrikes in a variety of protected areas across the province.

Supporting public participation in species at risk stewardship activities

Stewardship is a cornerstone of the ESA. The Species at Risk Stewardship Program provides $4.5 million in financial support each year to enable individuals and organizations to get directly involved in protecting and recovering Ontario’s species at risk.

Since the Species at Risk Stewardship Program was established in 2007, Ontario has provided funding for over 1,200 stewardship projects that have supported the protection and recovery of the province’s species at risk. Collectively, these projects have implemented on-the-ground recovery actions for over 200 species at risk. Ontario’s stewardship partners reported that the government’s support has helped them to involve over 80,000 individuals who volunteered more than 774,500 hours of their time for the projects. Provincially-funded projects have contributed to the restoration of over 57,000 hectares of habitat for species at risk. Stewardship partners identified that millions of people have received species at risk information through their education and outreach activities.

Species at risk research and monitoring

A significant amount of species at risk research is underway through MNRF’s wildlife and aquatics research and monitoring programs. Species at risk are an area of focus for the programs, with scientists undertaking and collaborating on research ranging from fish and mussels to reptiles, birds, bats, and large mammals. This research addresses actions outlined in the government response statements of multiple species at risk and contributes to a broader understanding of these species and improved protection and recovery efforts.

Dr. Joe Northrup leads Polar Bear research within MNRF and has recently published work outlining risks to the Southern Hudson Bay subpopulation from climate change and various harvest regimes. Collaborative work is also underway with Canada, Nunavut, Quebec, several universities and other partners including on the influence of potential changes in sea ice on Polar Bear movement and habitat selection, Polar Bear – seal habitat selection, population surveys, and assessment of tracking technologies. Collaborative work to address the growing number of conflicts between people and Polar Bears in coastal First Nations communities has been initiated, with support for training and the co-development of management options.

Four species of bats are at risk in Ontario, and studies by MNRF researchers and collaborators address critical knowledge gaps and target actions in the government response statements for these species. Research results are shared through their publication and presentations to partners and provincial and international bat networks. Ongoing remote monitoring, along with periodic trapping of Eastern Small-footed Myotis at maternity roosts in Ontario has led to key findings related to spring arrival times, activity periods and site fidelity, results that support the development of standardized survey protocols for Ontario bats. Remote monitoring has also been used along the Niagara escarpment and the Lake Erie shoreline for Little Brown Myotis and Tri-colored Bat to document habitat use, movement patterns and the timing of swarming and migration along these landscape features. Research has been conducted on factors influencing the susceptibility of bat species at risk to and the impacts of White Nose Syndrome – a disease which has caused mass mortality of hibernating bats.

Caribou genomics collaborative work by MNRF’s Dr. Jeff Bowman with Trent and Environment and Climate Change Canada researchers has provided insight into the genetic distinctiveness of Lake Superior caribou from the continuous range of Boreal Caribou. Understanding the evolutionary relationship and historical mixture of caribou ecotypes in Ontario can inform conservation decisions about this threatened species.

Dr. Brent Patterson partners with Trent University and other researchers on Algonquin Wolves, recently undertaking investigations into factors influencing Algonquin Wolf hybridization with Eastern Coyotes in central Ontario, and hybridization among canids at the genomic level. Work also continues across central Ontario’s Algonquin Wolf range and potential recovery zone on the connectivity among Algonquin Wolf populations, the development of a population viability model, and combining Indigenous Knowledge and western science on this species at risk into a First Nation’s led monitoring program.

Numerous research and monitoring projects were also undertaken for aquatic species at risk led by MNRF Research Scientist Dr. Scott Reid, including targeted sampling with a surface trawl of Pugnose Shiner to assess the status of this fish in the Trent River and eastern Lake Ontario coastal wetlands. Field sampling was also undertaken in support of a long-term monitoring project evaluating the response of wetland fishes at risk to the control of invasive Phragmites in Long Point Bay. Finally, spatial distribution models and the Aquatic Ecosystem Classification method were used to predict the distributions of mussel species at risk in southwestern Ontario rivers.

Work continues on priorities for other species at risk in Ontario, including Eastern Whip-poor-will, Bank Swallow, and species at risk turtles, including threats faced from habitat loss and modification, invasive Phragmites, and poaching. For the latest updates on MNRF research projects and programs, follow @ONresources on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Coordinating species at risk protection and recovery efforts through the Species Conservation Action Agency

As part of our continued effort to make the species at risk program more effective, a new provincial agency, the Species Conservation Action Agency, was established with expertise to invest in strategic, large-scale, and coordinated actions that will support more positive outcomes for select species at risk.

This new approach offers an alternative way for businesses, municipalities and individuals to protect and recover conservation fund species. Under this new option, businesses, municipalities and individuals are still required to take action to avoid and minimize impacts on species at risk and their habitats. The Agency will use pooled funds collected through the new Species at Risk Conservation Fund to protect and recover species on a province-wide scale with the long-term interest of these species in mind.

Conservation agreement for Boreal Caribou in Ontario

In April 2022, Ontario and Canada signed a five-year bilateral conservation agreement for Boreal Caribou under section 11 of the federal Species at Risk Act. Boreal Caribou are an iconic species in Canada, and a healthy Boreal Caribou population is a good indicator of a healthy boreal forest. Protecting Boreal Caribou and conserving their habitat, while considering the unique needs of the north and Indigenous communities, is a matter Ontario takes very seriously.

The agreement provides a framework that commits both governments to establishing and implementing conservation measures necessary to maintain and recover self-sustaining populations of Boreal Caribou in the province. The conservation measures in the agreement, such as monitoring and science, habitat protection and restoration, and planning and management will be informed by evidence-based science and Indigenous Traditional Knowledge and will be implemented using joint funding from Ontario and Canada.