Photo of Bluehearts

Photo: Michael J. Oldham

Protecting and recovering species at risk in Ontario

Species at risk recovery is a key part of protecting Ontario’s biodiversity. The Endangered Species Act, 2007 (ESA) is the Government of Ontario’s legislative commitment to protecting and recovering species at risk and their habitats.

Under the ESA, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (the Ministry) must ensure that a recovery strategy is prepared for each species that is listed as endangered or threatened. A recovery strategy provides science-based advice to government on what is required to achieve recovery of a species.

Within nine months after a recovery strategy is prepared, the ESA requires the Ministry to publish a statement summarizing the government’s intended actions and priorities in response to the recovery strategy. The response statement is the government’s policy response to the scientific advice provided in the recovery strategy. In addition to the strategy, the government response statement considered (where available) input from stakeholders, other jurisdictions, Indigenous communities and organizations, and members of the public. It reflects the best available local and scientific knowledge, including Traditional Ecological Knowledge, at this time and may be adapted if new information becomes available. In implementing the actions in the response statement, the ESA allows the Ministry to determine what is feasible, taking into account social and economic factors.

The Recovery Strategy for Bluehearts (Buchnera americana) in Ontario was completed on January 28, 2016.

Bluehearts is a perennial herb that ranges from 40 to 80 cm in height, with a spike of small purple flowers at the top of the plant. Flowering occurs between mid-July and early September.

Protecting and recovering Bluehearts

Bluehearts is listed as an endangered species under the ESA, which protects both the plant and its habitat. The ESA prohibits harm or harassment of the species and damage or destruction of its habitat without authorization. Such authorization would require that conditions established by the Ministry be met.

Globally, Bluehearts is found in the northeastern and southern United States, with less than one percent of the species' global population occurring in Canada. It is considered at risk or extirpated throughout much of its eastern North American range. In Canada, Bluehearts exists at three locations, all of which are in Ontario, in rare coastal wet meadows between 50 m and 500 m from the shoreline of southern Lake Huron, northeast of Sarnia and southwest of Grand Bend. The Ontario populations are separated from the nearest known population in the United States by an estimated 480 km. The three Ontario populations are located along a 10 km stretch within the area between Kettle Point and The Pinery Provincial Park, including the former Camp Ipperwash, lands currently being decommissioned by the federal Department of National Defence, and Richmond Park; The Pinery Provincial Park; and Ipperwash Beach. Bluehearts was historically known to occur at three other locations within this area (the former Ipperwash Provincial Park, Port Franks, and Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation) and at one location on Bkejwanong (Walpole Island First Nation). Bluehearts may still be present at the former Ipperwash Provincial Park and other historical locations where suitable habitat remains, but is unlikely to be present at historic locations where the habitat is no longer suitable for Bluehearts due to residential development or succession of the ecosystem to cedar forest.

Bluehearts populations are known to fluctuate from year to year, but available data indicate that the Ontario populations have been declining since the 1980s. Of the locations where Bluehearts is found in Ontario, the former Camp Ipperwash and Richmond Park have the greatest abundance of Bluehearts. The population observed at The Pinery Provincial Park has experienced significant decline since the 1980s and there were two survey years with no Bluehearts found in the early 2000s. The population at Ipperwash Beach has also declined and the number of individual plants documented has been very low in some survey years.

Habitat loss and degradation are the primary threats to Bluehearts across its distribution. Historically, the loss of habitat through conversion of dunes into cottage and residential areas was the main threat to the species in Ontario. Currently, the most significant threats to Bluehearts habitat in Ontario are those that alter natural disturbances and promote succession of the ecosystem to woody vegetation. This includes suppression of the natural fire regime and water level decline in Lake Huron which prevents seasonal flooding of wet meadows. Bluehearts depends on periodic disturbances such as fire and inundation to maintain open habitat. Disturbance associated with human activities (e.g., recreational activities and the detection and removal of unexploded explosive ordnance) are also significant threats to Bluehearts in Ontario. Fenced enclosures that were erected to prevent herbivory and trampling can threaten Bluehearts by enabling Eastern White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis) to establish. Other threats to the species include collection of flowers, loss of pollinators, road construction, and competition with invasive plants (e.g., European Common Reed, Phragmites australis ssp. australis).

Restoration of Bluehearts' habitat in some of the locations where the species occurred historically is not feasible, as the sites have been converted to residential use. However, areas of Bluehearts' habitat at existing locations that have become overgrown by woody vegetation (or degraded by other reversible threats) may be restorable through habitat management. Given that two of the three known Bluehearts populations have very low numbers of individual plants, managing the habitat to reduce threats and enable natural increases in abundance may not be enough to ensure the persistence of the species in Ontario. As a result, approaches to recovery will focus on managing threats to existing populations, restoring the suitability of the habitat for Bluehearts where it has been degraded at existing locations, and investigating the feasibility of augmenting existing populations, where appropriate.

Government’s recovery goal

The government’s goal for the recovery of Bluehearts is to maintain the current distribution of Bluehearts in Ontario and support natural increases in the abundance of Bluehearts, where feasible. The government supports investigating the feasibility of augmenting existing populations.


Protecting and recovering species at risk is a shared responsibility. No single agency or organization has the knowledge, authority or financial resources to protect and recover all of Ontario’s species at risk. Successful recovery requires inter-governmental co-operation and the involvement of many individuals, organizations and communities. In developing the government response statement, the Ministry considered what actions are feasible for the government to lead directly and what actions are feasible for the government to support its conservation partners to undertake.

Government-led actions

To help protect and recover Bluehearts, the government will directly undertake the following actions:

  • Continue to monitor the Bluehearts population within The Pinery Provincial Park.
  • Continue to manage the habitat of Bluehearts in The Pinery Provincial Park to improve suitability for Bluehearts using appropriate methods (e.g., modifications to enclosure fencing, redirecting recreational activities to other areas, removal of woody vegetation, prescribed burning).
  • Continue to implement the Ontario Invasive Species Strategic Plan to address the invasive species (e.g., European Common Reed) that threaten Bluehearts.
  • Co-operate with federal partners, such as Environment and Climate Change Canada, to implement protection and recovery actions, where appropriate.
  • Educate other agencies and authorities involved in planning and environmental assessment processes on the protection requirements under the ESA.
  • Encourage the submission of Bluehearts data to the Ministry’s central repository at the Natural Heritage Information Centre.
  • Undertake communications and outreach to increase public awareness of species at risk in Ontario.
  • Protect Bluehearts and its habitat through the ESA.
  • Develop direction to provide greater clarity to proponents and partners on the areas of general habitat protected under the ESA for species at risk plants.
  • Support conservation, agency, municipal and industry partners, and Indigenous communities and organizations to undertake activities to protect and recover Bluehearts. Support will be provided where appropriate through funding, agreements, permits (including conditions) and/or advisory services.
  • Encourage collaboration, and establish and communicate annual priority actions for government support in order to reduce duplication of efforts.

Government-supported actions

The government endorses the following actions as being necessary for the protection and recovery of Bluehearts. Actions identified as "high" will be given priority consideration for funding under the ESA. Where reasonable, the government will also consider the priority assigned to these actions when reviewing and issuing authorizations under the ESA. Other organizations are encouraged to consider these priorities when developing projects or mitigation plans related to species at risk. The government will focus its support on these high-priority actions over the next five years.

Focus area: Inventory and monitoring

Objective: Increase knowledge of the extent of occurrence and population dynamics of Bluehearts.

Bluehearts can be difficult to inventory and monitor because of fluctuations in population size. In some years, the species may be present only as seed because seeds may remain viable in the soil for at least three years. A standardized monitoring protocol would contribute to improved understanding of the species' extent of occurrence and population dynamics and better enable the detection of changes in population size and habitat quality.


  1. (High) Develop and implement a standardized protocol to inventory and regularly monitor existing populations of Bluehearts and to document changes in population sizes, reproductive success and habitat quality.
  2. Collaborate with local Indigenous communities and organizations to survey areas of suitable habitat in the former Ipperwash Provincial Park (and other historic locations if suitable habitat is present) to determine whether Bluehearts continues to exist. As Bluehearts populations are known to fluctuate, survey timing should coincide with years when large numbers of plants are found in other Ontario populations to increase the likelihood of detection.
  3. Encourage the recording, sharing and transfer of Traditional Ecological Knowledge on Bluehearts as available, including information on the historical distribution of the species and conditions of its habitat (e.g., the historical frequency of wildfire within the species' habitat) to inform survey protocols and habitat management actions. Coordinate this with efforts for other species at risk plants which occur in the same ecosystem.

Focus area: Research

Objective: Increase knowledge of the biological and habitat requirements of Bluehearts to inform future recovery actions.

Relatively little is known about the specific biological requirements of Bluehearts. Studies of the species' life history characteristics and habitat requirements will help support protection and recovery actions for the species. Investigating the feasibility of appropriately scoped, potential augmentation efforts for the species would also assist in filling knowledge gaps.


  1. (High) Research the species' life history characteristics and habitat requirements of the species (e.g., role of host species, pollination biology, recruitment rates, seed bank dynamics and seed ecology) to inform habitat management and species recovery actions.
  2. Investigate the feasibility of augmenting existing populations of Bluehearts that are at risk of extirpation where sufficient suitable habitat is available for the species.

Focus area: Management and awareness

Objective: Maintain or improve habitat suitability by implementing management actions, reducing threats to the species, and increasing the level of awareness of Bluehearts.

Habitat loss and degradation resulting from land use changes and recreational activities are the primary threats to Bluehearts. Active management actions will assist in improving the quality of habitat available. Working in collaboration with Indigenous communities and organizations, landowners and land managers, many of whom are already undertaking actions to support the species, will facilitate sharing of information to support implementation of stewardship actions.


  1. (High) Undertake habitat management actions to address habitat degradation, such as removal of woody vegetation (e.g., Eastern White Cedar) and invasive plants (e.g., European Common Reed) posing a direct threat to Bluehearts, while ensuring that methods employed do not adversely affect Bluehearts.
  2. Implement approaches to avoid or reduce the impacts of recreational activities on Bluehearts and its habitat, including:
    • redirecting recreational activities away from the species;
    • erecting physical barriers, while ensuring that the barriers will not lead to the establishment of woody vegetation; and,
    • installing signage to alert people to the presence of the species.
  1. Promote awareness among Indigenous communities and organizations, landowners, land managers and land users, about Bluehearts by sharing information on:
    • how to identify the species;
    • the species' habitat requirements;
    • protection afforded to the species and its habitat under the ESA; and,
    • actions that can be taken to avoid or minimize impacts to the species and its habitat.

Implementing actions

Financial support for the implementation of actions may be available through the Species at Risk Stewardship Program. Conservation partners are encouraged to discuss project proposals related to the actions in this response statement with the Ministry. The Ministry can also advise if any authorizations under the ESA or other legislation may be required to undertake the project.

Implementation of the actions may be subject to changing priorities across the multitude of species at risk, available resources and the capacity of partners to undertake recovery activities. Where appropriate, the implementation of actions for multiple species will be co-ordinated across government response statements.

Reviewing progress

The ESA requires the Ministry to conduct a review of progress towards protecting and recovering a species not later than five years from the publication of this response statement. The review will help identify if adjustments are needed to achieve the protection and recovery of Bluehearts.


We would like to thank all those who participated in the development of the Recovery Strategy for Bluehearts (Buchnera americana) in Ontario for their dedication to protecting and recovering species at risk.

For additional information:

The government response statement for Bluehearts is available in PDF format upon request. Please email PDF requests to