Photo of Dense Blazing Star

Photo: Wasyl Bakowsky

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 the Dense Blazing Star (Liatris spicata) in Ontario was completed on January 28, 2016.

Dense Blazing Star is a herbaceous, perennial wildflower that grows to 2 m in height with a dense, showy spike of purple flowers. Flowering occurs from mid-July to mid-September.

Protecting and recovering Dense Blazing Star

Dense Blazing Star is listed as a threatened 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, Dense Blazing Star is found in eastern North America, with limited distribution in Canada (less than one percent of the species' global population). There are at least 10 naturally occurring populations that are known to be of native origin in Canada, consisting of roughly 70,000 plants, all of which are located in southwestern Ontario. Four of these populations have very low numbers of individual plants and are not likely to be viable in the long term. Most of the Ontario plants are found on Bkejwanong (Walpole Island First Nation) which lies on the delta of the St. Clair River as it opens into Lake St. Clair. The second and third largest populations are in the Ojibway Prairie Complex and surrounding areas, and The Pinery Provincial Park which lies on the southern shores of Lake Huron.

In addition to the 10 populations noted above, the Rural Lambton Stewardship Network has planted Dense Blazing Star at more than 105 prairie restoration sites, and observations at some sites have indicated that plants have successfully established. Evaluation is required to determine the extent to which the plants have established, the origin of the seed material and whether they are likely to persist. This data will inform what role the plants at these sites may play in the recovery of Dense Blazing Star in Ontario. Additional populations of the species have been reported in other areas of Ontario, but their origin is unknown. They may have been planted intentionally or escaped from gardens. Populations of unknown origin may have originated from cultivated strains and may be genetically distinct from Ontario plants.

Habitat loss resulting from development of land for residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural purposes and degradation of habitat quality are the main threats to Dense Blazing Star. The species primarily inhabits tallgrass prairie or savannah habitat, which is extremely limited in Ontario. Approximately 97% of this habitat in southern Ontario has been converted to urban or agricultural land uses. Causes of habitat degradation include suppression of fire, alteration of the hydrologic regime, and displacement by invasive plants (e.g., European Common Reed (Phragmites australis ssp. australis), White Sweet Clover (Melilotus albus), and Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria). Dense Blazing Star depends on periodic fires to maintain open habitat and prevent encroachment by woody species. Land developments alter site drainage, which can change soil moisture conditions from those which are required by the species. Invasive plants compete with Dense Blazing Star for sunlight and resources.

Other threats to the species include maintenance activities (e.g., mowing or herbicide use), trampling and flower-picking, and hybridization with other species of Blazing Star. Some threats are specific to certain locations. For example, shoreline erosion caused by large boat wakes threatens plants at some sites. Fenced enclosures were erected in some areas to protect Dense Blazing Star from herbivory and trampling, but had the unintended effect of enabling woody species to establish. These enclosures have since been modified.

Until the potential for the restoration plantings to contribute to recovery of the species has been evaluated, the focus of the recovery goal will be on populations that are known to be of native origin. If the restoration plantings are confirmed to be of the Ontario genetic type they will be considered to comprise part of the current distribution of the species and be protected under the ESA. Since this species depends on provincially-rare habitats that are subject to continued development pressure and competition with invasive plants, the approach to recovery will focus on improving habitat and managing habitat-related threats. This species responds well to vegetation management practices (e.g., prescribed burns, removal of invasive plants and woody species, and changes to mowing schedules and herbicide use) and is capable of dispersing into adjacent areas of suitable habitat. These biological attributes, in addition to management actions, may help to support population increases at existing locations.

Government’s recovery goal

The government’s goal for the recovery of Dense Blazing Star is to maintain the distribution and abundance of Dense Blazing Star in Ontario and support natural increases in the abundance of Dense Blazing Star at existing viable locations. The government supports investigating the feasibility of augmenting existing populations deemed to be non-viable in the absence of additional recovery efforts.


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 Dense Blazing Star, the government will directly undertake the following actions:

  • Continue to manage the habitat of Dense Blazing Star in The Pinery Provincial Park and Ojibway Prairie Provincial Nature Reserve to maintain or improve suitability for the species 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, White Sweet Clover, and Purple Loosestrife) that threaten Dense Blazing Star.
  • 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 Dense Blazing Star 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 Dense Blazing Star 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 Dense Blazing Star. 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 Dense Blazing Star. 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: Research and monitoring

Objective: Increase knowledge of the biology, distribution and current population status of Dense Blazing Star.

Research and monitoring of Dense Blazing Star populations is needed to determine the species' distribution and abundance and to assess the effectiveness of management actions. Genetic research may illuminate the status of populations of unknown origin and advance understanding of the threat of hybridization with Blazing Star species grown for horticultural purposes. This knowledge may help to ensure that nursery stock used in prairie restoration work does not contaminate the gene pool of native populations of Dense Blazing Star. Studies of the survival and reproduction of planted populations may help clarify the role that plants at prairie restoration sites play in the recovery of Dense Blazing Star.


  1. (High) Develop and implement a standardized monitoring protocol at existing populations of Dense Blazing Star to document changes to population sizes, demographic changes, reproductive success, threats, and habitat quality. Facilitate collaborative sharing of monitoring data.
  2. (High) Research the genetics of populations of Dense Blazing Star and populations of unknown origin to:
    • determine whether any of the populations of unknown origin consist of plants native to Ontario; and,
    • better understand the threat of hybridization with other Blazing Star species and cultivars.
  1. Assess the viability of populations with low numbers of individual plants. Investigate the feasibility of augmenting populations identified as being non-viable in the absence of additional recovery efforts.
  2. Encourage the recording, sharing and transfer of Traditional Ecological Knowledge on Dense Blazing Star 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: Protection and management

Objective: Maintain or improve the quality of the habitat to support natural increases to the abundance of Dense Blazing Star at each of the locations where it exists in Ontario.

The habitat required by Dense Blazing Star is extremely limited in Ontario and the species continues to be threatened by development pressures and invasive plants that encroach on remaining habitat. There are a variety of habitat management approaches that may reduce or reverse the impact of these threats. There may also be opportunities to improve the suitability of habitat in areas adjacent to existing populations, which may enable natural increases in local population size through wind-dispersal of Dense Blazing Star seeds. Additionally, monitoring the effectiveness of active management actions and adapting accordingly will support the recovery of the species. Collaboratively working with Indigenous communities and organizations, stewardship organizations, landowners, and land managers will enhance the efficacy of actions taken.


  1. (High) Develop, implement and evaluate the effectiveness of management plans to maintain or improve the quality of habitat available for Dense Blazing Star. Plans may include practices such as:
    • removal of invasive plants (e.g., European Common Reed, White Sweet Clover, and Purple Loosestrife), woody vegetation and other plants that compete with Dense Blazing Star;
    • changes to mowing schedules or herbicide applications; and,
    • prescribed burning as appropriate, and if evaluated to be beneficial for the species.
  1. Develop, implement and evaluate approaches to avoid or minimize the impacts of land development and associated infrastructure projects on Dense Blazing Star and its habitat (e.g., projects that have potential to alter drainage and soil conditions in the habitat of the species, such as installation or modification of ditches or drainage tile, paving, or soil compaction).
  2. Implement and evaluate approaches to avoid or minimize the impacts of recreational activities on Dense Blazing Star and its habitat, including:
    • redirecting recreational activities away from the species;
    • erecting physical barriers; and,
    • installing signage to alert people to the presence of the species.

Focus area: Awareness

Objective: Increase local awareness of activities that threaten Dense Blazing Star and encourage sharing of information on methods to reduce threats.

Many of the threats to Dense Blazing Star are caused by human activities, such as land development, mowing and herbicide use. Increased awareness is the first step to support landowners and land managers in reducing the threats of an activity on the species. A collaborative approach that facilitates the exchange of information and builds on the efforts of existing stewardship initiatives will improve efficiency and reduce duplication of effort.


  1. Synthesize and distribute best management practices to municipalities, railway and utility companies and other organizations working in the habitat of Dense Blazing Star on methods to mitigate impacts of vegetation management and maintenance activities on the species and its habitat.
  2. Promote awareness among Indigenous communities and organizations, landowners, land managers, and land users about Dense Blazing Star, including:
    • 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 reduce threats 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 Dense Blazing Star.


We would like to thank all those who participated in the development of the Recovery Strategy for Dense Blazing Star (Liatris spicata) in Ontario for their dedication to protecting and recovering species at risk.

For additional information:

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