photo of Slender bush-clover
Photo: Allen Woodliffe

Protecting and recovering Species at Risk in Ontario

Species at risk recovery is a key part of protecting Ontario’s biodiversity. Biodiversity – the variety of living organisms on Earth – provides us with clean air and water, food, fibre, medicine and other resources that we need to survive.

The Endangered Species Act, 2007(ESA) is the Government of Ontario’s legislative commitment to protecting and recovering species at risk and their habitats. As soon as a species is listed as extirpated, endangered or threatened under the ESA, it is automatically protected from harm or harassment. Also, immediately upon listing, the habitats of endangered and threatened species are protected from damage or destruction.

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.

Government response statements

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 recovery strategy for Slender Bush-clover (Lespedeza virginica) in Ontario was completed on November 22, 2013.

The response statement is the government’s policy response to the scientific advice provided in the recovery strategy. All recommendations provided in the recovery strategy were considered and this response statement identifies those that are considered to be appropriate and necessary for the protection and recovery of the species. In addition to the strategy, the response statement is based on input from stakeholders, other jurisdictions, Aboriginal communities and members of the public. It reflects the best available traditional, local and scientific 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.

Moving forward to protect and recover Slender Bush-clover

Slender Bush-clover 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 their habitat without authorization. Such authorization would require that conditions established by the Ministry be met.

Slender Bush-clover’s distribution ranges from southwestern Ontario to northern Mexico. In Canada, only a single population of Slender Bush-clover is known to exist, and it occurs entirely within the Ojibway Prairie Complex in the City of Windsor, Ontario. In the Ojibway Prairie Complex, the species has been documented to occur at three distinct locations, each within a park managed by the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation. Slender Bush-clover was first observed within the Tallgrass Heritage Park in 1977, however it was last observed at this site in 1997 and may have been lost due to natural succession. The species was also observed in Black Oak Heritage Park in 1993, however it has not been found within this park since then, and may have been lost from this location as a result of all-terrain vehicle (ATV) use. Within Ojibway Park, the third location in the complex, Slender Bush-clover was first observed in 1979. The species has been observed at this location on several occasions since then, most recently in 2011, at which time 165 plants were observed. While recent observations of Slender Bush-clover are limited to Ojibway Park, the species is considered to remain at all three locations within the Ojibway Prairie Complex, as viable seed may still be in the soils within the other two parks.

Slender Bush-clover was also historically documented to exist in the Leamington area in 1892. However this population is considered to be extirpated, as it has not been observed since, despite several targeted searches.

The most significant threat to Slender Bush-clover at all three remaining locations is habitat loss and degradation due to alteration of natural disturbance regimes. Without natural disturbances such as fire, or other disturbances (e.g., soil scraping), natural succession occurs and vegetation begins to cover the open soil the species requires for germination and growth. Invasive species such as Crown Vetch (Securigera varia), Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) and Spotted Knapweed (Centaurea stoebe ssp. micranthos) present another threat to Slender Bush-clover as these species have the capacity to rapidly take over its habitat. Historically, threats also included ATV and dirt bike use; however these activities are no longer permitted in the parks where Slender Bush-clover remains.

A number of environmental and biological factors also contribute to the rarity and vulnerability of Slender Bush-clover in Ontario. First, remaining suitable habitat patches in the province are rare and isolated, thus limiting the species’ ability to expand naturally into new areas. Second, where the species exists, there may be reduced establishment as a result of human influences, such as suppression of the natural fire regime. Third, Slender Bushclover in Ontario occurs near the northern edge of the species’ range where the climate may affect recruitment. Finally, because only a single small population remains in Ontario, Slender Bush-clover is also highly vulnerable to the effects of random weather events such as floods and wind storms.

Ever since plant inventories were first undertaken in the province, Slender-bush Clover has not been found to be common in Ontario. Its distribution and abundance prior to this period are unknown. As suitable habitat in Ontario is rare and isolated, the distribution of the species is unlikely to expand. Thus, recovery efforts for this species will focus on improving habitat, reducing threats, and exploring opportunities to establish or re-establish the species at sites with suitable habitat in the three parks where the species has been observed within the Ojibway Prairie Complex

The government’s goal for the recovery of the Slender Bush-clover in Ontario is to maintain the population at, or increase it to, a sustainable level at existing sites.

As the response of Slender Bush-clover to management activities is monitored, the government’s goal and approach for the recovery of the species may be re-evaluated to consider alternate recovery actions, such as establishing Slender Bush-clover at other sites within its natural range.

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 Slender Bush-clover, the government will directly undertake the following actions:

  • Continue to implement the Ontario Invasive Species Strategic Plan to address the invasive species (e.g., Crown Vetch) that threaten Slender Bush-clover.
  • Educate other agencies and authorities involved in planning and environmental assessment processes on the protection requirements under the ESA.
  • Encourage the submission of Slender Bush-clover 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 the Slender Bush-clover and its habitat through the ESA.
  • Support conservation, agency, municipal and industry partners, and Aboriginal communities and organizations to undertake activities to protect and recover the Slender Bush-clover. Support will be provided where appropriate through funding, agreements, permits with appropriate 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 the Slender Bush-clover. 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 Endangered Species Act. 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: Protection and Management

Objective: Maintain or improve habitat suitability and reduce the presence of invasive species in Slender Bush-clover habitat.


  1. (High) Develop and implement plans for improving habitat conditions and managing invasive species and native woody vegetation at occupied sites, as appropriate, with consideration for other rare species present on site. Actions may include prescribed burns, vegetation removal, scraping, raking, or other actions. Monitor the effectiveness of actions taken and revise management plans as appropriate.
  2. Explore opportunities to establish or re-establish the species in existing suitable habitat within Ojibway Park, Black Oak Heritage Park and Tallgrass Heritage Park, as appropriate, using genetic material that originated within the Ojibway Prairie Complex or that genetic research has determined to be of appropriate origin.
  3. Conserve Slender Bush-clover by cultivating and maintaining plants at offsite locations, such as botanical gardens, for the purposes of supporting research and efforts to establish or re-establish the species within Ojibway Park, Black Oak Heritage Park and Tallgrass Heritage Park. Plantations must comprise genetic material that originated within the Ojibway Prairie Complex or that genetic research has determined to be of appropriate origin.

Focus Area: Research

Objective: Assess the population of Slender Bush-clover in the Ojibway Prairie Complex and undertake research to inform recovery approaches for the species.


  1. (High) Assess the condition and viability of the population, as well as habitat conditions, within the Ojibway Prairie Complex. This work may include:
    • determination of whether viable Slender Bush-clover seed remains within Tallgrass Heritage Park and Black Oak Heritage Park; and
    • evaluation of the severity of the threat of invasive and native species to Slender Bush-clover.
  2. Undertake research necessary to inform recovery approaches for Slender Bush-clover in Ontario. Research may include investigation of:
    • habitat management techniques (e.g., optimal frequency and intensity of prescribed burns);
    • genetic diversity of the species in Ontario compared to populations in other parts of its range;
    • seed and pollen dispersal rates and distances;
    • approaches to enable germination and recruitment; and,
    • reproductive biology of the species (e.g., modes of pollination).

Implementing actions

Financial support for the implementation of actions may be available through the Species at Risk Stewardship Fund, Species at Risk Research Fund for Ontario, or the Species at Risk Farm Incentive 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 coordinated 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 Slender Bush-clover.


We would like to thank all those who participated in the development of the Recovery Strategy for the Slender Bush-clover (Lespedeza virginica) in Ontario for their dedication to protecting and recovering species at risk.

For additional information:

Visit the species at risk website
Contact the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks
Toll-free: 1-800-565-4923
TTY: 1-855-515-2759