With all the unpopulated wilderness available in Canada, one might safely assume wildlife thrives there. Sadly, that is not the case any longer.
Canada. Mention the country’s name, and many people can’t help but instantly picture vast stretches of unspoiled natural bounty with scenic mountains and meadows teeming with wildlife.
That’s hardly a surprise. Canada is the second largest country in the world, after Russia, with a whopping 9.984 square kilometers of land and with just 36 million people. That ratio translates into a population density of only 4 people per square kilometer. By way of comparison, England has an average population density of 413 people per sqkm.
With all that unpopulated wilderness available in Canada, one might safely assume wildlife thrives there. Sadly, that is not the case any longer. In its recent Living Planet report on Canada, the World Wide Fund for Nature measured the country’s ecological performance and found that wildlife populations across the North American nation “are in serious and significant decline.”
“Even more surprising, the numbers for at-risk species, those protected by law, are just as bad – if not worse,” WWF explained. Specifically, the nonprofit’s researchers have found that the numbers of as many as 451 out of 903 mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian and fish species across Canada have declined dramatically since 1970. Many mammals have seen their numbers drop by an average of 43%; amphibians and reptiles by 34%; fish by 20%; and birds by anywhere between 43% and 69%.
The causes for these dramatic declines within just a few short decades are the usual suspects: natural habitats lost to farming, urban and industrial development, climate change and pollution. Even some experts have been surprised by the extent that numerous species have declined in number across Canada. “The lesson we take from this is we need to act before species get identified as endangered, because it’s so hard to turn around populations once they’re deteriorated that far along the scale,” David Miller, president and CEO of WWF Canada, observed.
That is an important insight. We tend to assume that if a species is not listed as endangered, it must ipso facto be doing well. Yet oftentimes that is not the case at all. “What that tells us is that if a species is in trouble, it’s in serious trouble,” Miller noted. “The ‘why’ is complicated, but it’s clear. It’s because of habitat loss, things like increasing urbanization and paving over areas, and industrial activity in more remote areas. It’s because of pollution, it’s because of invasive species, and sometimes over-exploitation of resources, and of course climate change.”