Canada Is Underestimating How Risky Pollution Is to Endangered Animals, Study Says


Pollution is a greater threat to close to 500 of Canada’s endangered species than previously thought, a new study has found.

Sources of pollution, including excess light and noise as well as military effluent and chemicals, aren’t showing up in national endangered species risk assessments, which ultimately determine what conservation efforts go into preserving those species.

Underestimating threats and misclassifying organisms could, in the most extreme cases, see Canada’s species disappear faster.

The study, published Wednesday in the journal FACETS, calculated the geographic overlap between six types of pollution sources and the habitats of 488 Canadian species classed as endangered, threatened, or special concern. Those species included mosses and plants, as well as birds such as the Arctic tern, mammals like the silver-haired bat, and reptiles such as the plains garter snake.

The researchers found that, on average, 57 percent of threatened species’ habitats also had at least one point of pollution, although they noted this varied widely depending on the species. Almost a quarter (22 percent) of species had pollution across their entire range and some areas of southern Ontario and Quebec had more than 15 threatened species and all six types of pollution.

Plant ecologist Jenny McCune says the results were not surprising to her because many threatened species live in the warmer climates where people, and consequently, pollution are also found.

What she and the study’s other authors did find surprising though, is how different their assessment of pollution scope was compared to Canada’s assessment body for threatened species classification, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife (COSEWIC).