Species at Risk Policies - Policy on Survival and Recovery - 2016 [Proposed]
Species at Risk Act
Policies and Guidelines Series
The terms “recovery” and “survival” are used frequently throughout the Species at Risk Act (‘SARA’, the Act) and have implications for determining recovery feasibility, setting population and distribution objectives, emergency listing decisions, identification of threats and of critical habitat, permitting, jeopardy determinations, emergency orders, and understanding the purposes of the Act. Recovery and survival are not defined in the Act. This policy explains these terms, informed by scientific principles within the SARA context (see section 6 below), and establishes criteria for applying them. It provides direction for their interpretation in the context of developing recovery strategies as required by subsection 37(1) of SARA including the requirement to determine whether the recovery of the listed threatened, endangered or extirpated species at risk is technically and biologically feasible (section 40 of SARA) and that the recovery strategy must include “a statement of the population and distribution objectives that will assist the recovery and survival of the species (paragraph 41(1)(d) of SARA)”. It does so by setting upper and lower bounds to what recovery means and setting out the biological concepts to be considered, including historical information. The policy also addresses setting objectives for species of special concern in a management plan (section 65 of SARA). This policy replaces related guidance in the Draft SARA Policies (2009).
2.0. Policy Objective
The purpose of this policy is to provide for consistent interpretation of the concepts of survival and recovery as applied to SARA across the federal government and in particular as they are applied to the determination of the feasibility of recovery (section 40 of SARA) and the “…statement of the population and distribution objectives that will assist the recovery and survival of the species” (paragraph 41(1)(d) of SARA) within a recovery strategy and insuring they are consistent with the purposes of SARA.
3.0. Policy Statement
The purposes of SARA are to 1) prevent wildlife species from being extirpated or becoming extinct, 2) provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity, and 3) manage species of special concern to prevent them from becoming endangered or threatened (section 6 of SARA). The first of these purposes can be characterized as providing for survival of the species. The second purpose of recovery can be a higher and more difficult standard to meet. The third purpose is preventative.
As illustrated in Figure 1, survival and recovery lie on a continuum of probability of persistence that ranges from the historical condition when human activity caused no significant effect to the lowest level where species survival is no longer possible. Although the survival threshold concept is consistent across species, the concept of recovery varies among species, as does the range of recovery options, because the probability of persistence varies naturally among species. Equally, the survival threshold is normally difficult to quantify.
The competent minister(s) will consider that a species at risk has an acceptable chance for survival in Canada when it has surpassed the following criteria, also known as the survival threshold (see Figure 1).
The listed species is more likely to be above the survival threshold when it is:
As appropriate to its specific life history and ecology in Canada:
This policy recognizes that recovery for a species at risk cannot be defined by a single value but rather a range of options along a continuum of probability of persistence, constrained by upper and lower bounds (see Figure 1). The upper bound in all cases is full recovery (see section 5.0); however, because in many circumstances species or their habitats have undergone irreversible change as a result of human activities, recovery to this level is not always biologically and technically feasible. Therefore in practice the competent minister(s) will interpret the upper bound of recovery as the best achievable scenario (see section 5.0) that does not exceed full recovery.
In general, the competent minister(s) will consider the lower bound for recovery of a species at risk in Canada as the minimum recovery threshold (see Figure 1). The minimum recovery threshold is characterized by the following criteria:
For species that were historically precarious in Canada (see section 6.0), the best achievable scenario that does not exceed full recovery is by definition below the minimum recovery threshold (See Figure 2b), and therefore the concept of upper and lower bounds does not apply to those species.
3.3. Feasibility of Recovery
In general, for species that were not historically precarious, recovery will be considered feasible if the best achievable scenario after considering irreversible change attains the minimum recovery threshold. Otherwise recovery is not feasible.(see Figure 2a).
For species that were historically precarious, recovery will be considered feasible if the extent of irreversible change is such that under the best achievable scenario it is technically and biologically feasible to improve the condition of the species to a point that it is approaching the historical condition. For these species, recovery is deemed not feasible if the extent of irreversible change is so great that it is not technically and biologically feasible to improve the condition of the species to approach the lower end of the historical condition (see Figure 2b). In such a case, survival of the species may be achieved by ensuring connectivity between the species Canadian population and other populations of the same species in other countries or other populations that are not at risk; and/or by actively intervening with the species and/or its habitat. If recovery is deemed not to be technically and biologically feasible, population and distribution objectives will be set to support survival of the species and the identification of critical habitat to the extent possible, in addition to the other requirements of subsection 41(2) of SARA.
When the determination of recovery as technically and biologically feasible is uncertain, the recovery strategy will be prepared in accordance with requirements for a species for which recovery is feasible including setting population and distribution objectives, and will aim among other things to reduce this uncertainty. The determination of feasibility will be revised if new information clarifies the feasibility of recovery.
The determination of feasibility has implications for the content requirements of a recovery strategy and whether or not an action plan is required.
3.4. Setting Population and Distribution Objectives
In general population and distribution objectives will be set based on the best biologically and technically achievable scenario, provided it does not exceed historical norms.
For species that were not historically precarious and when recovery is feasible, population and distribution objectives will surpass the minimum recovery threshold and generally provide for a condition of the species that is improved over when it was first assessed as at risk.
Population and distribution objectives have implications for the identification of necessary research and management activities, critical habitat identification and jeopardy determinations.
In general, management objectives for a species of special concern will be based on the population and distribution of the species required to address the reasons the species was assessed as of special concern, and depending on the historical condition of the species and on what is biologically and technically feasible, will be set either to prevent the species from becoming threatened or endangered or to allow for the removal of the species from schedule 1 of SARA.
This policy provides parameters that the competent minister(s) intend to apply when interpreting provisions of the Act relating to survival and recovery, the determination of recovery feasibility, and setting and applying population and distribution objectives. It is also relevant to advising on emergency listing decisions, identifying threats, identifying critical habitat, issuing permits, advising on emergency orders, and understanding the purposes of the Act. See additional policies and guidance addressing these applications. This policy was developed based on experience gained to date in implementing the Act. It applies to recovery strategies and management plans developed after the date of publication of this policy.
5.0. Standards to be Followed
Prior to determining if recovery is feasible and setting population and distribution objectives collect the best available information on:
Using this information, to the extent possible:
5.1. Feasibility of Recovery
When determining if recovery is feasible, the following steps will be taken:
5.2. Developing Population and Distribution Objectives
When developing population and distribution objectives the following steps will be taken:
It is recognized that species may naturally shift their range over time beyond historical norms in response to changing ecological conditions. Distribution objectives will be developed in a manner that allows for this possibility where appropriate.
As well, where there is a lack of data or lack of confidence in the data on the species or the efficacy of recovery actions, objectives will be set that err on the side of precaution by not foreclosing opportunities for recovery and will be revisited when sufficient data are available.
The terms defined below are used throughout this document and should be understood in that context.
- Best Achievable Scenario:
- Defined by this policy as the biologically and technically achievable scenario with the lowest possible risk of extinction to the species that can be achieved, taking into account irreversible change.
- The condition of the species refers to the combination of the level of redundancy, resilience, representation, population and distribution, trend, threats, ecological role and any other factors that together determine the risk of extinction or extirpation of the species in Canada.
- Full Recovery:
- A return to a state in which the population and distribution characteristics and the risk of extinction are all within the normal range of variability for the species. Our understanding of this is informed by the species’ historical condition.
- Historical Condition:
- An estimate of the condition (as defined above) prior to significant effects of human activity, based on the best available information.
- Historically Precarious:
- Defined by this policy as a species that, prior to significant effects from human activity, was below the survival threshold or was dependent on demographic connectivity with outside populations for its long-term presence in Canada according to the best available information on the species population in Canada. Such a species may be recovered by achieving a condition that approximates its historical state.
- Irreversible change:
- Defined by this policy as a change that results in the establishment of a new set of ecological or biological conditions that constrain the ability of the species to return to its historical condition and that cannot reasonably be changed in a way that improves those conditions quickly enough to help the species.
Irreversible change could include changes to the species (e.g., all male/all female; genetic incompatibility; loss of genetic diversity) or ecological changes (e.g., loss of ecological niche or of food species/host species; toxic contamination; effects of permanent infrastructure).
- Minimum Recovery Threshold:
- As defined by this policy (see section 3.2), the lowest state that would be deemed recovery of a species that was not historically precarious, for the purposes of determining if recovery is feasible.
- The presence of multiple populations of the species to guard against catastrophic loss. A sufficiently widespread population may achieve the same result.
- The presence of a species across the diversity of ecosystems it inhabits and of the species’ roles in ecosystem processes. Representation captures genetic diversity and permits adaptation over time to environmental change.
- The ability of a species to recover from a disturbance and avoid demographic collapse. Resilience is influenced by population size, level of genetic diversity, as well as characteristics of the species and its habitat.
- The achievement of a stable (or increasing) state where a species exists in the wild in Canada and is not at significant risk of extirpation or extinction as a direct or indirect result of human activity.
- Survival Threshold:
- A biological threshold using the criteria laid out in this policy (see section 3.1) below which the risk of extirpation or extinction of a species is highly probable.
- Date Modified: