Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada

  The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) was created in 1977 as a result of a recommendation of a federal-provincial wildlife conference. It arose from the need for a single, official, scientifically sound, national listing of wildlife species at risk. Its mandate is to determine the status, at the national level, of wildlife species, subspecies, varieties and geographically or genetically distinct populations suspected of being imperilled in Canada. In June 2003, the Species at Risk Act formally established COSEWIC as an advisory committee whose status designations are taken into consideration by the federal government when it places species on the legal list.


  COSEWIC is an independent committee of scientific experts comprising 31 members, one from each of 13 provincial and territorial government wildlife agencies and 4 federal agencies (CANADIAN WILDLIFE SERVICE, Parks Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the CANADIAN MUSEUM OF NATURE, in its role as chair of the Federal Biodiversity Information Partnership), as well as 3 non-government science members, a co-chair from each of 10 Species Specialist Subcommittees and 1 co-chair of the Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge Subcommittee. The Canadian Wildlife Service provides secretariat and financial support to the committee.

Status Determination

Several steps are involved when COSEWIC evaluates the status of species. The committee begins by commissioning status reports on species suspected of being in danger. Because these reports serve as a basis for status determination, they are reviewed by numerous experts to ensure their accuracy and completeness. Status reports provide an up-to-date description of the species' distribution, abundance, threats and population trends as well as trends and threats to their habitat. All COSEWIC members read these reports and meet twice annually, in April and November, to discuss the situation of each species.

Since its inception, COSEWIC has examined more than 800 plant and animal (including insect) species and concluded that approximately 600 of these are either extinct or at risk (extirpated, endangered, threatened or special concern). There are more than 1000 additional species still in need of assessment. Given time and resource constraints, it will be many years before all these species are examined. The list of imperilled species has been growing at a rate of about 15 per year, but this increase does not reflect the rate at which species are becoming at risk. Instead, it is, for the most part, a reflection of the rate at which COSEWIC can assess new species while doing the many reassessments it is required by law to do at least every 10 years.

Categories of Risk

Quantitative assessment criteria based on those developed for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List are used to assign official status. A species may be assigned to one of 7 categories.

A wildlife species that no longer exists.

A wildlife species that no longer exists in the wild in Canada, but exists elsewhere.

A wildlife species facing imminent extirpation or extinction.

A wildlife species that is likely to become endangered if nothing is done to reverse the factors leading to its extirpation or extinction.

Special Concern
A wildlife species that may become threatened or endangered because of a combination of biological characteristics and identified threats.

Data Deficient
A category that applies when the available information is insufficient i) to resolve a wildlife species' eligibility for assessment or ii) to permit an assessment of the wildlife species' risk of extinction.

Not at Risk
A wildlife species that has been evaluated and found to be not at risk of extinction given the current circumstances.