It is interesting how readily nature advocates can be dismissed as tree huggers or bleeding hearts – as if caring about our fellow creatures were somehow improper. Rachel Carson herself was belittled as being too sentimental and emotional – even hysterical – in her fight to raise awareness about the deadly impacts of pesticides on the natural world.
Rather than shying away from such rebukes, perhaps we should learn to wear them with pride. Yes, I love trees. Yes, my heart bleeds when I see my childhood familiars, like barn swallows and monarchs, find their way on to the species at risk list. How could I not lament the fact that global wildlife populations have, on average, declined in size by 60 percent in my lifetime? Love, compassion, empathy – these are strengths to guide our thoughts and actions. Not at the expense of reason or science but as vital touchstones of the soundness and wisdom of the paths we choose.
Meet our species at risk
The sketches below put faces to some of Ontario’s most vulnerable plants and animals. Like a mirror, they reflect the devastating impacts of human greed and carelessness upon the natural world. They raise a timely question for Ontarians as the provincial government proceeds with its review of the Endangered Species Act, 2007 (ESA). Will the review result in measures to improve their chances of recovery or will they further imperil these at-risk species? The answer will depend on us – the people – and our collective willingness and ability to show the government that we care.
Piping Plover: endangered
plover disappeared completely from Ontario in 1977, but has begun to make a
comeback, with the first new nesting pair in the province recorded in 2007 at
Sauble Beach. It needs sandy, ungroomed beaches with light vegetation that provide cover from predators and lots to eat (e.g., beetles, ants, caterpillars and other invertebrates). Key threats are habitat degradation and human disturbance given that sandy beaches are also popular for recreation.
Lakeside Daisy: threatened
of the lakeside daisy in Ontario account for 95 percent or more of the global
population, and so the responsibility for its conservation sits firmly on our
shoulders. Lakeside daisy grows on the alvars of Manitoulin Island and the
Bruce Peninsula. It is threatened by habitat destruction caused by limestone
quarrying and development.
Jefferson Salamander: endangered
The Jefferson salamander has declined by more than 90 percent over the last 30 years in Ontario. It needs undisturbed forest floors and vernal pools for breeding. It is threatened by habitat loss and degradation resulting from urban development, draining of wetlands and resource extraction.
Rusty-patched Bumblebee: endangered
The rusty-patched bumblebee was once common and widespread across eastern North America, yet it hasn’t been found in Ontario since 2009. Though the causes of decline are poorly understood, threats include the spread of disease from domesticated bees, pesticide use, habitat loss and climate change.
Redside Dace: endangered
Canadian populations of redside dace – all of which occur in Ontario – have experienced ongoing declines over the past 50 years, with only a few populations still considered to be healthy. This fish needs cool, clear pools and streams with gravel bottoms and overhanging vegetation. It is threatened by habitat loss and degradation resulting from urban development and intensive agriculture.
Boreal Caribou: threatened
Boreal caribou numbers in Ontario are declining in six of the seven caribou ranges that overlap with forests managed for logging. This species needs vast tracts of older, conifer forest to avoid predators. It is threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation resulting from forestry, mining, hydro corridors and associated roads, with impacts likely to be exacerbated by climate change.
The science clearly shows that these species are in real trouble. And our hearts ache for them. Let’s urge the government to have these species in its heart as well throughout the ESA review.
Anne Bell has been directing Ontario Nature’s conservation and education programs since 2007. She loves to go birding, camping, swimming, and skiing and to play hockey with her husband and two young daughters, Kestrel and Castilleja.