Find out more about our Species at Risk

What Is a Species at Risk?

A species at risk is any naturally occurring animal and/or plant that is in danger of disappearing in the wild.

British Columbia is the most biologically diverse province or territory in Canada. While it only occupies 10% of Canada’s land mass, it contains more than half of Canada’s vertebrates and vascular plants, and three-quarters of its bird and mammal species.

Despite being the steward of such treasures, BC currently does not have provincial legislation that is specifically designated to protect Species at Risk. Instead, it relies on a combination of federal legislation, and provincial legislation relating to parks, wildlife, and resource extraction.

In 2002 the Government of Canada created the Species at Risk Act (SARA), which is federal legislation that protects wildlife from becoming extirpated or extinct due to human activities. This legislation provides recovery strategies for each species listed under the act, and their habitats and ecosystems. It also ensures their protection on federal lands by making it an offence to physically harm or possess a species at risk, or damage their residence/den. However, these prohibitions only affect species that are endangered, threatened or extirpated, and not those listed as being “of special concern” – a species at-risk of becoming threatened or endangered.

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) is the authority behind the Species at Risk Act. This advisory panel uses the best available indigenous knowledge, scientific research and community knowledge to assess the status of these species.

There are 4 levels of classification in which species are listed under the SARA:

  • Species of Special Concern – a wildlife species that may become a threatened or endangered species because of a combination of biological characteristics and identified threats.
  • Threatened – a wildlife species that is likely to become endangered if nothing is done to reverse the factors leading to its extirpation or extinction.
  • Endangered – a wildlife species that is facing imminent extirpation or extinction.
  • Extirpated – a wildlife species that no longer exists in the wild in Canada but exists elsewhere in the wild.

You can check out the Species at Risk Act on this government site: Justice Laws Website (

Provincially, each province has its own classifications for ecosystems and species at risk as well as the SARA. British Columbia’s classifications are the following:

  • Yellow – Any species or ecological communities that are apparently secure and not at risk of extinction. Yellow-listed species may have red- or blue-listed subspecies
  • Blue – Any native species or ecological community considered to be of Special Concern
  • Red – Any species or ecosystem that is at risk of being lost (extirpated, endangered or threatened)


Although these classifications are simply labels, British Columbia, the province with the highest biodiversity, has not yet introduced its own legislation to protect Species at Risk, which is shocking.

In 2017 the government mandated the enactment of an endangered species law, but it is still under development. Various pieces of provincial legislation in BC currently serve to protect endangered, extirpated, and threatened species, including the Wildlife Act, Forest and Range Practices Act, Oil and Gas Activities Act, Ecological Reserves Act, and the Park Act. These Acts focus on preventing direct harm to Species at Risk, and protecting critical habitat. Unfortunately, the protected Wildlife Habitat Areas created under them are stand-level measures that do little to address habitat supply, habitat connectivity, and population viability. As well, current government policy has set a limit of only allowing a one-percent impact on timber harvest levels by implementation of Wildlife Habitat Areas. It is policies such as this that show where the province’s priorities currently lie.

British Columbia needs to step up and address these deficiencies in protection of species at risk in the province. We need to be proactive and not wait until we are at risk of losing a species before we take action. Issues such as habitat connectivity and supply in the face of development and coexisting with the species around us in such a way that they don’t need to be sequestered away in protective bubbles, need to be considered if we want to succeed in preserving our biodiversity and protecting at-risk species from population decline.

We, as citizens of the West, can take a role in protecting these species and prevent other species from becoming at risk.

All your reported observations will be added to our Species at Risk database. All the data that we collect as a community will be sent to the Conservation Data Centre in Victoria, B.C, to help build up a picture of species abundance and distribution in the province.

We have researched and created profiles of these species at risk on Cortes Island, which can be found in the Species at Risk section of our website (you’re in the right place!). Here on Cortes Island, we have at least 33 different species at risk that live here part of the year or year-round!

Species at Risk

A species at risk is any naturally occurring animal and/or plant that is in danger of disappearing in the wild. Learn more about how Species at Risk are classified federally and provincially.​  …Read more…

Western Screech Owl

The Western Screech Owl is nocturnal. It leaves its roost just before sunset to begin a long night of hunting, only returning home just minutes before sunrise. … Read more…

Steller Sea Lion

Steller sea lions, also known as northern sea lions and seawolves, are the largest member of the marine mammal family called Otariidae (which means “eared seals”)...Read more…

Northern Goshawk

The Northern Goshawk is a very secretive bird. They’re hard to spot and prefer to be far from human activity. You may hear them though if you stay close to their nest while hiking … Read more…

Pacific Sideband Snail

This medium-sized land snail is unique to other snails in size and features. Pacific sideband snails have evolved their mantle cavity into a lung and breathe through … Read more…

Sooty Grouse

The Sooty Grouse was thought to be the coastal subspecies of the Blue Grouse until it was discovered through DNA testing that they could be split into two subspecies, …Read more…

Harbour Porpoises

Harbour porpoises are shy creatures that may be hard to spot despite living in coastal areas such as estuaries, inlets, bays, fjords and, of course, harbours. They are British Columbia’s… Read more…

Western Toad

The Western Toad is frequently encountered on roads (in wet weather during spring and fall migrations), near water in breeding season (spring), and in meadows or forests  … Read more…

Northern Red-legged Frog

The Northern Red-legged Frog can be found in well-shaded, cool coastal forests. If you’re searching for one in the late winter or early spring, they’ll most likely be in forested wetlands. . .Read more…

Northern Pygmy Owl

This fearless little hunter is certainly unique to the Owl family. About the size of a fist, the Pygmy-Owl is a tiny predator that is also prey to larger predators.The Northern Pygmy-Owl’s preferred … Read more…

Big-eared Bat

The Townsend’s big-eared bat is also commonly known as the Lump-nosed bat. Their ears and their nose are two defining features that can help to identify this species. With ears half … Read more…

Threaded Vertigo

This tiny little snail can be found in moist mixed forest stands, particularly on bigleaf maple trees in the crevices of the bark. The threaded vertigo does hibernate in winter . . .Read more…

Coastal Cutthrout Trout

Coastal cutthroat trout are a subspecies of the cutthroat trout. All cutthroat trout are the same genus as Pacific Salmon. They too are salmonids although … Read more…

Blue Dasher Dragonfly

These vibrant dragonflies are one of a kind – the only member of its genus and the largest member of the “skimmer” family. Found living in and around still water, ..Read more…

Silver Spotted Skipper

These butterflies have been extirpated from the B.C coast for over 50 years, but one was spotted fluttering by a patch of Giant Vetch on Cortes Island. This observation changed   …Read more…

Barn Swallow

The Barn Swallow can usually be spotted flying and foraging over bodies of water, meadows, grasslands and farmland. They often build their nests in man-made structures such as barns..Read more…

Great Blue Heron

The species of Great Blue Heron found around Cortes is the Pacific Great Blue Heron subspecies (Ardea herodias fannini). It is one subspecies out of five that are found in North America. .Read more…

Common Nighthawk

The Common Nighthawk can be spotted at dawn or dusk as it’s quickly flying in the sky, foraging for insects. During the day they’re harder to spot due to their efficient camouflage..Read more…

Humpback Comeback

Humpback whales are being increasingly seen around Cortes. Report all your sightings and help keep them safe in our waters.

Join Friends of Cortes Island

Become a member and support the work we are doing in the community to help look after our beautiful island

Friends of Cortes Island Society (FOCI) is a charitable organization that has been active for over 25 years. Our organization exists to monitor and preserve the health of local ecosystems, and to provide educational programs that foster a greater understanding of the natural environment. Through all of our projects, we work to promote environmental integrity through community responsibility.