By: Michelle Poirier

The population of Ontario’s at-risk species are in decline, according to a new report, and many of these species live right here in Georgina.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Canada recently released The Living Planet Report Canada 2020, which reported that populations of at-risk Canadian species have declined by 59 per cent and threatened species of global conservation concern have declined in Canada by 42 per cent, from 1970 to 2016.

Gail Lenters, founder and board president of Shades of Hope Wildlife Refuge in Pefferlaw, said many at-risk wildlife have gone through their doors.

Ms. Lenters said snapping turtles, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, red-headed woodpeckers and wood thrush are species of special concern in Georgina.

She also said barn swallows and chimney swifts are threatened species, and Acadian flycatchers and little brown bats are endangered species for this area.

Snapping Turtle Willow Beach

According to the species at-risk section of the Ontario website, endangered species face imminent extinction or extirpation; threatened species are not endangered, but are likely to become endangered if steps are not taken; and species of special concern are not endangered or threatened, but may become so.

She said some of these species have not been seen very often or very recently in Georgina, and a major reason for that is urbanization and clear cutting.

“We don’t have barns that swallows can nest in anymore. They are called barn swallows because they nest in the old wooden barns. They are all torn down, so they have all lost their homing areas. And for the other birds it is very similar, their habitat is being ruined,” she said.

Paul Harpley, president of the South Lake Simcoe Naturalists, said Blanding’s turtles, a threatened species,  spotted turtles, an endangered species, and short-eared owls, a species of special concern, are additional species at-risk that were historically more common in Georgina, but have not been seen as frequently.

Mr. Harpley said he suggests the community become more engaged with nature, and utilize the regional forests, Sibbald Point Provincial Park and Lake Simcoe to learn more about the ecosystems around us.

“Things like snapping turtles; they are a species of concern that the average person who is not really that engaged would not think as locally at risk, because you can see them all the time. They cross the roads, they get hit by cars and they are around a lot,” he said.

Human disturbance, urban development, pollution, transport, agricultural activity and climate change are just some of the threats affecting species in Canada, according to the WWF.

“We can urbanize with consideration, there are cities and municipalities that plan around park areas or around land spaces where the animals live, and they only take sections instead of clearing the whole thing. From a leadership level our municipality leaders have to recognise that we need to coexist,” Ms. Lenters said.

Mr. Harpley added that with a growing population development will happen, but the community needs to be more engaged and government officials need to take the wildlife into consideration; thinking of the reptiles that may bask in the sun on the asphalt or the birds living in the trees.

“I think people need to understand that all species out there are here for a reason, they have a purpose in our ecosystem, losing any one of them could change that ecosystem and we may not have any idea how until that happens,” Ms. Lenters said.

“So it’s important to maintain balance and, if we’re losing species, most likely it is because something we as humans are doing. So, we just need to be aware and try to mitigate those losses by adjusting our behaviour.”

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