By Jaime Grimm (Key Biodiversity Areas Research Associate) and Ciara Raudsepp-Hearne (Canada Key Biodiversity Areas Coordinator), Wildlife Conservation Society Canada.
Read the article published by the Biodiversity Education Awareness Network.
Now, more than ever, people and nations across the world are recognizing the growing threat of biodiversity loss. The Canadian federal government has responded to this crisis by announcing its intention to protect 25% of lands and waters by 2025. At local and provincial levels, stewardship and conservation initiatives, as well as land use and development policies, can give nature a chance to thrive. However, in order to conserve biodiversity effectively with these initiatives and policies, we must identify those areas that are most vital to the persistence of biodiversity.
One way to focus conservation efforts is by using a new conservation tool called Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs). KBAs are areas with exceptionally high biodiversity values. KBAs may be areas important to endangered or rare species or ecosystems, sites that hold large aggregations of species at certain times of the year (e.g. migratory stopovers for birds, or caribou calving grounds) or large ecologically intact areas with low levels of human disturbance.
KBAs highlight not just scenic places and charismatic species, but all types of wildlife that may otherwise be overlooked. In Canada, many of the new sites that have been identified so far through the KBA process have been for rare plants and bugs that most Canadians may have never heard of. Each of these species is unique and has an interesting story. In some cases, Canada has the sole responsibility for making sure that these species survive.
Wildlife Conservation Society Canada and partners in the Canada KBA Coalition are in the process of identifying and mapping out KBAs across Canada, with a number of sites already identified in Ontario. For example, Hungerford’s crawling water beetle spends its life crawling along the bottoms of streams and rivers and can be found only at a handful of sites in the world – three of which are in Ontario. Development along these rivers could drive this endangered species to extinction. Identifying each of these sites as a KBA may draw attention to its precarious situation.
There are also sites that qualify as KBAs that would be obvious to any nature-lover in Ontario. Long Point, on the shores of Lake Erie, is already famous for waterfowl, but also qualifies as a KBA for having several dozen plants and invertebrates that are exceptionally rare in Canada. Many KBAs in Ontario have already been identified as Important Bird Areas (IBAs fall under the umbrella of the KBA program), and are now being re-examined for all other species, as well as rare and threatened ecosystems. Birds Canada, an important partner in the Canadian KBA initiative, is leading this work.
Canada has phenomenal and unique biodiversity, although many of the inhabitants of our wonderful natural world remain underappreciated. We hope that the Canadian KBA initiative will shine a light on the rare creatures and places that are found in this country.