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Park Management

Species at Risk

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world. -John Muir

Pandas and whooping cranes - these animals have made us aware that threats to plants and animals are global. You might be surprised, however, to learn that species may be at risk even within our national parks.

In Canada the Species at Risk Act (SARA), together with provincial and territorial legislation, protects at risk plants and animals. Under SARA, the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC), provides national leadership for the protection of species at risk .

Through the Canada National Parks Act, all plants, animals and natural objects in national parks are protected. Parks Canada gives special attention to species listed at risk in the SARA. In order to protect these species, Parks Canada must:

  • Solidify our knowledge of those species within our protected areas; and
  • Work with partners to protect and recover them.

Species at risk are categorized as either:

  • Special concern - particularly sensitive to human activities or natural events
  • Threatened - likely to become endangered if factors impacting it are not changed
  • Endangered - facing imminent extirpation or extinction

Much of the progress in recovering a species at risk can be credited to better management practices, as well as public support and involvement. Monitoring and conserving wildlife species and their habitat is essential to the protection and recovery of species at risk and to prevent other species from becoming at risk in the first place.

Species at Risk in Waterton Lakes National Park

Halfmoon Hairstreak (Satyrium semiluna) - Endangered

A group of Halfmoon hairstreaks on goldenrod flowers Halfmoon Hairstreak
© Norbert Kondola

This inconspicuous little brownish-grey butterfly is found in the fescue grasslands of Waterton. Research is underway to determine if it is a separate species from that reported in British Columbia. This is the only known population of this species in a national park.

Whitebark Pine (Pinus albicaulis) – Endangered

A Whitebark Pine tree Whitebark Pine
© Parks Canada

Whitebark pines are threatened by a variety of factors, including an introduced blister rust, mountain pine beetle, fire suppression, and by rapid global climate change.

Westslope Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarkia lewisi) - Threatened

Drawing of a trout
Westslope Cutthroat Trout
© Karl Geist

From 1928 to 1972, park waters were stocked with hatchery raised non-native rainbow trout. Competition for food and habitat, plus hybridization, has significantly reduced pure cutthroat trout in the park.

Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) - Threatened

Common Nighthawk
Common Nighthawk
© Parks Canada

Like other insect-eating birds, common nighthawks may be declining because their prey is affected by pesticides. Waterton has a small population that breeds in rocky habitat on alluvial fans and gravel bars in rivers.

Olive-sided Flycatcher (Contopus cooperi) - Threatened

Olive-sided flycatcher
Olive-sided flycatcher
© Nick Saunders

These small, inconspicuous birds are easy to identify by their popular loud call which sounds like “Quick! three beers”. They live on avalanche slopes and shrubby mountainsides. Outside of protected areas, this habitat is being affected by resource extraction activities.

Bolander's Quillwort (Isoetes bolanderi) - Threatened

A tiny, green Bolander's quillwort Bolander's Quillwort
© Parks Canada

The entire Canadian population of Bolander's quillwort is located in only two high elevation ponds in Waterton, so it could easily be destroyed by a single catastrophic event.


Lewis's woodpecker
(Melanerpes lewis) - Special Concern

Lewis's Woodpecker Lewis's Woodpecker
© Parks Canada

Lewis's Woodpeckers breed in British Columbia, and are occasionally found on the lower mountain slopes of western Alberta, including Waterton. Over the past century, both the global and Canadian populations have declined, primarily due to loss of habitat.

Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus) - Special Concern

Closeup of a Long-billed Curlew Long-billed Curlew
© Parks Canada / Wayne Lynch

Although protected from hunting, their numbers have declined steadily since the early 1900's, partially due to habitat loss. Long-billed Curlews are also found in Grasslands National Park.

Short-eared owl (Asio flammeus) - Special Concern

Short-eared owl Short-eared owl
© Nick Saunders - saskbirder.com

Short-eared owls are rare visitors to Waterton. They are declining due to loss of breeding habitat, as well as a reduction in the small mammals they hunt. .

Northern Leopard Frog (Rana pipiens) - Special Concern 

Closeup of a Northern Leopard Frog in a pond Northern Leopard Frog
© Parks Canada / Tawnya Hewitt

The Northern Leopard Frog has been mysteriously disappearing since the 1960's. They have not been seen in Waterton since 1980. Restoration efforts to help this endangered amphibian regain its foothold in the park have been unsuccessful. It is currently extirpated from Waterton.

Western Toad (Bufo boreas) – Special Concern

Closeup of a Western Toad on a log Western Toad
© Parks Canada

Since populations have declined in other parts of their range, Waterton's populations are being closely monitored.