On the Edge – British Columbia’s unprotected transboundary species

British Columbia is the habitat of the highest number of species of any province in Canada. Lots of theses species are endangered. According to the B.C Conservation Data Centre at least 1,918 species or wildlife populations are now at risk or are already lost. Most of the wildlife, like bears and birds, don’t spend the whole year in the same region and therefore they can be safe on one site of the border but the other jurisdiction still allows to exploit and hunt them. Species like this are called transboundary species. It is obvious that animals and plants don’t recognize political or administrative jurisdictions that separate parts of their habitat. Therefore, transboundary species need a persistence and sustainable range across the borders to protect them.

In this report the great importance of such transboundary species will be described as well as the alarming number of wildlife and the need for their protection.

What are transboundary ecosystem and species

There are different versions of a specie being transboundary:

  1. A species, that spend some time of the year in B.C. and the rest in a place far away like for example South America or California.
  1. Singles of a species might just move from B.C. to a neighbourhood province, for example, a bear’s home
    range includes part of B.C. and Montana.
  1. A species exchanged genetic material across the border via polls and seeds.
  1. A species which has become separated from the rest by human settlement along the border. For example, the  Northern spotted owl is disconnected from their group in the United States.

This report focuses on transboundary ecosystems we share with our neighbourhood provinces like Alaska, Washington, Montana etc. – even though, many of the suggestions will equally fit to migratory species which travel further too.

Most of the species in B.C are transboundary. Of the 4,373 recognized species around 96 percent shares their habitat with at least one of the neighbouring jurisdictions. For example 99 percent of all plants in B.C, such as trees and shrubs, are transboundary.  Also, high number are found among birds ( 98 percent ) or mammals ( 92 percent). There are species that have ranges which are mostly outside of the province.  These are called “peripheral”. That means that 10 percent or less live in B.C. while the rest is outside of B.C. A good example for a peripheral specie is the sage thrasher, a bird whose northern tip of its range extends into B.C. whereas the rest of its species lives in Arizona.

How endangered are the transboundary species in British Columbia

The majority of the wildlife in B.C are transboundary and a great number of them is also at risk of disappearing from the province or they are already eliminated. 68 per cent of B.C reptiles and turtles are transboundary and at risk, almost 20 per cent of them are already lost. Losing so many different species means a dramatically decline of the wildlife in British Columbia and its diversity. Mammals, such as grizzly bears once have covered much of western North America are now reduced to the northern and western edges, making B.C one of the last habitat for these animals. Another instance are the snowy owl or the Badlands tiger which are unprotected by law in other provinces although they are assessed as being endangered by the B.C Conservation Data Centre.

Why should we protect transboundary ecosystems and species

As many ecosystems and species are at risk it is necessary protect them sustainably. There are many different reasons to be concerned with the decline of B.C.’s transboundary species. This section will list six.

  1. To maintain a fully functioning and healthy ecosystem
    A healthy ecosystem is made up of an assemblage of transboundary and non-transboundary species. Interactions within a ecosystem are really complex. Ecologist do not yet understand what happens to an ecosystem when some transboundary species are lost. Nevertheless, we may know the effects when it is already too late.
  1. To maintain critical ecosystem services that sustain our communities
    Studies have found out that the loss of biodiversity can result a decline in our ecosystem services. When a species is lost, the benefits provided by a fully functioning ecosystem are weakened. But exactly these services are extremely significant for us and our future generations to still receive the products we need such as food, clean air and water.
  1. To maintain species whose range already shrunk
    Many species have already collapsed in the North America such as grizzly bear, black bear, wolverine, fox, wolf and cougar making B.C. one of the last refuge for them. B.C. is one of the last regions where intact large-predator systems still exists. A study in the Yellowstone ecosystem demonstrated that the loss of grizzly bears and wolves resulted a high increase in the population of mooses. But as a consequence the migrant bird populations declined.
  1. To maintain genetically peripheral populations
    Individuals of a specific specie often have a different genetic composition because they had to adapt to really extreme environmental conditions than the present one in the centre of their range.  For this reason, peripheral populations have a high value as they are crucial and essential to a species in the long-term survival and also when global warming creates conditions that are not habitable for this specie in the south part of their range.
  1. To help species adapt to global warming
    They not only have to reduce world-wide emission of greenhouse gases, but they also have to adapt to it. Therefore, we have to find strategies which are likely to become more effective when they are implemented over larger regions and across national borders with the goal to reduce stressors produced by global warming.
  1. To fulfil national and international commitments
    B.C. has committed nationally and internationally to protect biodiversity and signed the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). While signing this paper every country is responsible for conserving biodiversity such as providing an independent process for assessing the status of species at risk and provide immediate legal protection for threatened species or their habitats.

Current protections for transboundary ecosystems and species in B.C are inadequate

In Canada, the federal and provincial governments both have jurisdiction over the protection of species at risk. The federal government passed the Species at Risk Act  (SARA) and it provides list for protected species. However, just 1 per cent of B.C.’s area is federal lands. For all other species other than aquatics or migratory birds, SARA leaves the responsibility for species protection to the province.

There are a range of legislation, such as Wildlife Act which lists only 4 species as endangered and even for them it does not require their habitat to be protected. There is no legislation in B.C. to protect the vast majority of species at risk in the province.

The large and growing number of ecosystems and species at risk in B.C. led the government to seek ways to prioritize efforts to protect them. One suggestion is to prioritize species according to “global responsibility”. If this approach is used to prioritize species for conservation resources, it is unlikely that peripheral transboundary species will get much. If these species will be “written-off” B.C. will face the risk of losing the important benefits they receive from these species. This is significant when one considers that 71 percent of B.C. biodiversity is largely peripheral. We do not know which species an ecosystem can stand to lose. Thus, prioritization of which species will receive conservation action is a dangerous proposition.


There are several recommendations for the future. In this section 5 of them will be listed here right after the description of each problem.

British Columbia has many ecosystem and species in danger but there is a lack of effective legislation in the province to protect them and their habitat. Although B.C. has itself shown recently to be a North American leader by tackling climate change in an innovative and timely manner, there is still an opportunity to demonstrate leadership through the creation of a new law that protects B.C’s imperilled species and ecosystem. Therefore, B.C. should enact a Species and Ecosystem Protection Act (SEPA) that identifies species and ecosystems at risk and then provides for their protection and recovery, as well as habitat protection.

Transboundary (including peripheral) species make up 96 percent of the total number of species in B.C. They are vital to the functioning of ecosystems and to the provision of essential ecosystem services, especially in the south of the province. Furthermore, peripheral species contain unique genetic characteristics and can provide the source from which species will adapt to global warming. Thus the importance of these species must be recognized. B.C. should consider all species and ecosystem at risk equally to maintain the full complement of species.

In order to maintain healthy populations of transboundary and peripheral species, it is necessary to keep populations connected so that there can be healthy gene flow across borders and so that they don’t split into isolated reasons. B.C should create new parks and protected areas in neighbouring jurisdictions to maintain ecosystem and species.

We have to ensure connectivity to help species adapt to global warming because they will need to move northward to adapt to changing habitat conditions. This will require that man-made developments to not completely block such movements. B.C. must plan for transboundary species and ecosystem survival in the face of global warming. It is recommended that B.C. should recognize the importance of transboundary and peripheral species for adaption to global warming and for their movements over the long-term.

In addition to protecting ecosystems and species at risk within B.C., it is also necessary to more effectively coordinate protection activities with neighbouring jurisdictions like removing remaining barriers to cross-border dialogue and to create a greater shared sense of responsibility for transboundary species. B.C. should therefore improve coordination of conservation efforts for ecosystems and species at risk between  the province and its neighbouring jurisdictions.

Flathead watershed

This transboundary river is one of the most pristine remaining river in the Rocky Mountains and possesses a unique assemblage of carnivores and ungulates that appears unmatched in North America. Roughly 40 percent of this river is in B.C. and the rest is in Montana. South of the U.S.  border the river flows through a National Park. However, north of the border in B.C. 97 percent is unprotected. The Flathead watershed contains at least 11 species at risk. It is recommended that the lower third of B.C. be made a national park and the remainder of the Flathead and adjacent habitat become a Wildlife Management Area.

Antelope-brush ecosystem

South Okanagan’s transboundary ecosystem is at risk due to its attractivity for human settlement and development. Due to these human impacts, it is now considered one of four most endangered ecosystems in all of Canada. As a result at least 88 species that lived in this ecosystem are now either gone or at risk of disappearing from B.C. The rarity of this ecosystem makes it imperative that B.C. legally protect its share in order to ensure that this transboundary ecosystem persist in Canada. This Valley is a corridor for the movement of plants and animals between habitats on both sides of the border and such movements can be increasingly important to changes from global warming.


There are species which require large areas of habitat to support their populations genetically and demographically. The wolverine has already lost one-third of its range in North America. The species move between the U.S and  Canada border regularly. Legal protection of this fascinating species is essential for its persistence on both sides of the Canada-U.S border.

Methods of Analysis

There are four different methods used to produce the statistics on transboundary species at risk in B.C.

  1. Taxonomic lists used to enumerate species in major wildlife groups – these lists were obtained from B.C.’s Conservation Data Centre (CDC) and including mammals, reptiles, birds, plants etc.
  2. Species exclusions – there are several groups which were excluded from analysis in this study such as No Status, Exotic or Introduced Species, Accidentals and Marine Species.
  3. Status rank – Provincial ranks for each species were obtained from the CDC Species and Ecosystem Explorer.
  4. Transboundary determination – NatureServe Explorer was used to look up individual species for their range in the U.S and Canada. If the species was found in B.C and at least one of the neighbouring jurisdiction then the species was considered as transboundary.


B.C has the most plant and animal species of any province in Canada and most of this biodiversity is made up of transboundary species, almost half of which are already at risk of disappearing from B.C. Without transboundary species and peripheral populations, significant parts of B.C.’s biodiversity would be lost. If we want to maintain this biodiversity, B.C. should enact new legislation to protect ecosystems and species by adding additional protected areas to ensure habitat connectivity and the adaptability to global warming. The natural world does not operate along geopolitical lines, rather, most species and ecosystems depend on a much larger domain for their long-term survival. We must provide the necessary legal and political measures to protect B.C.’s share of the biodiversity endowed to us.

  • Source Michelle Connolly, Keith Ferguson, Susan Pinkus, and Faisal Moola. February 2010. British Columbia’s Unprotected Transboundary Species. Prepared by David Suzuki Foundation, Conservation Northwest, Ecojustice, British Columbia’s Unprotected Transboundary Species. Available at : https://davidsuzuki.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/on-edge-british-columbia-unprotected-transboundary-species.pdf [ Accessed 03/2021].