Categories of Species at Risk

Now that you know what a ‘species’ is, let’s figure out what it means when they are considered ‘at risk’…

In Alberta, the Wildlife Act defines an endangered species in Section 1(i) of the Act, as, “a kind of endangered animal, a kind of invertebrate prescribed as an endangered invertebrate, a kind of plant, alga or fungus prescribed as an endangered plant, alga or fungus, a kind of fish prescribed as an endangered fish, or any combination of any of those kinds of organisms.”[1]

Once something is determined to be a species, it can be defined as either at risk, secure, or undetermined. If a species is secure, it does not require management to prevent it from becoming extinct – its population is stable and/or growing. If a species is undetermined, it may be because there is not sufficient data to properly classify the species as either secure or at risk. If a species is considered to be at risk, then that particular species will be further studied to classify it in one of the following sub-categories:

1. Extinct: A species that no longer exists anywhere in the world.

Example: Passenger pigeons which used to live in huge flocks across Canada, are now extinct [2]

2. Extirpated: A species that no longer exists in the wild in a specific geographical region but continues to exist elsewhere in the wild.

Example: Prior to the Atlantic grey whale’s extirpation from Canada’s Atlantic coast, the grey whale lived in waters off both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of Canada. Today, the grey whale can only be found off the Pacific coast [3]

3. Endangered: A species that is at immediate risk of extirpation or extinction.

Example: The Atlantic Bluefin Tuna has been listed as endangered since 2011. Its population has been steadily declining, in large part due to overfishing [4]

4. Threatened: A species likely to become endangered if limiting factors are not reversed.

Example: The Barn Swallow, a songbird that used to be found in nearly every province and territory in Canada has been listed as threatened since 2011, due to changes in their habitat, climate change, and other health factors [5]

5. Species of Special Concern: A species that is particularly sensitive to human activities or natural events.

Example: The beluga whale population that can be found off the coast of Nunavut and throughout the Arctic Ocean has been listed as a special concern since 2004. Over-exploitation is the main cause of these beluga’s decline.[6] Notably, other beluga populations have already been upgraded to threatened or endangered.

6. Data Deficient: A species for which there is insufficient information to support status designation.[7]

This initial classification step is crucial because, under the current legislative process, a species’ classification will significantly affect both how it is treated and how well it is protected. In a later section on this page, we will explain how the Alberta government has left this classification process up to government policy rather than including classification in the legislation. As you may already know, government policy, unlike legislation, is unenforceable and potential enforcement depends entirely on the government’s discretion.

Can you name other species that are extinct or extirpated from Alberta? What about other species at risk in Alberta ?

<< Species & the Law

The Definition of ‘Habitat’ >>

[1] Wildlife Act, RSA 2000, c W-10 s 1(i).

[2] David Biello, “3 Billion to Zero: What Happened to the Passenger Pigeon?” Scientific American (27 June 2014), online:

[3] Species at Risk Public Registry, “Response Statement – Grey Whale, Atlantic Population” Government of Canada (2 December 2010), online:

[4] Species at Risk Public Registry, “Species Profile: Atlantic Bluefin Tuna” (15 November 2017), online:

[5] Species at Risk Public Registry, “Species Profile: Barn Swallow” (15 November 2017), online:

[6] Species at Risk Public Registry, “Species Profile: Beluga Whale Eastern High Arctic – Baffin Bay Population” (15 November 2017) online:  

[7] Species at Risk Alberta, “A Guide to Endangered and Threatened Species and Species of Special Concern in Alberta”, Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development 2 (2016) at 1.