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Alberta snakes, birds, bees and damselflies deemed at risk

May 11. 15

By Colette Derworiz, Calgary Herald

The four Alberta species were reassessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada at a meeting in Wendake, Quebec this spring.

The committee, which meets twice a year, provides the federal government with status assessments based on scientific, community and aboriginal traditional knowledge.

“We assessed, or reassessed, 20 species and the results were a bit of a mixed-bag,” chairman Eric Taylor, a professor of zoology at the University of British Columbia, said in an email interview from southern France.

It led to seven endangered species, five threatened species and seven species of special concern. One was no longer considered at risk.

Four of the at-risk species are found in southern Alberta — including the vivid dancer damselfly, the black swift and the prairie rattlesnake.

The yellow-banded bumble bee has also been assessed as a species of special concern after it declined by at least 34 per cent in areas across southern Canada.

Suspected factors are pesticide use, habitat conversion and pathogen spillover from managed bumble bee colonies.

The bees are found across Canada, including Alberta.

The vivid dancer damselfly, which is found in southern British Columbia and Banff National Park, has been assessed as a species of special concern due to habitat loss and degradation.

Much of its range is restricted to thermal springs, but it’s also found in cooler, spring-fed creeks.

Dwayne Lepitski, who sits on the committee, often sees the damselfly in Banff National Park.

“We just saw the earliest ones of the year on the weekend,” he said Monday, noting it hatches as a beige-coloured larvae and turns into a brilliant purplish-blue damselfly. “They’re at the hot springs and Middle Springs.”

Lepitski, who studies the endangered Banff Spring Snail, said they’re often flying around near the Cave and Basin in hot weather.

The black swift is also found in Banff National Park, but it’s located at Johnston’s Canyon along the Bow Valley Parkway.

Biologist Jason Rogers has counted and monitored the birds for years.

“In the early 1980s, before I started looking at these birds, a person could go into Johnston’s Canyon and see a dozen active nests,” he said, noting they nest at high altitudes near waterfalls. “Today, it’s closer to one.”

It’s been listed as endangered, meaning it’s facing imminent extinction.

The committee found it has experienced a large population decline over recent decades, but it’s not clear why they are declining. It’s believed to be related to changes in food supply.

Rogers said the black swift is a difficult bird to study because they spend much of their time around their nests or foraging for mosquitoes and other insects in the air.

In addition to Johnston’s Canyon, it’s also found at Maligne Canyon in Jasper and has been spotted at Athabasca Falls and Bow Lake.

Further east, the prairie rattlesnake has also been assessed as a species of special concern — similar to its provincial status.

It has undergone declines since the 1930s due to habitat loss from cultivation and road mortality, according to the committee.

The venomous snakes are found close to rivers and coulees, farm fields and pastures, and stony outcrops in Alberta’s grasslands, south of Red Deer and east of Lethbridge.

The committee noted the snake could become threatened if factors leading to their decline aren’t managed.

All of the assessments are submitted to the federal environment minister for consideration for legal listing under the Species at Risk Act.

“There is no guarantee that the species will be listed and that decision can take a very long time,” said Taylor, noting it can be difficult to predict if and when any recovery action will happen.

Committee members will meet again in Ottawa this November.

Read Original Story here....

Photo Credit: Vivid Dancer Damselfy ​(siamesepuppy via Flickr)

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