Species At Risk

Deciding which species need protection

Who determines which species are “at risk”?

An independent committee of experts considers which plants and animals should be listed as “at risk”. The Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario (COSSARO) consists of people with expertise in scientific disciplines or Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge. There are up to 11 members on the committee, which includes a Chair and members appointed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council.
See the list of current members

The committee existed before the new Endangered Species Act of 2007 came into force, but the law gave the group legal recognition and specific responsibilities:
  • maintaining criteria for assessing and classifying species (COSEWIC criteria, COSSARRO criteria)
  • keeping a list of species that should be assessed and classified (or reclassified) in the future
  • assessing, reviewing and classifying species
  • submitting reports regarding the classification of species and providing advice to the Minister of Natural Resources

See the complete Species at Risk in Ontario List

Where’s the next meeting?

The committee holds its meetings across the province. Find out where they will meet next.

Who’s on the committee?

View the complete list of members of the committee that decides determines which species are at risk in Ontario.

How are species determined to be at risk?
Brock Fenton, Chair of COSSARO, explains how species get on the Species at Risk in Ontario List.

The role of the biologist
A biologist explains how collecting data is used to assess the status of species.

The role of COSSARO
Learn why species at risk are important to Ontario and the importance of COSSARO in protecting them.

How are species classified “at risk”?

The committee uses the best available scientific information, including community knowledge and Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge, to decide determine whether a plant or animal should be listed as "at risk".

If a species is deemed “at risk”, the committee must also classify the species into one of five categories, based on the degree of risk it faces:
  • Extinct: no longer lives anywhere in the world
  • Extirpated: lives somewhere in the world, and at one time lived in the wild in Ontario, but no longer lives in the wild in Ontario
  • Endangered: lives in the wild in Ontario but is facing imminent extinction or extirpation
  • Threatened: lives in the wild in Ontario, is not endangered, but is likely to become endangered if steps are not taken to address factors threatening it
  • Special concern: lives in the wild in Ontario, is not endangered or threatened, but may become threatened or endangered due to a combination of biological characteristics and identified threats

If there is not enough information to make a decision about its status, a species may be classified as “data deficient”.

The committee meets approximately twice a year. When species are classified as endangered or threatened, they and their habitat receive automatic protection. Learn more about what happens once a species is listed as “at risk”.

When a species is listed at risk, the classification applies throughout Ontario, unless otherwise noted. In some cases, different geographic populations of the same species face different threats, and are classified separately.

Which species are assessed?

Ontario is home to more than 30,000 kinds of plants and animals. Many are rare – so how does the committee determine which ones to consider classifying “at risk”?

The committee reviews the status of any plant or animal native to Ontario that has been assessed by its federal counterpart, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

The committee can also assess any other Ontario species that may be experiencing declines, based on research by ministry staff or reports from outside sources. It can also re-assess any species already listed as at risk.

Participate in the process!

You can contribute to the committee’s process.

The list of plants and animals that will be considered at the committee’s next meeting is posted online. Members of the public are welcome to submit information useful to their assessment to the committee when the meeting agenda is set, or to observe the discussions at the meeting in person.

Once the decisions made at each meeting have been presented to the Minister of Natural Resources, they are posted online.

In addition to posting information about species that will be considered and those that were recently classified, the committee publishes annual reports that summarize its activities for the year. Read the 2008 (PDF, 183Kb), 2009 (PDF, 302Kb) or 2010 (PDF, 302Kb) annual report.

What’s protected?

See the complete Species at Risk in Ontario List.

What’s new on the Species at Risk List?

See the most recent additions and changes to the list of protected plants and animals in Ontario.

Protecting habitat for threatened and endangered species

Read about how we determine what land and water plants and animals need to survive and how we protect habitat.

Species classifications

The following are reports of Species Classifications submitted to the Minister by COSSARO:

October 2011 (PDF)
March 2011 (PDF)
June 2010 (PDF, 149Kb)
December 2009 (PDF, 157Kb)
June 2009 (PDF, 254Kb)
November 2008 (PDF)

National: Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada

Learn about the national advisory body that assesses and designates which wildlife species are in some danger of disappearing from Canada.

Get Involved!

Learn how to submit information or attend a meeting for the committee that classifies species at risk in Ontario. Or find out about things you can do in your community.


Blanding turtle

Endangered Species Act

Learn the basics


Permits and other authorizations

The Endangered Species Act offers flexibility tools that try to balance species protection and human activity.

Mobile phone

Contact your local ministry office

Often the best source of local information on species at risk is your nearest ministry office. Call with your questions or concerns.