Canadian Wildlife Service

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The Canadian Wildlife Service or CWS (French: Service canadien de la faune, is a Branch of the Department of the Environment, also known as Environment and Climate Change Canada, a department of the Government of Canada. November 1, 2012 marked the 65th anniversary of the founding of Service (originally known as the Dominion Wildlife Service).[1]

The Canadian Wildlife Service is Canada’s national wildlife agency. Its core area of responsibility is the protection and management of migratory birds and their nationally important habitats. Other areas of responsibility include species at risk, research on nationally important wildlife issues, control of international and interprovincial trade in endangered species and the negotiation and domestic implementation of international wildlife related treaties and agreements. CWS is responsible for Canada's National Wildlife Areas and Migratory Birds Sanctuaries which are federally protected areas.

Wildlife management in Canada is constitutionally a shared responsibility among the federal and provincial / territorial and aboriginal governments. CWS works closely with these governments on a wide variety of wildlife issues. The Service engages in cooperative management projects with a number of international and domestic non government agencies and funds a significant number of management and research or monitoring initiatives.

CWS in 2012 has approximately 450 staff and maintains biologists and/or research/operations facilities in all Canadian provinces and territories, except Prince Edward Island.


CWS traces its history to the early 20th century with the decline and/or extinction of several species of migratory birds in eastern North America as a result of hunting, including the passenger pigeon. It became apparent to the federal government that the provincial responsibilities toward hunting regulation of migratory birds by various sub-national jurisdictions (provinces in Canada, states in the United States) was limited in scope.

In 1916, Great Britain (for Canada) and the United States of America signed the "Migratory Birds Convention", followed by the Parliament of Canada passing the Migratory Birds Convention Act in 1917, which gave the federal government responsibility for managing migratory bird species either harmless or beneficial to man. The Convention adopted a uniform system of protection for certain species of birds which migrate between the United States and Canada, in order to assure the preservation of species including setting dates for closed seasons on migratory birds and prohibiting hunting insectivorous birds, but allowed killing of birds under permit when injurious to agriculture. The Convention was amended by the Parksville protocol (initialled by the parties in 1995) to update and improve the conservation of migratory birds and to establish a legal framework for the subsistence take of birds. Canada implemented the Protocol by enacting the revised Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994.

With the federal government's reorganization of the Department of Resources and Development, the Dominion Wildlife Service (DWS), was established in November 1947.[1] As a part of the new Lands and Development Services Branch, it was not meant to be as much of a research organization, but a "development and administrative service." The DWS dealt with policy and methods in the conservation and management of wildlife resources. "Few people in the 1940s saw wildlife from a holistic point of view. Like trees, birds, mammals, and fish were generally viewed a resources to be responsibly managed for the purpose of generating long-terms economic returns." Wildlife was a national asset.[2]

By 1950 the DWS was known as the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS). Harrison Lewis was the first head of the new service, remaining in that post until his retirement in 1952.[1] When the CWS was founded, important research on wildlife was undertaken through the National Museum of Canada. Over the years CWS scientists and technicians earned recognition for research including work on migratory birds, barren-ground caribou, effects of toxins on wildlife. In 1973 the Canada Wildlife Act was passed, giving the federal government authority to undertake wildlife research and, in cooperation with the provinces, to undertake wildlife conservation and interpretation activities. This act applies to all "non-domestic animals" in the nation. In 1976 Tony Keith (1976-1996) National Wildlife Research Centre (NWRC) with the interpretation program, pathology and toxology, bioelectronics units was opened.[3] Tony Keith, who was the CWS's NWRC center's director from 1976 to 1996 presented his work on PCBs and the environment to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The work of CWS scientist David B. Peakall, contributed to the OECD's adoption of "Minimum Pre-market Data" criteria regarding common standards for regulation and approval of new pesticides.[1]

In the 1970s the Department of the Environment was created. Environmental movements of that time encouraged a move away from the protection of individual species, towards a more holistic approach of protecting various ecosystems and the species that inhabited them.[4]

In 1973 through the Canada Wildlife Act the CWS was given the power to designate National Wildlife Areas as vital habitat for bird and wildlife species, especially those that are endangered or threatened. Before the 1960s, the primary threat to such species was believed to have been physical disturbance and predators. Since the 1960s, the primary threat has been habitat alteration, or its outright destruction.[5] According to Environment Canada website there are 54 National Wildlife Areas in Canada.

By 1970 it was apparent that federal responsibility was required for further wildlife management issues, such as mammals crossing the International Boundary with the United States, as well as Canada's maritime borders with France (St. Pierre and Miquelon), Denmark (Greenland), Russia and Norway. There were also serious problems mounting whereby increasing numbers of wildlife species were threatened with extinction.

With the signing of the 1974 Canada-USA Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, more funding became available. By 1975 David Peakall as WSC Division Chief was focusing his work on persistent bioaccumulatory organochlorines such as DDT, dieldrin and PCBs.[6]

There were deep budget cuts in the 1980s that negatively affected CWS research. EC was hit with cuts of 27% in staff. CWS had a 23% reduction in staff.[7][8] Mulroney government's budget cuts included the CWS Porcupine Caribou research program based in Whitehorse.[7]

With the passage of the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 the CWS was given the responsibility of administering Migratory Bird Sanctuaries. According to Environment Canada website there are 92 Migratory Bird Sanctuaries in Canada.

SARA and Restructuring (2002-2010)[edit]

By 2010 the Canadian Wildlife Service had been restructured and no longer had dedicated scientists, enforcement officers, information staff, translators or publications. From 2003 through 2010, the role and function of the CWS changed.[9] All of these components had become centralized departmentally with CWS losing its ability to set priorities or control policy in these areas. By 2008 CWS lacked public outreach programs and the public profile of the CWS protected areas was very low.[10] By 2010 CWS no longer had a homepage.

The changes were ushered in following a dramatic shift in human and financial resources away from migratory bird management to the administration and implementation of the Species at Risk Act (SARA), which was given Royal assent in December 2002. Ongoing departmental reorganizations through this time period also impacted the Service through the creation of centralized services.[9][11]


In the 1960s, 1970s and into the early 1980s, CWS produced Hinterland Who's Who, a successful series of 60-second educational public-service television clips about Canada’s native wildlife.[12] The first four black-and-white vignettes - on the beaver, the moose, the gannet, and the loon - were produced through a collaboration with the National Film Board and the CWS. The vignettes resulted in millions of pamphlets about wildlife being mailed in response to viewers' requests to CWS.[12]

In February 2003 Hinterland Who’s Who was revamped and relaunched on the Internet through a partnership with the Canadian Wildlife Federation.[12]

Mandate and responsibilities[edit]

CWS currently holds responsibility for 140 National Wildlife Areas across the nation in a variety of environments. CWS scientific experts also advise the federal and provincial governments during environmental impact assessments for various construction and development projects which might have an adverse impact on Canadian wildlife.

The enforcement of federal wildlife law is managed by the Wildlife Enforcement Division (WED) of Environment Canada. WED, formerly part of CWS, employs sworn, armed Peace Officers. These officers are responsible for the enforcement of federal legislation with regards to wildlife and the environment. They work in cooperation with provincial wildlife enforcement agencies. Provincial wildlife officers will often team up with WED officers to patrol areas which require a significant officer presence.

See also[edit]



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