Endangered Species

In a large urban centre like the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), many wildlife and plants face serious threats from pollution, diseases, invasive species, and habitat loss.

When a species has been outpaced by these challenges, its numbers may dwindle – sometimes so drastically that its very survival is threatened.

In Ontario, Endangered means the species lives in the wild but is facing imminent extinction or extirpation.

Threatened, Special Concern, and Extirpated are other levels of “at risk” designation that many wildlife and plants have been assigned.

American eel
Redside dace
Jefferson salamander

Endangered species in Ontario include American Eel, Redside Dace, and Jefferson Salamander

TRCA and Endangered Species

Here in the GTA, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) supports the protection of endangered species through the management, enhancement, and restoration of conservation lands – including establishing habitat connections between wetlands, woodlands, and waterways.

The health of these habitats is tracked across our jurisdiction through biological inventories and long-term monitoring activities.

TRCA environmental monitoring team tracks endangered species in the field
TRCA tracks the health of local habitats through biological inventories and long-term monitoring.

Based on the data collected through our monitoring, TRCA has developed its own scoring and ranking system for all species and vegetation communities found in the Toronto region. The ranks indicate the degree to which various species and communities need protection.

This proactive approach is designed to alert conservation managers to potential local species declines and losses in the future.

Protecting Endangered Species

Specific research projects on several endangered species are also underway with the support of academia and municipal partners.

Here are some examples of projects underway to protect local endangered species:

American Eel

Much of TRCA’s restoration work along the Lake Ontario shoreline is intended to create more functional habitat for our native fish.

Thanks to this extensive shoreline work, TRCA’s Environmental Monitoring team occasionally encounters the endangered American Eel during annual fisheries monitoring surveys along the Toronto shoreline.

The lead agencies responsible for the recovery of the American Eel – Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Ontario Power Generation, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) – benefit from TRCA’s data. We provide them with the recorded biological measurements and geographical coordinates of American Eels surveyed by our team.

Our small role is an example of how TRCA can add value to our partners’ efforts. Since we are collect fisheries data annually, we can help to track the location of sensitive species like the American Eel, or aquatic invasive species like the Round Goby.

TRCA monitoring team members conduct fisheries monitoring on the Lake Ontario waterfront
TRCA’s collection of fisheries data helps to support the tracking of sensitive aquatic species.

Jefferson Salamander

Busy roads can interfere with the annual migrations of amphibian species such as the Jefferson Salamander, as they travel from the forests where they overwinter to their breeding wetlands.

TRCA is involved in a multi-year field monitoring and research project that aims to provide a better understanding of the range of movement and habitat needs of Jefferson Salamanders within York Region.

The project is supported by York Region and the Species at Risk Stewardship Program, and is a collaboration between TRCA and experts at Natural Resource Solutions Inc. and the University of Guelph.

TRCA field staff engaged in salamander monitoring
TRCA is engaged in field monitoring to help understand the range of movement and habitat needs of the Jefferson Salamander.

The goal is to use the information collected to prevent further loss or degradation of the salamander’s habitat, and to enable the implementation of mitigation measures where needed.

This information has resulted in intermittent closures of Stouffville Road on rainy nights for several weeks each spring to help Jefferson Salamanders cross the road safely.


Redside Dace

For years, TRCA crews have been working on stream restoration projects designed to provide improved habitat for the Redside Dace – an endangered fish provincially and nationally.

Within the Rouge River watershed, TRCA is also researching the overwintering habitat needs of this sensitive fish.

Using underwater cameras, PIT tags, and in-stream array detection systems, field technicians track where adult Redside Dace and other minnow species that share similar habitat conditions huddle up during the cold winter months (November to February) when food resources are scarce and energy reserves are low.

TRCA researchers are hoping to discover where this species travels during the shoulder seasons, to help better protect and restore its habitats.

Gathering information on this critical piece of the life cycle history will contribute to best management practices and recovery plans for this cool-water member of the minnow family.


Piping Plover

This tiny shorebird suffered a steep population decline in the Great Lakes region following the Second World War.

In 2015, a Piping Plover nested on Toronto Islands – just the second time this had happened in 90 years. TRCA worked with Bird Studies Canada to protect the nest.

TRCA habitat restoration efforts on the Lake Ontario shoreline help to enhance natural habitats for the Piping Plover and other shore-dwelling wildlife.

This video from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service looks at the ongoing effort to bring the Piping Plover back from the brink of extinction:

Ontario’s Bats

Four of Ontario’s eight bat species are endangered – all three Myotis species and the Tri-coloured Bat.

A major reason for this is habitat loss: the loss of mature forests for roosting (shelter), and of healthy wetlands for foraging.

Another serious threat is white-nosed syndrome – a fungal disease that is spreading among bats in North America. Slow reproduction and wind turbines also endanger our regional bats.

Since 2017, TRCA has been capturing bat echolocation sounds across the jurisdiction to learn more about where and when different bat species are present in the region, and their general ecology.

Before we started collecting this data, little was known about bats in the Toronto region, except that some – such as Big Brown Bat and the Myotis species – spend their entire life cycle in southern Ontario.

TRCA biologist sets up a bat meter
TRCA biologist sets up a bat meter to record echolocation sounds.

To date, we have been pleased to encounter the endangered Eastern Small-footed Myotis Bat in the northern reaches of the Humber River watershed.

The only bat species not found during TRCA surveys to date is the Tri-coloured Bat. This endangered bat, however, has been surveyed by the Toronto Zoo in Rouge National Urban Park.


Rusty-Patched Bumblebee

The drastic decline of this once-common species is something of a mystery. Could it be pesticide use? Or the spread of disease?

TRCAs meadow restoration activities may provide a fighting chance for this endangered bumblebee. Projects such as The Meadoway will create enhanced habitats for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.

This award-winning short documentary by American nature photographer Clay Bolt explores the quest to save the Rusty-Patched Bumblebee:

Black Ash and Butternut Trees

Fungal diseases and pests – such as the Emerald Ash Borer – are responsible for decline of these two endangered tree species: black ash and butternut.

TRCA monitors the presence of these trees, as well as the presence of 14 pests and diseases, when conducting long-term vegetation monitoring in forests. Read TRCA’s latest Long-Term Monitoring Program (LTMP) Report.

How You Can Help Endangered Species

  • Stick to designated trails when visiting parks and conservation areas to avoid trampling vegetation that serves as habitat for local species.
  • Respect trail closures indicated by signs, such as those protecting nesting areas like the one for plovers on Toronto Island.
  • Slow down on bike trails and roads during spring breeding season, to avoid running over migrating frogs and salamanders.
  • Keep dogs on a leash to prevent them from chasing or disturbing wildlife. Many sensitive birds will nest on the ground and will abandon their nest if disturbed.
  • Do not plant invasive species in your yard, as they can easily spread by wind or wildlife to nearby natural areas.
  • Be mindful of fertilizer use in your yard. If it makes its way into rivers and lakes, it can increase algal blooms, which may harm many wildlife species.
  • Don’t use pesticides, which can be harmful to bees and other pollinators.
  • Grow native plant species in your garden to support local pollinator insects and birds. Leave dead stalks standing over the winter as many pollinator larvae overwinter in the stems of plants. Take care not to disturb the ground around your pollinator plants to provide nesting and overwintering sites for local bees.
  • Dispose of trash properly to prevent it from ending up in our waterways and shorelines and polluting our environment.
  • Reduce your greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate the impact of climate change on vulnerable species. For example, Piping Plovers and other bird species are impacted by the increasing frequency and intensity of storms related to climate change. Remember that many birds migrate to or through North America’s hurricane zone.

Learn More


TRCA Watershed Planning and Ecosystem Science: wpes@trca.ca