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Nature Watch: Everything from Armadillos to Zebra Butterflies

A Valiant Effort

It's not a task for the weak of heart. Nor is it suitable for the impatient. One must possess equal parts calm and determination even to attempt such an undertaking. That's because Canada boasts more than 70,000 species of plants and animals, and no one person, no group of people, could possibly study them all. Yet the Canadian government decided to try, and the first results of its effort were recently made public.

Wild Species 2000: The General Status of Species in Canada looks at some 1,600 different kinds of plants and animals -- or 2 percent of the total -- from all provinces, territories, and ocean regions. The selection is meant to be representative, featuring species from eight major groups: freshwater fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, butterflies, ferns, and orchids.

Once the selection process was completed, the real work began: collecting and examining information on population sizes, trends, distribution, and threats. The report's compilers then evaluated the overall status of the species. A bird, for example, could be classified as Secure, Extinct, or somewhere in between. In the case of the Arctic Tern, the report lists it as Sensitive in some regions and Secure in other regions.

As for the report's usefulness, it should help prioritize conservation efforts so species that need immediate attention will receive it. Of course, the Canadian government must support these efforts both financially and legislatively. One positive sign: a new status report on the country's wildlife will now be appearing every five years.