Amphibian and Reptile Conservation

Canada’s amphibian and reptile species are undergoing dramatic declines. These declines are echoed throughout the world, with unprecedented losses occurring due to emerging diseases, habitat loss and fragmentation, invasive species and other threats.

It is important that we take action to prevent the ongoing decline and extirpation/extinction of these species. Amphibians and reptiles are an important part of our cultural and natural heritage. They are also integral to food webs and healthy, diverse ecosystems, and they provide important services that many other species, including humans, depend on. For example, amphibians are often important predators in their food webs and they keep populations of insect pests in check by consuming species such as mosquitoes and their larvae. They also play an important role in nutrient cycling between aquatic and terrestrial environments. Snakes prevent rodents from becoming overpopulated and provide an important natural buffer against disease outbreaks that can seriously harm humans, livestock and pets. Recent research has shown that by consuming rodents, snakes control tick populations and reduce the risk of Lyme disease. And some species, such as Snapping Turtle, are scavengers and help to keep ponds, lakes and wetlands clean by consuming dead animals. Finally, research into amphibian and reptile physiology, biochemistry, toxicology, etc. continues to yield groundbreaking medical discoveries that may not have been possible without these species.

Legal Protection for Canada’s Amphibians and Reptiles

In Canada, the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) provides protection for all extirpated, endangered and threatened species and their critical habitat. Unfortunately, critical habitat protection under SARA only applies on federal land, unless an emergency protection order is issued for non-federal land (which is rare); the vast majority of Canada’s federal land occurs in the three territories and is limited throughout most parts of the country where amphibians and reptiles occur. However, each province or territory has its own legislation that provides protection for reptiles and amphibians. Some provinces, such as Ontario, have strong endangered species legislation that achieves a similar level of protection as SARA. However, other provinces, such as British Columbia, lack endangered species legislation, making it very difficult to protect species at risk and their habitat from threats such as habitat destruction and road construction. In addition to protection for species at risk, many provinces have a wide range of other legislation and policies that provides varying levels of protection for amphibians and reptiles and their habitats, such as legislation that governs wildlife management, forestry practices, and municipal planning. The following is a list of some of the agencies, laws and policies that provide protection for amphibians and reptiles in each province and territory in Canada.

Province/Territory Links to Wildlife Legislation and provincial/territorial departments
Prince Edward Island Department of Communities, Land and Environment
Wildlife Conservation Act
Forest Management Act
Environmental Protection Act
Natural Areas Protection Act
Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources
Endangered Species Act
Wildlife Act
Wildlife Regulations
New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources
Species at Risk Act
Fish & Wildlife Act
Newfoundland and
Department of Environment and Conservation
Endangered Species Act
Endangered Species Regulations
Wildlife Act
Wildlife Act Regulations
Québec Department of Natural Resources
Act Respecting Threatened or Vulnerable Species
Act Respecting the Conservation and Development of Wildlife
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act
Endangered Species Act
Manitoba Manitoba Sustainable Development
Manitoba Wildlife and Ecosystem Protection
The Wildlife Act
The Conservation Agreements Act
The Endangered Species and Ecosystems Act
Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment
Wildlife Act
Wildlife Regulations
Wildlife Habitat Protection Act
Wildlife Management Zones
Alberta Alberta Environment and Parks
Wildlife Act
Strategy for the Management of Species at Risk
Wildlife Status Reports
British Columbia Ministry of Environment Ecosystems Branch
Wildlife Act
Species and Ecosystems at Risk
Yukon Environment Yukon
Wildlife Act
Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board
Northwest Territories Department of the Environment and Natural Resources
Wildlife Act
Species at Risk (NWT) Act
Wildlife Management Advisory Council
Nunavut Department of Environment
Nunavut Wildlife Act
Nunavut Wildlife Management Board

Protected Areas

Canada has more than 40 National Parks and thousands of Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves, Conservation Areas, ecological reserves, land trusts and other protected areas. Protected areas are vital to conserve and recover amphibian and reptile populations in Canada, especially because one of the most significant threats to these species is habitat loss and fragmentation. For example, southwestern Ontario has the highest amphibian and reptile species diversity in Canada, but is also one of the most densely human-populated areas in the country. Increasing urban sprawl and development means that amphibians and reptiles are in need of protected areas which will remain largely undeveloped and that have “wildlife corridors” connecting them. Long Point Provincial Park, Turkey Point Provincial Park, Long Point National Wildlife Area, and several other protected areas are located close together along the north shore of Lake Erie and provide protection for reptiles and amphibians (and other biodiversity) in this highly developed landscape. If a sufficient amount of high quality habitat can be protected, a landscape-approach to species conservation can be taken, and multiple species (and entire ecosystems) can be protected and conserved.

However, habitat protection alone does not guarantee the long-term persistence of amphibian and reptile populations within protected areas. Other threats, such as road mortality, disease and human persecution can result in population decline and extirpation despite efforts to protect the habitat. For example, road mortality is one of the most significant threats to amphibians and reptiles in Canada, yet many protected areas actually have higher road densities and traffic volumes than the surrounding landscape. Thus, the degree of protection that these areas provide for amphibians and reptiles depends on how well they mitigate the full spectrum of threats that are affecting these species. Fortunately, most protected areas are managed for ecological integrity and wildlife conservation, and concerted efforts are often in place to reduce threats to wildlife species (e.g. reduced speed limits, educational programs and signage, etc.).

Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Initiatives in Canada

There are many organizations and individuals that are working hard to protect and recover Canada‘s amphibian and reptile species and their habitats. Provincial and federal government agencies are responsible for developing recovery strategies and identifying and protecting habitat for species at risk, and many governments also provide financial support for projects that contribute to the protection and recovery of species at risk in Canada through funding programs such as the federal Habitat Stewardship Program. Environmental NGOs, local stewardship groups, municipal agencies (e.g. Zoos, Conservation Authorities) and other conservation organizations play an essential role in developing and implementing amphibian and reptile conservation and stewardship projects across Canada at local, provincial and national scales. For example, the Toronto Zoo’s award-winning Adopt-a-Pond Programme has made an immense contribution to amphibian and reptile conservation in Ontario over the past 20 years through the development of numerous educational, stewardship and citizen science initiatives. The CHS Amphibian and Reptile Projects in Canada page provides a summary of some of some of these projects, and the CHS Stewardship and Education Products page provides links to educational and conservation tools that may be useful to support your new or ongoing amphibian and reptile conservation efforts.

What you can do to help:

Canadians with all levels of training, experience and knowledge can contribute to the conservation of amphibians and reptiles in the following ways:

  1. Help reptiles and amphibians cross the road. Amphibians and reptiles often have to cross roads to access the different habitats that they require throughout the year, and ongoing road mortality can cause population declines and local extirpation.
    • If you see an amphibian or reptile trying to cross the road, pull over to assist the animal if it is safe to do so.
    • Always help the animal across the road in the direction that it was headed, even if it is moving in a direction that doesn’t seem to make sense; for example, a turtle may be moving away from a wetland because she is on her way to lay her eggs.
    • Never pick an amphibian or reptile up by its tail; the tail is attached to the spine, and picking the animal up by its tail could cause serious damage.
    • For more information, see Toronto Zoo’s Adopt-a-Pond Programme webpage and the Toronto Zoo’s “How to help a Snapping Turtle cross the road” video.
  2. Contribute to local amphibian and reptile stewardship projects; there are always projects in need of volunteers throughout Canada. For example:
  3. Contribute to citizen science projects. There are many different citizen science projects in Canada that rely on the help of volunteers to gather data on amphibian and reptile locations and population trends. These data are essential to inform management, protection and recovery of these species.
  4. Support land trusts that protect and manage reptile and amphibian habitat. Land trusts acquire ecologically significant land through purchase or donation and manage the lands for the purpose of conservation. For example, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) works throughout Canada’s ten provinces to protect, create, and manage habitat for Canada’s wildlife, including amphibians and reptiles. NCC and other land trusts are always looking for volunteers to assist in the protection of species and ecosystems. For more information on becoming a Conservation Volunteer with NCC, visit NCC’s Conservation Volunteers website.
  5. Get involved in local conservation efforts to protect green spaces and important habitats within your community. Find out what green spaces and species occur within your local community and offer to assist with surveys, fundraising efforts, creating or managing habitat, or other activities.
  6. Maintain or create amphibian and reptile habitat on your property. If your property is already inhabited by amphibians or reptiles, or if you want to encourage them to move in, there are many easy ways to maintain or create the habitats they require. These include:
    • Avoid mowing parts of your property and encourage the growth of natural vegetation
    • Create ponds or wetlands on your property; these will attract a wide range of wildlife in addition to amphibian and reptile species
    • Create or maintain sandy areas where turtles can nest
    • Maintain logs, stumps and other woody debris on your property; these structures provide essential habitat features for salamanders and snakes
    • Build brush, log or rock piles, which provide important habitat for snakes and many other small animals
    Here are some resources with additional information about how to create amphibian and reptile habitat on your property:
  7. Nominate sites of amphibian and reptile conservation significance for Important Amphibian and Reptile Area (IMPARA) status.
  8. Join the Canadian Herpetological Society and help support amphibian and reptile conservation and research in Canada. You can join one of the CHS committees to take a more active role with the society.
  9. Help prevent the introduction and spread of invasive species and disease. Invasive species (e.g., European Common Reed (Phragmites australis australis) and the American Bullfrog (invasive in British Columbia)) and infectious diseases (e.g., Ranavirus and Chytrid fungus) pose significant threats to amphibian and reptile populations.
    • Never release pet reptiles or amphibians into the wild; captive animals may introduce disease and non-native species may out-compete native species for habitat and food
    • Visit Little Res Q (or other similar organizations in your province), for information on finding a new home for your pet turtle, or to adopt a pet turtle
    • Disinfect waste-water from terrariums and aquariums before disposing of it (add ¼ cup of bleach for each litre of water and let sit for 10 minutes)
    • Never move amphibian or reptile species between sites (e.g. from one wetland to another)
    • Report observations of sick or dead wildlife to the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative (CWHC)
    • Rinse or wash your boots and other field gear when moving between sites so that you don’t accidently spread invasive species or diseases. For more information about how to disinfect your boots and field gear, please see the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative fact sheets and disinfection protocol or the Northeast Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation disinfection protocol.