How species are assessed in the NWT

The Species at Risk Committee uses the best available Indigenous, community and scientific knowledge to determine whether a species is at risk of disappearing from the NWT. This knowledge is captured in a species status report.

This report includes information about species biology and life history, population, threats and positive influences. Community observations and concerns and impacts on cultural practices such as harvesting are also considered in the assessment.

Dual assessment process

In 2021, the Species at Risk Committee adopted a dual approach to species assessment. Each species is assessed using two separate sets of criteria—one based in Indigenous knowledge and the other in science.

From these two knowledge-specific assessments, SARC arrives at a final status assessment based on a consensus among members and supported by criteria from either or both knowledge systems.

This unique approach allows for the information to be considered in the way that is most appropriate to each kind of knowledge.

Scientific Criteria

The scientific criteria are based on the processes of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List and the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).

Species are assessed based on population size and decline, geographic range and other quantitative indicators.

Indigenous Knowledge Criteria

The Indigenous and community knowledge criteria reflect the ways of knowing of Indigenous peoples of the NWT. They consider:

  • Observations by Indigenous and community knowledge holders
  • Concerns expressed by knowledge holders, and the level at which these concerns are expressed (family, community, region or territory)
  • Impacts on cultural practices related to the species, such as harvesting


When a species is assessed, all SARC members, regardless of the knowledge system from which their expertise is derived, attend and participate in both components of the dual assessment process.

This allows experts in different fields to learn from one another and ensures the final status assessment is based on the best available information.

Resolving differences

It is expected that from time to time there will be disagreement between the two assessments.

The new assessment process is not intended to prevent these differences. Conversations between members who represent a balance of worldviews and who are committed to working through disagreements collaboratively is part of the process.

For example, when reassessing Peary caribou in 2022, the outcome of the scientific assessment (Special Concern) differed from the Indigenous knowledge assessment (Threatened).

SARC members from both knowledge systems agreed that a precautionary approach was warranted and assessed Peary caribou overall as Threatened.