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How species are assessed

To find out if a species is in danger of disappearing, a detailed assessment of its biological status must take place. The assessment is done by a committee of experts using an independent, transparent process.

There are two separate committees that assess the status of Northwest Territories (NWT) species. Status in the NWT is determined by the Species at Risk Committee (SARC) using a unique dual assessment process (see below). Status in Canada is determined by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).

The outcome may be different, depending on whether the species is being assessed at a territorial or a national level. 

For more on the federal assessment process, scroll down.

About NWT species assessments

The Species at Risk Committee (SARC) determines whether a species is at risk of disappearing from the NWT. SARC uses the best available Indigenous knowledge, community knowledge and scientific knowledge to assign each species to a status category that tells us about its level of extinction risk in the NWT. This knowledge is captured in a species status report.

Categories of species at risk are:

  • Extinct - a species that no longer exists anywhere in the world.
  • Extirpated - a species that no longer exists in the wild in a particular region (Canada or NWT), but exists elsewhere.
  • Endangered - a species that is facing imminent extirpation or extinction.
  • Threatened - a species likely to become an Endangered species if nothing is done to reverse the factors leading to its extirpation or extinction.
  • Special Concern - a species that may become Threatened or Endangered because of a combination of biological characteristics and identified threats.

Based on their assessment, the committee makes recommendations on the legal listing of species at risk at the territorial level.

How do we decide which species to assess?

The NWT General Status Ranking Program collects information on all known species in the Northwest Territories and does a coarse evaluation of the status of each species. It identifies which species are thought to be secure, which are sensitive and which species may be at risk and require more attention or investigation.

Species ranked May be at Risk or At Risk are the highest priority for more detailed assessment by the NWT Species at Risk Committee (SARC). Any individual or organization may also propose a species to be considered for assessment by SARC.

Every year, SARC considers which species should be assessed and makes a schedule. SARC has a checklist for establishing assessment priority, which considers: the uniqueness of a species, population trends, rarity, NWT responsibility, threats and limiting factors and positive influences. This checklist informs the proposed list of species for assessment provided to the Conference of Management Authorities (CMA). The CMA gives direction on which species should be assessed and approves the schedule provided by SARC.

Our made-in-the-NWT approach


The NWT Species at Risk Committee (SARC) has always used the best available information from Indigenous, community and scientific knowledge to assess the status of species. 

In 2021, SARC adopted a unique dual approach to species assessment to allow for the information to be considered in the way that is most appropriate to each kind of knowledge. Each species is assessed using two separate sets of criteria—one based in Indigenous knowledge and the other in science.

Looking at the information in different ways, and fully considering each kind of knowledge, SARC arrives at a final status assessment based on a consensus among members and supported by criteria from either or both knowledge systems.

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

Scientific Criteria

The scientific criteria are based on the criteria used by 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 trends, changes in geographic range and other quantitative indicators.


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 process. This allows cross-cultural communication, supports experts in different fields to learn from one another, and ensures the final status assessment is based on the best available information.

From time to time there may be disagreement between the two approaches. The assessment process is not intended to prevent these differences. Conversations between SARC members who represent a balance of worldviews and who are committed to working through disagreements collaboratively is part of the process.