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Recovery Strategy for the American Water-willow (Justicia americana) in Canada

Species at Risk Act recovery strategy series, recovery strategy for the American Water-willow (Justicia americana) in Canada.

Species at Risk Act
Recovery strategy series

American Water-willow


About the Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series

What is the Species at Risk Act (SARA)?

SARA is the Act developed by the federal government as a key contribution to the common national effort to protect and conserve species at risk in Canada. SARA came into force in 2003 and one of its purposes is to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity.

What is recovery?

In the context of species at risk conservation, recovery is the process by which the decline of an endangered, threatened or extirpated species is arrested or reversed, and threats are removed or reduced to improve the likelihood of the species' persistence in the wild. A species will be considered recovered when its long-term persistence in the wild has been secured.

What is recovery strategy?

A recovery strategy is a planning document that identifies what needs to be done to arrest or reverse the decline of a species. It sets goals and objectives and identifies the main areas of activities to be undertaken. Detailed planning is done at the action plan stage.

Recovery strategy development is a commitment of all provinces and territories and of three federal agencies -- Environment Canada, Parks Canada Agency, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada -- under the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk. Sections 37–46 of SARA outline both the required content and the process for developing recovery strategies published in this series.

Depending on the status of the species and when it was assessed, a recovery strategy has to be developed within one to two years after the species is added to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Three to four years is allowed for those species that were automatically listed when SARA came into force.

What's next?

In most cases, one or more action plans will be developed to define and guide implementation of the recovery strategy. Nevertheless, directions set in the recovery strategy are sufficient to begin involving communities, land users, and conservationists in recovery implementation. Cost-effective measures to prevent the reduction or loss of the species should not be postponed for lack of full scientific certainty.

The series

This series presents the recovery strategies prepared or adopted by the federal government under SARA. New documents will be added regularly as species get listed and as strategies are updated.

To learn more

To learn more about the Species at Risk Act and recovery initiatives, please consult the SARA Public Registry.

Recovery Strategy for the American Water-willow (Justicia americana) in Canada


Recommended citation:

Parks Canada Agency. 2011. Recovery Strategy for the American Water-willow (Justicia americana) in Canada. Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series, Parks Canada Agency, Ottawa. vi + 36 pp.

Additional copies:

Additional copies can be downloaded from the SARA Public Registry.

Cover illustration:

Courtesy of Matthew Wild, Environment Canada

Également disponible en français sous le titre « Programme de rétablissement de la carmantine d'Amérique (Justicia americana) au Canada »

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Department of the Environment, 2011. All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-100-17308-5
Cat. no.: En3-4/85-2011E-PDF

Content (excluding the cover illustrations) may be used without permission, with appropriate credit to the source.

Recommendation and approval statement

The Parks Canada Agency led the development of this federal recovery strategy, working together with the other competent minister(s) for this species under the Species at Risk Act. The Chief Executive Officer, upon recommendation of the relevant Park Superintendent(s) and Field Unit Superintendent(s), hereby approves this document indicating that Species at Risk Act requirements related to recovery strategy development (sections 37-42) have been fulfilled in accordance with the Act.



Under the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk (1996), the federal, provincial, and territorial governments agreed to work together on legislation, programs, and policies to protect wildlife species at risk throughout Canada. The Species at Risk Act (S.C. 2002, c.29) (SARA) requires that federal competent ministers prepare recovery strategies for listed Extirpated, Endangered and Threatened species.

The Minister of the Environment presents this document as the recovery strategy for the American Water-willow as required under SARA. It has been prepared in cooperation with the jurisdictions responsible for the species, as described in the Preface. The Minister invites other jurisdictions and organizations that may be involved in recovering the species to use this recovery strategy as advice to guide their actions.

The population and distribution objectives and recovery approaches identified in the strategy are based on the best existing knowledge and are subject to modifications resulting from new findings and revised objectives.

This recovery strategy will be the basis for one or more action plans that will provide further details regarding measures to be taken to support protection and recovery of the species. Success in the recovery of this species depends on the commitment and cooperation of many different constituencies that will be involved in implementing the actions identified in this strategy. In the spirit of the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk, all Canadians are invited to join in supporting and implementing this strategy for the benefit of the species and of Canadian society as a whole. The Minister of the Environment will report on progress within five years.


The recovery strategy was prepared by Sylvain Paradis (Parks Canada Agency, Quebec Service Centre) and Hélène Gilbert (Bureau d'écologie appliquée) and the recovery team. The recovery team provided us important information and has formulated numerous comments on the preliminary versions. Consultation with First Nations on the draft recovery strategy was led by Kim Borg and Aimee Johnson (Parks Canada), and the input from Walpole Island First Nation and Caldwell First Nation is greatly appreciated. Clint Jacobs and Jared Macbeth of Walpole Island First Nation were most helpful in providing comments on the draft recovery strategy, and also provided the textual references on Traditional Ecological Knowledge.

Recovery team members (actual):

Robert Bisson and Véronique Gauvin, Éco-Nature, Parc régional de la Rivière-des-Mille-Iles, Laval

Benoît Jobin, Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment Canada, Quebec

Patricia Desilets, ministère du Développement durable, de l'Environnement et des Parcs du Québec

Vicki McKay, Parks Canada Agency

Michael J. Oldham, Ontario Natural Heritage Information Centre (NHIC)

Collaborators (including former team members):

Karine Bériault, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources

Julie Bouchard, Quebec Service Centre, Parks Canada Agency

Anaïs Boutin, Isabelle Mathieu, Éco-Nature, Parc de la Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, Laval

Alain Branchaud, Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment Canada, Quebec

Sheri Burke, Ontario Service Centre, Parks Canada Agency

Patricia Désilets, ministère du Développement durable, de l'Environnement et des Parcs du Québec

Sandy Dobbyn, Ontario Parks, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources

Rhonda Donley, formerly of Environment Canada and of Parks Canada Agency, Ontario

Kate Hayes, formerly Canadian Wildlife Service - Ontario, Environment Canada

Guy Jolicoeur, (formerly of) ministère du Développement durable, de l'Environnement et des Parcs du Québec

Robert A. Ritchie, Niagara Parks Commission

André Robitaille, Quebec Service Centre, Parks Canada Agency

Kara Vlasman, National Office, Parks Canada Agency

Matthew Wild, Environment Canada, Quebec

Strategic environmental assessment

In accordance with the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals (2004), a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) is conducted on all SARA recovery strategies. The purpose of a SEA is to incorporate environmental considerations into the development of public policies, plans and program proposals to support environmentally-sound decision making.

Recovery planning is intended to benefit species at risk and biodiversity in general. However, it is recognized that strategies may also inadvertently lead to environmental effects beyond the intended benefits. The planning process based on national guidelines directly incorporates consideration of all environmental effects, with a particular focus on possible impacts on non-target species or habitats. The results of the SEA are incorporated directly into the strategy itself, but are also summarized below.

By promoting the recovery of the American Water-willow, this Recovery Strategy will clearly benefit the environment,contributing to:

  • a better understanding of the ecology of this species in Canada, of the habitat-related requirements of this species and of threats to its survival;
  • the protection and conservation of American Water-willow populations;
  • greater public awareness about this species and SARA and a greater sharing of information with affiliated partners.

There is little likelihood that the activities planned in order to meet the recovery strategy objectives will be harmful to the environment to any significant extent, for they are centred primarily on the protection and restoration of critical habitat, recovery of the species and public awareness. This recovery strategy describes the threats currently confronting the American Water-willow and its habitat, (section 1.5) existing knowledge gaps (section 1.7) and the population and distribution objectives (section 2.1) that are explicitly aimed at addressing these threats and filling in these gaps.

Furthermore, some activities might well benefit - though unintentionally - species that are not targeted under this strategy. It is in fact fieldwork (trampling) that presents the strongest risk for negatively impacting the environment; but, such effects can be avoided or at least kept to a minimum by employing known techniques and proper practices in the field.

Some potential recovery activities, such as augmentation of individuals in a population may entail performing an environmental assessment for each project under the provisions of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA, S.C. 1992, ch. 37).

In short, the SEA concluded that this strategy will clearly benefit the environment and will not result in any significant adverse effects.


SARA defines residence as: a dwelling-place, such as a den, nest or other similar area or place, that is occupied or habitually occupied by one or more individuals during all or part of their life cycles, including breeding, rearing, staging, wintering, feeding or hibernating [Subsection 2(1)].

Residence descriptions, or the rationale for why the residence concept does not apply to a given species, are posted on the SARA public registry.


This recovery strategy addresses the recovery of the American Water-willow. In Canada, the species ranges from southern Ontario to southwestern Quebec near the shores of waterways.

The Species at Risk Act (SARA, Section 37) requires the competent minister to prepare recovery strategies for listed Extirpated, Endangered or Threatened species. The American Water-willow was listed as Threatened under SARA in May 2000. The Parks Canada Agency led the development of this recovery strategy. This recovery strategy was realized in collaboration with the ministère du Développement Durable de l'Environnement et des Parcs du Québec (MDDEP), the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR), and Environment Canada (Ontario and Quebec regions). All responsible jurisdictions reviewed and supported posting of the proposed strategy. The proposed strategy meets SARA requirements in terms of content and processes (Sections 39-41) and fulfills commitments of all jurisdictions for recovery planning under the Accord for the Protection Species at Risk in Canada. Implementation of this strategy is subject to appropriations, priorities, and budgetary constraints of the participating jurisdictions and organizations.

Executive summary

In May 2000, the American Water-willow (Justicia americana) was determined to be a Threatened species in Canada by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). It was added to Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act in June 2003 by the Minister of the Environment upon recommendation from COSEWIC. The range of this species is confined to eastern North America, with its northern limit in Canada being restricted to southern Quebec and southern Ontario.

The American Water-willow is an aquatic plant inhabiting the shorelines of lakes and rivers. In Canada, the large majority of the species' population is located at one site: Rivière des Mille Îles in Quebec. Eighteen of the species' 28 known occurrences in Canada are either historical or extirpated. Its current range in Canada has been impacted primarily by the loss of habitat resulting from the dredging of the St.Lawrence Seaway in Quebec and possibly by fluctuations in the Lake Erie water levels in Ontario.

There are a number of gaps in knowledge concerning the American Water-willow - in particular, its general ecology and an absence of studies on Canada's populations and their genetic and reproductive characteristics. Little is known about the species' presence at other potential sites located between Lake Erie and the St. Lawrence River. The major threats to the plant are linked with changes in water regime (water level fluctuations), loss of habitat through erosion and infilling and, at some sites, alien invasive plants and trampling.

The limited number of confirmed extant sites (three in Quebec and seven in Ontario), combined with the small area occupied by some American Water-willow populations, justifies the implementation of recovery measures. One or more action plans will be completed by January 2016.

The population and distribution objective is to maintain (and if possible increase) the current number of individuals within existing populations, the actual number of locations (10) and to prevent the decline in the quality of habitat. This objective will be achieved by conserving the existing populations at all the sites where the species is already found, in order to ensure the survival of the greatest number of individuals possible and also possibly by increasing the number of individuals at these known sites. For effective long term management, it is vital to identify demographic trends, which in turn will entail monitoring the main populations over a period of several years.

Based upon the best available information, the present recovery strategy provides an identification of the species' critical habitat for 17 critical habitat parcels at 10 locations.

Recovery feasibility summary

There are gaps in our current knowledge of the American Water-willow; however, a lack of full scientific certainty does not constitute justification for postponing measures to prevent the reduction or loss of the species.

Recovery of the American Water-willow in Canada is deemed feasible based on the criteria set outlined by the Government of Canada (2009):

  1. Individuals of the wildlife species that are capable of reproduction are available now or in the foreseeable future to sustain the population or improve its abundance.
    Yes, reproductive individuals that could increase the population's growth rate currently exist in the wild within Canada and in a botanical garden (seed production and vegetative propagation were observed in a Quebec population; Montreal Botanical Garden; Guy Jolicœur, pers. comm., November 2006).

  2. Sufficient suitable habitat is available to support the species or could be made available through habitat management or restoration
    Yes. Enough suitable habitat is available to support this species. There are few favourable sites left in the Montreal section of the St. Lawrence River, but many sites seemingly host sufficient available habitat for colonization by American Water-willow in the Ontario section of the river and on the Canadian side of Lake Erie.

  3. The primary threats to the species or its habitat (including threats outside Canada) can be avoided or mitigated.
    Yes. All known threats to the species or to its habitat range-wide can be avoided or mitigated through recovery actions. Significant threats to the species include water level fluctuations, loss and degradation of habitat, erosion, alien invasive plants, trampling of human origin and infilling. These threats can be effectively avoided or mitigated through: (1) the use of management and stewardship actions to protect and improve habitat; (2) education, research and monitoring to support conservation and management decisions and (3) increased protection of key sites.

  4. Recovery techniques exist to achieve the population and distribution objectives or can be expected to be developed within a reasonable timeframe.
    Yes. Awareness tools have been developed. For site conservation, efficient and adequate measures exist and are already in place at certain sites.