Evaluating the (mis) application of the indicator species concept in Canadian environmental impact assessment

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Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a land use planning process that is meant to characterize and mitigate potential impacts of proposed development projects to valued components (VC), including a large array of species. Indicator species are often used to represent broader assemblages of species in environmental management and conservation. However, there is a danger of making false inferences in the absence of a transparent and rigorous framework for selecting and applying indicator species. By reviewing ten recent Canadian federal EIAs, I investigated whether and how terrestrial wildlife indicator species were used to evaluate potential impacts on wildlife VCs. Indicators were used ubiquitously, though variably, across EIAs. The variation can be attributed to a lack of rigorous indicator frameworks and absent or vague regulatory guidance. The findings of this study provide evidence for a systemic failure to uphold minimum standards of evidence in Canadian federal EIA. This has important implications for the scientific integrity of information used in government decision-making. Regulatory guidance should be adapted to promote the appropriate use of indicator species in EIA.
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