State takes hard look at status of endangered species

On the day before European explorers and their descendants changed everything in the North American continent, species thrived, succeeding in their environmental niches.

More than five centuries after Columbus landed, the storyline had changed. A radically altered countryside led to the death of species that could not quickly adapt to the changes in their environment.

Passenger pigeons offer the most spectacular decline of a species, going from one of the world’s largest groups of any animal in the 19th century to extinction in the early 20th century.

Habitat loss and commercial hunting played the largest role in their decline.

Since that last passenger pigeon died in 1914, our collective concern for species and their habitats has grown, resulting in efforts to hold the line on habitat and species loss, and in some cases, bringing back endangered species from the edge of the metaphorical cliff.

Much of that has been done at the federal level but the states have played a major role.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife is involved in a multi-year review of several sets of species on the endangered, threatened or sensitive lists. The current list classifies 46 species as endangered (28), threatened (10) or sensitive (8). There are also 113 species that are candidates for listing in one of those three categories.

Penny Becker, listing and recovery section manager, said reviewing 16 species at a time is a first for an agency that normally reviews species one at a time.

Twelve of the species to be reviewed are on the state’s endangered list: pygmy rabbit, orcas (southern residents), gray wolf, Columbian white-tailed deer, woodland caribou, brown pelican, snowy plover, Northern spotted owl, streaked horned lark, Western pond turtle, Taylor’s checkerspot and Mardon skipper.

The other four (gray squirrel, lynx, greater sage grouse, murrelet) are on the state’s threatened list.

At the end of this extensive review, decisions will be made on whether to maintain a species’ status, change it, or remove a species from its list. As part of the process, Fish and Wildlife is asking for public comment.

The evaluations of staff, outside experts and the public also will assess the progress toward recovery of state-listed species and prioritize conservation efforts.

The agency is specifically looking for information on demographics, habitat conditions, threats and trends, conservation measures that have helped species, and new data collected since the last review of those species.

Updated status reports will be posted on the department’s website beginning next spring. Additional public comment would be sought if Fish and Wildlife proposes to change a species’ status after concluding its review.

Comments are due by Feb. 11, 2015 for all but the gray squirrel, due March 28.

Written information may be submitted through the agency’s website at http://1.usa.gov/1xOUPnt, via email to tandepubliccom@dfw.wa.gov, or by mail to Penny Becker, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501-1091.

Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.

Columbian White-Tailed Deer

State status: Endangered since 1980

They have a longer tail that is brown rather than black on the dorsal surface like black-tailed or mule deer, and adult males have antlers with prongs that extend from a single main beam.

The lower Columbia River population is a riparian species, living in the river’s floodplain, while black-tailed deer roam in the forested foothills above.

Habitat changes over time affected the riparian habitat, and urban and agricultural areas now limit population expansion.

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