The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission took action on the protective status of yellow-billed cuckoos, loggerhead sea turtles, fishers and five whale species at its Sept. 8-9 meeting in Port Angeles.
The commission is a citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
During the meeting, commissioners agreed to list yellow-billed cuckoos as an endangered species in Washington and elevate the level of state protection for loggerhead sea turtles from threatened to endangered.
In 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service distinguished the cuckoo in western North America as a distinct population and listed it as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. In Washington, cuckoos have been considered a candidate species for listing since 1991. Meanwhile, the north Pacific population of loggerhead sea turtles has declined substantially since the last half of the 20th century.
Commissioners also voted to keep blue, fin, sei, North Pacific right, and sperm whales as state endangered species in Washington.
Those whales have been listed as endangered species in Washington since 1981. Populations of all five species greatly declined in the 1800s and 1900s from being severely overharvested by whalers. All five species face potentially significant threats from one or more factors, including collisions with ships, entanglement in fishing gear and marine debris, and climate change.
Additionally, the commission approved WDFW’s recommendation to keep fishers, which are mid-sized members of the weasel family, on the state’s endangered species list.
Fishers were eliminated from the state in the late 1800s and early 1900s. WDFW has worked with landowners to protect fisher habitat and has reintroduced fishers to the Olympic Peninsula and Cascade range. Despite these efforts, fisher populations in the state do not yet meet the criteria outlined in the species recovery plan that would allow fishers to be downlisted.
With the exception of the fisher, many of these species are found infrequently in Washington. However, the commission’s actions acknowledge the species’ imperiled status, align with federal listings, and support the conservation efforts of other agencies and organizations.
Status reviews for the eight species are available on the department’s webpage at http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/endangered/status_review/.
In his monthly report, WDFW Director Jim Unsworth provided an update on a variety of issues, including wolf conservation and management; the recent release of Atlantic salmon from a Cooke Aquaculture net pen near the San Juan Islands; operations at the Wells Hatchery in northcentral Washington; and the agency’s response to legislative direction given in the 2017-19 budget.
In other business, the commission received a briefing on the status of salmon and steelhead populations in the Elwha River following the removal of two dams.
Commissioners also heard from WDFW staff about the department’s 2018 supplemental capital budget request and monitoring and recovery efforts of the state’s fish populations listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).