State wildlife managers are seeking public input on their recommendations to keep the pygmy rabbit and grizzly bear on the state’s endangered species list, and to downlist the sea otter from endangered to threatened.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) periodically reviews the status of protected species in the state. The public can comment on the listing recommendations through May 9, 2018.
The draft reviews on the sea otter, pygmy rabbit, and grizzly bear are available online at https://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/endangered/status_review
WDFW staff members are tentatively scheduled to discuss the reviews and recommendations with the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission at its June 2018 meeting. The commission is a citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for WDFW. For meeting dates and times, check the commission webpage at https:// wdfw.wa.gov/commission
After the fur trade eliminated sea otters from Washington in the early 20th century, the otters were reintroduced to the state in 1969 and 1970, and listed as an endangered species by the state in 1981. Though the species has not fully recovered throughout its historical range, the state population has shown strong growth and, in 2017, exceeded the population criterion for downlisting laid out in a 2004 recovery plan.
The state sea otter population remains at risk from disease, toxins, the effects of climate change, and the possibility of a catastrophic event — such as a large oil spill — along Washington’s coast. However, given the steady and substantial increase in numbers, WDFW recommends the sea otter be reclassified to state threatened in Washington.
The Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit is listed as endangered by both the state and federal government. Large-scale loss and degradation of native shrub-steppe habitat likely played a major role in the long-term decline of the population. By 2001, only one known population remained in Washington, found at WDFW’s Sagebrush Flat Wildlife Area in Douglas County.
Today, WDFW works with partners to oversee a strategy of breeding pygmy rabbits in enclosures, followed by capture and release of suitable numbers of kits into the wild. Disease has been a significant threat to pygmy rabbits in the captive and semi-wild population, and predation is the main cause of pygmy rabbit mortality in the wild. The population remains small and its distribution in the wild is extremely limited. WDFW recommends that the pygmy rabbit remain a state endangered species in Washington.
The grizzly bear once occupied much of the Cascade Range and eastern Washington, but was nearly eliminated in the state through human-caused mortality and loss of habitat. Grizzlies currently occupy the Selkirk Range in the northeast corner of the state, where the population is classified by the state as endangered and listed federally as threatened.
Human-caused mortality, small population size, human disturbance in core grizzly habitats, and population isolation all continue to hinder grizzly bear recovery in the state. WDFW recommends that the grizzly bear retain its state listing as endangered.
Submit written comments on the reviews and recommendations via email to [email protected] or by mail to Hannah Anderson, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, P.O. Box 43141, Olympia, WA 98504-3200.
Forty-four species of fish and wildlife are listed for protection as state endangered, threatened or sensitive species.