OLYMPIA – The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is seeking updated information on western gray squirrels as the agency reviews the species’ threatened status in Washington.
WDFW is looking for information on topics such as the condition of western gray squirrel habitat, population levels in different regions, or private conservation efforts that have benefitted the species.
“The scientific data we gather from individuals as well as private and public groups will help the department determine whether to reclassify the western gray squirrel,” said Penny Becker, WDFW listing and recovery section manager.
The agency will accept public input on western gray squirrels through March 28, 2015.
Once hunted in Washington, western gray squirrels have been protected in the state since 1944 and were added to the state’s list of threatened species in 1993.
Western gray squirrels historically were more widespread in Washington but today inhabit three isolated regions: the Puget Trough in Pierce County; the southeastern foothills of the Cascade range (primarily Klickitat county); and the North Cascades (Chelan and Okanogan counties). The amount of suitable habitat for the species has declined due to the effects of urbanization, logging and land conversion, Becker said.
WDFW initiated this review after accepting a citizen petition to consider giving western gray squirrels a greater level of protection by elevating the species’ status to endangered. The petition presented sufficient information to warrant a more detailed status review, Becker said.
“We were planning to evaluate the status of western gray squirrels as part of the initiative we announced earlier this year to review all species currently listed in Washington as endangered, threatened or sensitive,” Becker said. “The petition just bumped up how soon we’ll look at western gray squirrels.”
Written information may be submitted through WDFW’s website athttp://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/endangered/status_review/comments.html, 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.
WDFW would seek additional public comment should the agency propose a change to the western gray squirrel’s listing status in Washington.
For more on western gray squirrels and other species under review, visit WDFW’s website athttp://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/endangered/status_review/ .
The Decline of the Western Gray Squirrel
The western gray squirrel was added to Washington’s list of state threatened species in 1993 when surveys indicated a decline in its geographical distribution. The species was once common at low to mid-elevations in dry forests where oak, pine, and Douglas-fir mix, and could be found in the south Puget Trough and Columbia River gorge and on the east slope of the Cascades north to Okanogan County. Its range is now limited to three isolated populations and each of these has serious threats to their continued persistence. These threats include (1) habitat loss and degradation from human development, catastrophic wild fires, logging, fire suppression, and invasion by weeds; (2) highway mortality; (3) disease (e.g., mange, tularemia); (4) possible competition with eastern gray, eastern fox, and California ground squirrels, and wild turkeys; and (5) potential loss of genetic diversity and inbreeding resulting from the small sizes and isolation of populations. State lawRCW 77.15.130 protects nest trees used by western gray squirrels. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists will consult with landowners to protect and enhance oak/conifer habitat.