The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission voted to change the protective status of two wildlife species during a conference call last week.

Commissioners voted to reclassify sea otters as state threatened, downlisting the species from endangered. The commission also approved uplisting Columbian sharp-tailed grouse in Washington to endangered from threatened.

The commission is a citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). A full agenda of the call can be found online athttps://wdfw.wa.gov/commission/meetings.html.

Sea otters were eliminated from the state in the early 20th century by fur traders but were reintroduced in 1969 and 1970. The state’s population of sea otters has steadily increased over the last 30 years, which prompted WDFW to recommend reclassifying the species as threatened, said Hannah Anderson, the department’s wildlife recovery specialist. Sea otters remain 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.

Columbian sharp-tailed grouse were classified as a threatened species under state law in1998. Commission members said they favored reclassifying the species as endangered, which could increase the likelihood of the species’ survival and recovery.

In the 1800s, the sharp-tailed grouse was the most abundant game bird in eastern Washington, with its highest densities in relatively moist grassland and sagebrush vegetation. But with much of its habitat converted to cropland, and in the wake of major fires in 2015, the population has declined to an estimated total of fewer than 600 birds.

Status reviews for both sea otters and Columbian sharp-tailed grouse can be found on WDFW’s website athttps://wdfw.wa.gov/publications/search.php?Cat=Threatened%20and%20Endangered%20Species&SubCat=Status%20Reports.

In other business, the commission approved a utility easement and road right-of-way on department property in Pend Oreille County near Cusick related to a planned fish conservation project at the site.

Additionally, commissioners renewed their discussion of the department’s proposed recreational license fee increase. A conference call will be scheduled in late August to allow commissioners another opportunity to discuss the fee increase. Information on that call will be posted online athttps://wdfw.wa.gov/commission/meetings/2018/.