600 Capitol Way North, Olympia, WA 98501-1091

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September 23, 2016
Contact: Hannah Anderson, (360) 902-8403

WDFW seeks comments on draft status reviews
for woodland caribou, pond turtles and sandhill cranes

OLYMPIA – State wildlife managers are seeking public input on their recommendations to keep woodland caribou, western pond turtles and sandhill cranes on Washington’s list of endangered species.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) periodically reviews the status of protected species in the state to determine whether each species warrants its current listing or deserves to be reclassified or delisted. The public can comment through Dec. 23 on the listing recommendations and periodic status reports for woodland caribou, western pond turtles and sandhill cranes.

The draft reviews for all three species are available online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/endangered/status_review/.

Written comments on the reviews and recommendations can be submitted via email to TandEpubliccom@dfw.wa.gov or by mail to Hannah Anderson, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501-1091.

WDFW staff members are tentatively scheduled to discuss the reviews and recommendations with the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission at its January 2017 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 http://wdfw.wa.gov/commission/.

The Selkirk Mountains in northeastern Washington are home to a unique type of woodland caribou. Southern mountain caribou are distinguishable from other populations of woodland caribou by their habitation of mountainous areas with deep snow accumulations and their primary winter diet of arboreal lichens. The group of caribou living in the southern Selkirks has been listed as an endangered species in the state since 1982.

South Selkirk caribou were once considered abundant, possibly numbering in the hundreds in the late 1800s. But the population decreased to an estimated 25 to 100 animals between 1925 and the mid-1980s. Most recently, this isolated subpopulation declined rapidly from 46 to 12 caribou between 2009 and 2016. Threats to these caribou include high levels of predation, collisions with vehicles on highways, human disturbance in the form of backcountry winter recreation, and climate change.

The western pond turtle is one of only two freshwater turtle species native to Washington. It inhabits lakes, wetlands, ponds and adjoining upland habitats. The species was once common around the Puget Sound lowlands and probably the Columbia River Gorge but, by 1994, the statewide population had declined to about 150 turtles. The recovery of this species is challenging because pond turtles grow at a slow rate and have a delayed sexual maturity. Threats in Washington to western pond turtles include habitat loss, predation and competition with other species, especially the non-native American bullfrog. Shell disease also has emerged as a major concern.

In recent years, the species’ population has increased to an estimated total of 800 to 1,000 turtles statewide due to various recovery actions, including reintroductions of turtles. Despite this progress, the statewide population remains below the state’s recovery goal and is still reliant on programs, such as rearing young turtles in captivity, to supplement the population.

The sandhill crane was listed as an endangered species by the state of Washington in 1981. Sandhill crane numbers were reduced throughout the western states by commercial hunting and habitat loss. No pairs nested in Washington for 30 years, beginning in the late 1940s. Three subspecies of sandhill crane occur in Washington, including lesser, greater, and Canadian cranes. Lesser sandhill cranes make up most of the flocks that stop in eastern Washington during migration. Greater sandhill crane is the only type of sandhill crane that breeds in Washington. The number of nesting pairs has steadily increased since the late 1970s, and the summer population in Washington totaled 89 birds, including 33 pairs in 2015.

Public and private lands in the Columbia Basin and on the lower Columbia River provide important habitat for cranes during migration, and up to 1,400 Canadian sandhill cranes have wintered on lower Columbia bottomlands in recent years. Sandhill cranes in Washington continue to face threats such as loss of habitat and human disturbance at nesting sites. While cranes have benefitted from management actions, the species’ breeding population in Washington is still quite small and essential habitats remain under threat.

Forty-five species of fish and wildlife are listed for protection by the state as endangered, threatened or sensitive species.