Understanding Conservation Categories for Washington Wildlife: Endangered and Protected
Threatened, endangered, sensitive, protected … what does it all mean? In this blog, we’ll learn about different listing statuses for species in Washington in need of dedicated conservation action. The listing status is just one of several conservation categories that a species in Washington can be included in.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) uses many different categories to describe the conservation status of fish and wildlife species. These categories often overlap — especially since other state and federal agencies have their own categories, too! — but each has its own unique definition and purpose. Some categories are specific to Washington, others are shared among other managing entities. Different categories help spotlight conservation needs, spur protective action, and guide recovery efforts.
Editor’s Note: this article uses technical jargon while discussing conservation categories in Washington. Definitions for terms written in bold are included at the end of this article.
Why we use conservation categories
Conservation categories help communicate the conservation status of a species both internally and externally. Familiarity with the different categories allows an individual to quickly understand the relevant and respective conservation concern of any given species.
Conservation categories shine a spotlight on species whose populations are threatened or in decline, helping that species gain recognition and attention within WDFW and from other entities including non-government organizations, partner groups, and volunteers. This can result in more conservation actions taken for the benefit of the species as multiple groups join together in support of that species’ recovery.
It also allows for those conservation efforts to be prioritized based on which species are in the greatest need. Everyone involved in conservation work — and everything else! — only has so many resources to go around, including staff and funding. Having limited resources to work with means that conservation actions are often prioritized to focus on those species that are most imperiled. With different species categorized based on relative conservation need, those working in conservation can make decisions to allocate their resources towards those species at greatest risk of extinction or extirpation. For example, an endangered species is more likely to go extinct without intervention than a sensitive species would be.
Conservation categories are also used by local jurisdictions and management agencies to inform the regulations they put in place through initiatives like those set out in the Growth Management Act, Shoreline Management Act, and Forest Practices Act. Through the Priority Habitats and Species program, WDFW shares information with these entities about what species and habitats should be accounted for during different land uses and ordinances in order to continue to promote species recovery.
The listing process
Listing and delisting refers to the process by which species can be added or removed, respectively, from WDFW’s conservation lists of endangered or protected species. Listing or delisting can be initiated by WDFW, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, or by petition by a member of the public. The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission makes the final decision on listing status for Washington wildlife.
Periodic status reviews for listed species are required every five years in Washington. In these reviews, WDFW biologists summarize the biological, historical, and population data of the species and use that scientific information, as well as public input, to recommend which conservation list a species should be placed on. This recommendation may be to uplist, downlist, delist, or maintain the current listing. If findings of the report lead WDFW staff to recommend a change in listing, the periodic status review undergoes the State Environmental Policy Act and rulemaking processes, including public notification and additional opportunity for public comment. Periodic status reviews are not management documents and only speak to the conservation status of the species.
Species conservation lists in Washington
WDFW utilizes several conservation categories to list species in Washington. A listed species in Washington is either categorized as Endangered or as one of three sub-categories of Protected:
- Endangered: Seriously threatened with extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range
- Protected — Threatened: likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future without cooperative removal of threats
- Protected — Sensitive: vulnerable or declining and likely to become endangered or threatened in a significant portion of its range without cooperative management or removal of threats
- Protected — Other: identified protected species, plus all non-game and non-predatory birds, bats, cetaceans, and pinnipeds (with exceptions)
Washington also designates Species of Greatest Conservation Need and Priority Habitats and Species. All species classified as Endangered, Threatened, or Sensitive, as well as species identified as candidates for such listing, are also included as Species of Greatest Conservation Need and Priority Habitats or Species.
Federal conservation lists
While WDFW has its own lists categorizing the conservation status of species, it also works within the framework of applicable federal laws. Some federal laws commonly referenced in WDFW’s work include the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. A species may be listed at the state level, the federal level, or both.
In many cases, federal conservation laws include provisions for how states be included in conservation efforts. For example, Section 6 of the Endangered Species Act, titled “Cooperation with the States,” outlines how the federal and state governments should work together towards species conservation.
Please note that these definitions are written about conservation management in Washington and may not apply in other contexts.
- Conservation category: A label used to categorize the relative conservation status of a species of fish or wildlife in Washington. Labels sometimes correlate with the conservation list the species is placed on.
- Conservation list: A list of fish or wildlife species organized based on the status of their population and the likelihood for that population to decline towards extinction. In Washington there are several different lists:
- Endangered Species: Seriously threatened with extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range
- Protected Species are those that are not endangered but which merit conservation attention. These fall into three categories:
- Threatened Species: likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future without cooperative removal of threats
- Sensitive Species: vulnerable or declining and likely to become endangered or threatened in a significant portion of its range without cooperative management or removal of threats
- Other Protected: identified protected species, plus all non-game and non-predatory birds, bats, cetaceans, and pinnipeds, with exceptions as defined in WAC 220–200–100
- Candidate Species: A species that WDFW has identified as a candidate for listing as Endangered or Protected based on best available science
- Extirpation: The dying out of all members of a species in one area, even though populations of the species exist elsewhere. Also known as local extinction.
- Extinction: The dying out of all members of a species.
- List / Delist: To add or remove a species from one of several conservation lists, respectively.
- Periodic Status Review: A scientific review process in which WDFW analyzes species population data, threats, conservation actions, and management to recommend if a species’ conservation listing should increase, decrease, or remain the same. Conducted every five years.
- Priority Habitats and Species Program: WDFW’s mechanism to provide information to local jurisdictions about what species and habitats to incorporate into critical areas ordinances and other land use plans
- Species of Greatest Conservation Need: a non-regulatory designation issued by WDFW to species identified in the State Wildlife Action Plan
- Uplist / Downlist: To change which conservation list a species is on to indicate higher or lower extinction risk, respectively. Examples: Changing a species’ classification from Threatened to Endangered would be an uplisting. Changing a species’ classification from Threatened to Sensitive would be a downlisting.