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State commission sets status of 8 threatened or endangered species

In this Friday, Dec. 2, 2016, photo, a Pacific fisher takes off running after being released into a forest at Mount Rainier National Park. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
In this Friday, Dec. 2, 2016, photo, a Pacific fisher takes off running after being released into a forest at Mount Rainier National Park. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)

WILDLIFE -- The state protective status of yellow-billed cuckoos, loggerhead sea turtles, fishers and five whale species was set by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission Friday and Saturday in Port Angeles.

Yellow-billed cuckoo was listed as an endangered species in Washington.

In 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service distinguished the cuckoo in western North America as a distinct population and listed it as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. In Washington, cuckoos have been considered a candidate species for listing since 1991.

Loggerhead sea turtles were elevated in protection from threatened to endangered.

The north Pacific population of loggerhead sea turtles has declined substantially since the last half of the 20th century.

Five whale species -- blue, fin, sei, North Pacific right, and sperm -- were maintained as state endangered species.

Those whales have been listed as endangered species in Washington since 1981. Populations of all five species greatly declined in the 1800s and 1900s from being severely overharvested by whalers. All five species face potentially significant threats from one or more factors, including collisions with ships, entanglement in fishing gear and marine debris, and climate change.

Pacific fishers, mid-sized members of the weasel family, were maintained on the state's endangered species list.

Fishers were eliminated from the state in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Washington  Department of Fish and Wildlife officials say they have worked with landowners to protect fisher habitat and has reintroduced fishers to the Olympic Peninsula and Cascade range. Despite these efforts, fisher populations in the state do not yet meet the criteria outlined in the species recovery plan that would allow fishers to be downlisted.

With the exception of the fisher, many of these species are found infrequently in Washington. However, the commission's actions acknowledge the species' imperiled status, align with federal listings, and support the conservation efforts of other agencies and organizations. 

Status reviews for the eight species are available on the department's threatened and endangered species web page.

Also during the meeting:

  • Jim Unsworth, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife director, provided an update on a variety of issues, including wolf conservation and management; the recent release of Atlantic salmon from a Cooke Aquaculture net pen near the San Juan Islands; operations at the Wells Hatchery in northcentral Washington; and the agency's response to legislative direction given in the 2017-19 budget.
  • Elwah River salmon and steelhead population status following the removal of two dams was updated.
  • The department's 2018 supplemental capital budget request was reviewed.
  • Monitoring and recovery efforts of the state's fish populations listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act was updated.

Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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