Written by Kimberly Baker and Rob DiPerna for publication in the EcoNews.
California is home to more species, including endemic species (those found nowhere else on Earth), than any other state in the nation. North to south, spanning over 500 miles, the state bridges the temperate redwood rainforests of the Pacific Northwest to the subtropical deserts of Mexico. This remarkable diversity of habitat provides for an outstanding array of animals and plants. Over 60 percent of California’s 3,488 native plants are endemic.
The California Department Fish and Wildlife (DFW) Special Animals List includes animals that are threatened and endangered under the Endangered Species Act, but also unlisted species that have been declared sensitive, at-risk or declining.
According to the 2011 Special Animals List, the majority of California’s wildlife are in need of conservation measures: 88% of amphibians, 87% of native fish, two out of three mammals, and nearly half of all birds and reptiles are “at risk.”
There are multiple stressors affecting our wildlife including: water management, logging, excessive grazing, mining, urban sprawl, invasive species, toxic chemicals, and the looming specter of climate chaos. Most of these animals have been listed for decades and populations continue to decline. The decline of California’s wildlife is indicative of the failing health of our ecosystems.
One of the primary keys to wildlife recovery and conservation is the preservation of a connected landscape. At EPIC we believe that our society must work to protect habitat connectivity for wildlife health and survival. Here in the Pacific Northwest portion of the state, an outstanding opportunity exists for landscape connectedness. While some areas are protected as wilderness, most of the habitat linkages are currently under-protected, and require formal recognition in order to secure their integrity well into the future. In particular, millions of acres of privately held industrially managed forestlands make landscape connectivity a major challenge.
EPIC’s Biodiversity and Endangered Species Defense Program works to increase protections for imperiled species of northern California by upholding and improving environmental laws and leveraging public participation to secure changes in management regimes. We use ongoing project-by-project review to monitor and influence projects that affect threatened and endangered species on both private and public lands in California. This disciplined advocacy continues to be a distinguishing feature of EPIC’s work regionally and statewide. The following provides a taste of EPIC’s program initiatives to protect biodiversity and advocate for endangered species.
Gray Wolf: EPIC and its allies filed a listing petition for the gray wolf to gain protection for the species under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) in 2012. In October 2012, the California Fish and Game Commission (the Commission) determined that listing “may be warranted” and added gray wolves as a candidate species. The gray wolf will remain a candidate under CESA, and are protected from harm in California, until the Commission makes a final listing determination.
EPIC also participates actively in the national effort to prevent the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) from de-listing gray wolves in the lower 48 states. Over one-million comments were sent to the FWS urging them to keep gray wolves on the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) list. A peer-review report of the FWS proposed de-listing is expected this February 2014.
Northern Spotted Owl: In 2012, EPIC filed a petition requesting that the Fish and Game Commission list northern spotted owl as either “threatened” or “endangered” pursuant to the CESA. After a great deal of delay, the petition was accepted in August 2013, and found that listing “may be warranted” and designated the owls as a candidate species. DFW now has one year to conduct a full status review and must then render a full status report for consideration by the Commission prior to the final hearing on the proposed listing. EPIC will be involved with every step of this critically important CESA process.
EPIC also filed a petition with FWS, in 2012, requesting that the Service “up-list” the owl from “threatened” to “endangered” under the federal ESA. Federal law requires a 90-day finding to determine whether or not up-listing “may be warranted.” The Service however has failed to make the required determination, citing budget sequestration, lack of funding, and its workload as a result of settlement litigation with the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). In December 2012, EPIC filed a formal 60-day notice of intent to sue the Service for failure to complete the 90-day finding. At this time, EPIC is still awaiting a finding from the Service to determine if the petitioned action “may be warranted.”
Humboldt Marten: EPIC and CBD filed a listing petition for Humboldt marten pursuant to the federal ESA in 2010. In January 2012, the FWS Service issued a positive 90-day finding. The Service however failed to render a 12-month finding to determine if the petition is warranted. In April 2012, EPIC and CBD filed a formal 60-day notice of intent to sue. The Service has since agreed to a settlement with CBD that includes a requirement for the Service to make its 12-month finding on the Humboldt Marten petition in 2015. EPIC continues to work closely with CBD to advance listing for the Humboldt Marten.
Spring Chinook: EPIC and allies filed a petition with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to list the Upper Klamath/Trinity Spring Chinook salmon as either “threatened” or “endangered” under the federal ESA in January 2011. NMFS issued a positive 90-day finding in April 2011. The 12-month finding denied the petition on the basis that the spring Chinook were not genetically distinguishable from the fall Chinook run. NMFS argued that while spring Chinook populations have precipitously declined, fall Chinook population numbers remain viable, and that listing was therefore not warranted. EPIC with partners continues to explore all of its options to secure protections for the spring Chinook.
In 2014, EPIC will continue its cutting-edge education, advocacy, and strategic litigation to protect, enhance and restore California’s amazing native wildlife as an integral element of our organization’s dedication to defending the fabric of life upon which our wellbeing and future depends.