Monday, January 5, 2015

DEC Seeks Input on Threatened Species

Atlantic Sturgeon, Acipenser oxyrhynchus from artwork commissioned by the Fish and Wildlife Service in the 1970'sThe Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is revising its list of Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN), which includes species that are at risk in New York.  The list is now in it’s final draft form and DEC is seeking comments.

DEC and species experts also identified the conservation threats to each species, with the most common problems being habitat loss, invasive species, pollution, and climate change.  DEC and conservation partners are now expected to identify conservation actions to address these threats as the next step in developing the State Wildlife Action Plan.

The new list contains 372 SGCN, half of which are considered high priority for conservation action in the near term. SGCN are species that have experienced or are likely to experience population decline in the next 10 years and require conservation actions to stabilize their populations in New York. Examples in the Adirondack region include timber rattlesnake, Atlantic sturgeon, Bicknell’s thrush, the little brown myotis (bat) and northern amber bubble bee.

“We are working to identify and eliminate threats such as habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution, and invasive species to maintain healthy and balanced ecosystems, which are critical in maintaining our state’s fish and wildlife resources,” DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens said in an announcement sent to the press.

To revise the list, DEC and cooperating species experts developed an assessment document for 594 species, compiling current data on abundance, distribution, rarity, trends, threats, and relative importance of the New York population to the species across its distribution. A model developed by the New York Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Cornell University was used to analyze this information and categorize SGCN based on available data concerning their status. Revising the SGCN list is the first step in updating New York’s State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP).

In addition, 111 species were categorized as Species of Potential Conservation Need (SPCN). SPCN are species that have poorly-known population status and trends in New York, and will need further research or surveys to determine their conservation status. Examples include ebony boghaunter (a dragonfly), monarch butterfly, American pygmy shrew, and boreal chorus frog.

Developing the State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) enables New York to be eligible for federal funding through the State Wildlife Grants (SWG) Program which is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Since 2010, New York has received an average of $2 million per year in SWG funds which has helped New York implement programs to conserve declining species.  DEC has used SWG funds to implement a variety of conservation programs such as eastern hellbender head-starting, where DEC, the Buffalo Zoo and the Seneca Nation raised young animals in captivity and released them in appropriate habitat to give them a head-start in the wild.

DEC has also used SWG funds to support efforts to restore lake sturgeon in a number of waters, including Oneida Lake, the Genesee River, and tributaries to the St. Lawrence River.

More information, including the final draft list of Species of Greatest Conservation Need and how SWG funds have been used in the past, is available on DEC’s website.

Comments on the list should be sent to SWAPComments@dec.ny.gov. For more information about the SGCN list and the State Wildlife Action Plan, contact Joe Racette at 518-402-8933 or joe.racette@dec.ny.gov.

Illustration: Atlantic Sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrhynchus) from artwork commissioned by the Fish and Wildlife Service in the 1970’s.

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