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WDFW Seeks Comments On Protective Status For Tufted Puffins And Steller Sea Lions

OLYMPIA – The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is taking public input on state status reports and listing recommendations for tufted puffins and Steller sea lions.

The department is recommending listing tufted puffins on the state’s endangered species list and removing Steller sea lions from the state’s threatened species list.

Public comment on the reports and listing recommendations will be accepted through Dec. 11. The tufted puffin report is available online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/publications/01642/ , while the Steller sea lion report is available at http://wdfw.wa.gov/publications/01641/ .

WDFW staff members are tentatively scheduled to discuss their reports and recommendations with the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission at its January meeting. The commission, a citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for WDFW, could act on the proposals at its February meeting. For meeting dates and times, check the commission webpage at http://wdfw.wa.gov/commission .

Tufted puffins are native seabirds once considered common in the San Juan Islands, Strait of Juan de Fuca and along the Washington coast. Over the last several decades, however, 38 of the 43 breeding sites used historically by tufted puffins in Washington either have been abandoned or have seen significant declines in use.

The federal government is also considering extending protection to tufted puffins under the Endangered Species Act, but the decision is not expected until 2016 or 2017. In Washington, the state “endangered” designation is given to a native species that is seriously threatened with extinction throughout all or a major portion of its range.

If the tufted puffin is approved for listing, WDFW will develop a plan outlining actions necessary for the species’ recovery in the state.

Steller sea lions are the larger of the two sea lion species found in Washington and have been protected as a state threatened species since 1993. The species initially received federal protection in 1990. In October 2013, the National Marine Fisheries Services delisted the population of Steller sea lions living in the area of southeastern Alaska south through Washington and into northern California. The population in that area has steadily grown to about 70,000 sea lions in 2010, up from 18,000 in 1979.

The Steller sea lion population in Washington has always been relatively small, with historical counts of 2,000 to 3,000 in the early 1900s. Reflecting the growth of the overall west coast population, more than 1,500 Steller sea lions have been counted in Washington during aerial surveys in recent years, compared to approximately 300 sea lions spotted during surveys in the early 1990s. Small but increasing numbers of Steller sea lion pups also have been born in Washington since 1992, with a total of 60 counted this year.

Although Steller sea lions have been delisted federally, the species still receives protection under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. If delisted in Washington, the Steller sea lion would also continue to be classified as protected wildlife in the state.

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

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


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