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Public Comment Sought On Protective Status For Tufted Puffins, Steller Sea Lions

OLYMPIA - State wildlife managers are seeking public comment on the protective status for tufted puffins and Steller sea lions.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has recommended listing tufted puffins on the state's endangered species list and removing Steller sea lions from the state's threatened species list.

The public has two opportunities to provide comments on WDFW's recommendations. Written comments can be submitted through Jan. 23. A public hearing also is scheduled at the Feb. 6-7 meeting of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission.

The commission, a citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for WDFW, is expected to take action on the department's recommendations at its March 20-21 meeting. For meeting locations and times, check the commission webpage at wdfw.wa.gov/commission.

A 90-day comment period on WDFW's recommendations closed in mid-December. The new comment period will be conducted under the State Environmental Policy Act, which provides a way to identify possible environmental impacts that may result from governmental decisions and for Washington residents to participate in protecting their environment.

Tufted puffins are native seabirds once considered common in the San Juan Islands, Strait of Juan de Fuca and along the Washington coast. In recent decades, however, 39 of the 44 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 that process is not expected to begin 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. An updated status report on the tufted puffin can be reviewed online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/publications/01642/ .

Steller sea lions are the larger of the two sea lion species found in Washington and have been protected by the state as a threatened species since 1993. The species initially received federal protection under the Endangered Species Act in 1990 and the National Marine Fisheries Service delisted the eastern population ranging from southeast Alaska to northern California in December 2013. The population in that area has steadily grown to about 70,000 sea lions in 2010, up from 18,000 in 1979.

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 have been born in Washington since 1992, with a total of 60 counted in 2014.

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. An updated status report on the Steller sea lion is available for review online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/publications/01641/ .

Written comments on the reports and recommendations can be submitted through Jan. 23 online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/licensing/sepa/sepa_comment_docs.html .

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


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