What are California’s “Species of Greatest Conservation Need”?

Big Horn Sheep

Big Horn Sheep/Photo credit USFWS

By Steve Schoening

Every year Congress sets aside funding to assist states in promoting the health and recovery of declining wildlife populations. This money is delivered through the State Wildlife Grants (SWG) Program administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  In order to be eligible to apply for this money, each state must have an approved State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) that focuses on the species most in need of conservation. These species are identified in a list of Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) – every state has one. The list includes those species that are deemed most rare, imperiled and in need of conservation actions.  Even though the SWG funding program is limited to only animals (fish and wildlife), and their habitats within the state, California’s flora will be added to the SGCN list in order to allow the SWAP to be more comprehensive in its scope than currently required.

Palo Verde Blue Butterfly

Palo Verde Blue Butterfly/Photo credit USFWS

While it could be argued that most, if not all, biota in the state have an identifiable “conservation need,” for the list to be useful as a prioritization tool, only those species with the greatest need are placed on the list. In 2005 the original California SWAP used the existing California Fish and Game Sensitive Animals List as the SGCN list.  This was a comprehensive and convenient decision, but resulted in a long list, with more than 700 species. This many species didn’t allow for real priorities for conservation to be set.

For the 2015 SWAP revision, the technical team working on the plan determined it would be beneficial to create a new shorter SGCN list. The new SGCN list follows a rigorous scientific process to determine the lower end of “need” by incorporating the high-intensity technical reviews being done for the major vertebrate classifications in California known as Species of Special Concern (SSC) reports. These assessments are described in the CA Bird Species of Special Concern foreword as a “synergistic collaboration among California’s top field and museum ornithologists, wildlife biologists and conservationists” and produce the “definitive treatment of the status of declining bird populations in California.”

Baby Desert Tortoise

Baby Desert Tortoise/Photo credit USFWS

By 2015, the species of special concern reports will be done for birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals (www.dfg.ca.gov/wildlife/nongame/ssc/ ). Species that are already state or federally listed as threatened or endangered are not included in the SSCs but will be included on the SGCN list by definition. Species that are candidates for listing under either the State or Federal Endangered Species Acts will also be included in the SGCN list. For invertebrates, the existing species on the special animal list were ranked for threat and only the highest rank will be included. Lastly, new in the 2015 SWAP, a set of highest conservation need plant species will be included following consultation with the CA Native Plant Society-led, California Rare Plant Forum – a multiagency/stakeholder expert group.

To see the current DRAFT Species of Greatest Conservation Need list go to:  www.dfg.ca.gov/SWAP/SGCN