Western Gray Squirrels Granted Washington State Endangered Status
Logging, Climate Change, Sprawl Threaten Rare Forest Squirrel
OLYMPIA, Wash.— The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission today voted to uplist western gray squirrels from threatened to endangered under the state’s endangered species act. Population estimates for the squirrel range from 450 to 1,400 individuals — a critically small population in either case.
The squirrels, which occur in three isolated population in the south Puget Trough, North Cascades and South Cascades, have been steadily losing habitat to logging, development and climate change-driven fires since they were listed as threatened in 1993.
“These shy forest squirrels need better protection for their habitat from logging and other threats,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “I’m hopeful that endangered status will ring the alarm bells and spur action.”
Western gray squirrels superficially resemble invasive eastern gray squirrels, but they are bigger and have bushier tails. They’re also never found in towns or cities. Instead, the squirrels are found in pine, oak forests with large trees and dense tree clumps interspersed with meadows. The squirrels play an important role in spreading acorns and other seeds throughout the forest.
“Sadly, western gray squirrels are barely hanging on to existence,” said Pat Arnold of Friends of the White Salmon River. “Thanks to the commission for understanding the danger and voting to uplist. Next up is a review of forest practice regulations by the Washington Department of Natural Resources, where we hope to see stronger protections adopted.”
“We’re happy to see that the commission made a unanimous decision to uplist the western gray squirrel,” said Rudy Salakory, conservation director at Friends of the Columbia Gorge. “Now the hard but critical work of developing stronger protective measures begins. We hope to see changes that favor this vanishing species.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.Additional Resources: