The Ecology and Conservation of Idaho Amphibians and Reptiles

 

Title: Status and Management Classification/Ranking Systems

Authors:

Edward D. Koch

Geraldine Wood

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Date: February, 1998

 



Introduction

Currently used ranking systems and concomitant protective measures

Comments on The Lists and Rankings

Tables of classified amphibian and reptile species with agency designation

 


Introduction:

Through support of legislation, policy initiatives, and other avenues, society at large has expressed an interest in identifying and classifying wild plant and animal species, including amphibians and reptiles, for purposes of managing species and their habitats. The importance of management classification schemes is particularly evident for identifying and managing game animals for harvest, and for identifying and protecting rare or threatened species that may need special management consideration to persist in natural environments.

The United States Constitution allows for individual states to retain the authority to manage fish and wildlife within their borders, unless excepted by Congress. In Idaho, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) retains primary management responsibility for almost all fish and wildlife species in the state, and is charged under Idaho Code Section 36-103 to preserve, protect, perpetuate, and manage all wildlife. The IDFG classifies wildlife into nine different categories, including:

Because almost all funding for the IDFG comes from hunter and angler license dollars, the vast majority of IDFG’s species and habitat management efforts are focused on managing harvestable game fish and wildlife species. The Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation retains management authority for special status plants. There is no state-level "Endangered Species Act" type of legislative protection for fish, wildlife or plant species in Idaho. The paradigm of state "ownership" of fish and wildlife species differs markedly from fish and wildlife management in most European nations, where fish and wildlife are privately owned by whomever holds title to the land on which animals occur.

In this country, two of the more notable exceptions to state-led management of fish and wildlife species nationwide include species protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, primarily for managing waterfowl that migrate across international borders, and the Endangered Species Act, for managing species identified as being in danger of becoming extinct throughout all or a significant portion of their range. The U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service (hereafter referred to as the Service), and the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) are the two agencies with primary responsibility for implementing the Endangered Species Act. In Idaho, any species of amphibian or reptile that would require protection under the Endangered Species Act (none are currently listed in the state) would be managed by the Service (NMFS manages marine species, which include salmon and steelhead in Idaho because those fish species migrate to the sea and back).

Other federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, and the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, have responsibility and authority for managing and protecting habitat for fish and wildlife species occurring on their lands. Provisions under the National Forest Management Act (for the Forest Service) and the Federal Land Policy Management Act (for the BLM) require those agencies to conserve biological diversity on their lands, and manage habitat - at least in part - to protect fish and wildlife. Because of these mandates, these two agencies are interested in classifying species occurring on their lands to help guide their land management planning.

Finally, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), a private, not-for-profit organization, has long led development and implementation of state Natural Heritage Database programs throughout the country, and beyond. Under this program TNC often co-funds, with state agencies, efforts to classify, map occurrences of, and assist in the protection of rare or uncommon fish, wildlife and plant species. Although TNC does not retain any management authority directly, other than on lands they own, they can influence fish and wildlife species and habitat management by providing data to state and federal agency decision-makers.

In Idaho, of the 37 species of amphibians and reptiles known to occur in the state, only one species is classified as a game animal - the bullfrog (Rana catesbiana) (IDFG, 1998). All other species were unprotected under state laws and regulations until 1993, when the private, not-for-profit group, the Idaho Herpetological Society, successfully petitioned the Idaho Fish and Game Commission to adopt regulations designed to help protect live, native amphibians and reptiles from over-collection for the pet trade. The new regulations prohibit capture and keeping alive more than four individuals of any species of amphibian or reptile without a permit. Currently, there is no prohibition against killing (as opposed to live-capture) native amphibian and reptile species, except for bullfrogs.

 


Currently used ranking systems and concomitant protective measures:

Other than bullfrogs, which are protected as game animals, there are eleven (11) other species that are identified as belonging in one or more of five different, realtively widely recognized classification systems in the state. There exists little legal authority to manage the 36 non-game species of amphibians and reptiles in the state. To the extent that these species do not become the target of extensive commercial harvest, and do not become threatened or endangered, it remains unlikely that any additional legal authority to protect or manage these species will be forthcoming. As long as no threats exist for species, detailed regulations protecting them in Idaho may not be desirable. The five classification systems are administered by five different organizations - four government agencies and one private organization. Each organization has its own mission and management authorities and objectives, and therefore each has its different uses for lists of rare species. The five organizations and their "systems" are:

Organization

Classification System

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (and National Marine Fisheries Service) The Federal Endangered Species Act
The U.S. Forest Service Sensitive Species list
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management Sensitive Species list
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game Species of Special Concern list, protected wildlife list
The Nature Conservancy Natural Heritage Program with global and state rankings

 

US Fish and Wildlife Service (and National Marine Fisheries Service)
The Service (http://www.fws.gov) (and NMFS) maintains a national list of endangered species, threatened species, and candidate species under authority of the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act) (http://www.fws.gov/~r9endspp/endspp.html). Species are proposed for consideration under the Service's listing process either through a petition from an outside entity, or through the Service's own initiative. A species is proposed for listing through a formal, rule-making process whereby legal protections could ultimately be afforded the species should it eventually be added to the list of species covered under the Act. A lead field office for each species under consideration is assigned by the agency and is responsible for development of the listing proposal, recovery plan and delisting actions.

The Service must find, for each species reviewed for listing as threatened or endangered under the Act, that threats exist under one or more of five factors in order to warrant receiving protection. These factors include:

1) the present or threatened destruction, modification or curtailment of its habitat or range;

2) overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific or educational purposes;

3) disease or predation;

4) the adequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms;

5) other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence.

In 1983, the Service adopted a system for prioritizing species under consideration for listing, from priority "1" (highest priority) to priority "12" (lowest priority). The system was developed to allow for a rational system to allocate limited funding and personnel to the highest priority species. The system is based on evaluation of threats relative to three factors: (1) the immediacy of threats, (2) the magnitude of threats, and (3) the taxonomic uniqueness of a species. Species with the highest priority go through the listing evaluation process, while species with a lower priority must wait for further evaluation for protection under the Act. Species for which the Service has determined that listing is warranted become "candidates" for listing under the Act, and remain so until they are either listed, or the Service determines, based on additional information gathered in part through a public comment period, that listing is not warranted. In addition to the formal listing process under the Act, each field office within the Service has the option of maintaining a separate list of "species of concern." This list generally reflects a broader list of candidate species that was maintained until 1996, when the Service reduced the list of candidates to cover those species for which listing truly appeared to be warranted.

The Service is required to recover listed threatened/endangered species, and in some cases, to conserve candidate species. Through its regulatory authorities, the Service prohibits take of listed species, which includes injurious modification of listed species habitat. The Service also promotes recovery and conservation by consulting with federal agencies to ensure their actions do not jeopardize listed plant and animal species. Prohibitions against take of listed wildlife species also applies to private landowners who may have listed species occurring on their properties. The Service also uses the list of candidate species and species of concern in its National Environmental Policy Act responsibilities to promote its mission to provide for the enhancement of native plants and animals. Little regulatory authority exists for protecting candidate species and species of concern.

 

U.S. Forest Service
The Forest Service (http://www.fs.fed.us/) maintains a list of sensitive species under the authority of the National Forest Management Act of 1976, as amended. There exist two levels of "status" for a species on this list: "sensitive," and "watch" (only plant species are included on "watch" lists in Idaho). Sensitive species are species for which viability is a concern because of current or predicted downward trends in numbers, distribution, or in habitat quality (http://www.state.id.us/fishgame/usfs.htm). The Forest Service also recognizes the Fish and Wildlife Service’s list of endangered, threatened, proposed and candidate species.

The sensitive species program (http://www.fs.fed.us/outdoors/wildlife/TES/tes.html) of the Forest Service is considered an early warning system that focuses management attention on ecosystem components that are rare, fragile or in decline. The list of sensitive species can assist Forest Service managers in preventing the need for listing species under the Endangered Species Act, and can help assure compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act decision-making process for proposed projects on their lands. The program also helps aid in the development of management priorities and facilitates interagency cooperation.

Sensitive species lists are maintained within each Forest Service Region (including Regions 1 and 4 in Idaho). Each Forest and Region recommends species to be included on the list. The Regional Forester maintains the sensitive species list. The Forest Service is also required to protect biological diversity on their lands by protecting habitat for rare or threatened species.

 

Bureau of Land Management
The Bureau of Land Management (Bureau) (http://www.blm.gov) maintains a sensitive species list at the State Office level only, under the authority of the Federal Land Policy Management Act of 1976. Species are designated as sensitive species through recommendations by field and state office personnel (http://www.state.id.us/fishgame/blm.htm). There exists two levels of "status" for a species on this list - sensitive species and "watch" species. Sensitive species are species that (1) are under status review under the Endangered Species Act, (2) are declining rapidly, (3) have small and widely dispersed populations, or (4) inhabit ecological refugia or other specialized habitats. Watch species include species whose population and range appear to be restricted, but information is lacking. The BLM also recognizes the Fish and Wildlife Service’s list of endangered, threatened, proposed and candidate species.

As with the Forest Service, the BLM sensitive species program is considered an early warning system that focuses management attention on ecosystem components that are rare, fragile or in decline. The list of sensitive species can assist BLM managers in preventing the need for listing species under the Endangered Species Act, and can help assure compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act decision-making process for proposed projects on their lands. The program also helps aid in the development of management priorities and facilitates interagency cooperation. The BLM is also required to protect biological diversity on their lands by protecting habitat for rare or threatened species.

 

Idaho Department of Fish and Game
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) (http://www.state.id.us/fishgame/fishgame.html) maintains a list of animal Species of Special Concern (http://www.state.id.us/fishgame/ngconcrn.htm). This list includes species that are low in numbers, limited in distribution, or have suffered significant habitat losses. This list has three subcategories - "A," "B," and "C," which includes the following considerations (http://www.state.id.us/fishgame/idfg.htm):

List "A - Priority Species" meet one or more of the three criteria listed above and for which Idaho presently contains or formerly constituted a significant portion of their range;

List "B - Peripheral Species" meet one or more of the three criteria listed above but whose populations in Idaho are on the edge of a breeding range that falls largely outside the state;

List "C - Undetermined Status Species" includes species which may be rare in the state but for which there is little information on their population status, distribution, and/or habitat requirements.

This species of special concern list is developed through recommendations from field level staff and through review by management biologists in the IDFG. Periodically, the IDFG sponsors a meeting to discuss the list of animals, and solicits recommendations for changes, additions, or deletions to the list, including for amphibians and reptiles {http://www.state.id.us/fishgame/herps.htm}. There is little management authority for protecting species of special concern in the state. The state also works with the Idaho Native Plant Society to maintain a list of sensitive plant species in Idaho.

The IDFG works in cooperation with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and with contributing federal agencies, to maintain both the IDFG list and the TNC Natural Heritage Database list of species. These lists can be accessed by any member of the public. The IDFG Commission also recently adopted regulations designed to protect all native amphibians and reptiles from over-collecting for purposes of supplying animals for the pet trade.

 

The Nature Conservancy - Natural Heritage Program
In Idaho, the Natural Heritage Program (http://www.abi.org/nhp/overview_nhp.html), which is currently managed by the IDFG is now called the Idaho Conservation Data Center (CDC) (http://www.state.id.us/fishgame/cdchome.htm). This database includes all of the above agency-designated species as well as The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) (http://www.tnc.org) list of globally and state-listed rare species. Species are ranked according to degree of rarity. This ranking system (http://www.state.id.us/fishgame/cdcranks.htm) applies to all species on a world-wide basis, regardless of threats to a species; that is, it includes those species that are naturally rare as well as those species that are rare due to natural or man-made causes. The CDC/TNC list of species is used by all of the above agencies. CDC provides this information, upon request to all agency and private interests.

Table 1. Summary of The Nature Conservancy, Natural Heritage Program Global and State Ranking System. An occurrence can be an observation, museum record, den site, etc.

Global Ranking State Ranking Narrative Description
1 1 Critically imperiled because of extreme rarity or because some factor of its biology makes it especially vulnerable to extinction (typically 5 or fewer occurrences)
2 2 Imperiled because of rarity or because other factors demonstrably make it very vulnerable to extinction (typically 6-20 occurrences)
3 3 Rare or uncommon but not imperiled (typically 21-100 occurrences)
4 4 Not rare and apparently secure, but with cause for long-term concern (usually more than 100 occurrences)
5 5 Demonstrably widespread, abundant, and secure

 


Comments on The Lists and Rankings:

All of the above agencies include or recognize in some way within their ranking systems the federally designated threatened/endangered or candidate species. Many of the other non-ESA-listed species maintained on one of the five lists are also of concern to other agencies, and therefore are generally repeated across more than one agency’s list.

The Service’s list maintained under the Act represents the list of species with the most regulatory protection. Violations ("taking" listed species) can be punished by fines up to $100,000 and up to two years in jail. It is also perhaps the most difficult list to alter through either additions or removals, with at least two years usually required for such changes. The premise behind the list is that a species must be biologically diminished in numbers or distribution, and threats to its continued survival must be present. Management of species under the Act is not infrequently influenced through actions by political leaders and strong public sentiment regarding species and habitat management issues.

The Endangered Species Act provides an inadequate framework for categorizing species for which concern is warranted, but for which listing under the Act may not yet be. Under the Act, a species is either listed as threatened or endangered, proposed for listing, or is a candidate for listing. Being a candidate species suggests that enough information is available for the Service to propose to list the species, but - most commonly - funding is inadequate to list the species immediately. There is no formal list of species authorized under the Act for which listing as threatened or endangered is not yet known to be necessary, but for which some concerns exist. Each field office of the Service in the country has the option of maintaining a list of "species of concern," but there is no special funding for conserving species in this classification, there is no special management consideration given to these species, in most cases, and in Idaho, this list is not as actively maintained as it could be because of the need to complete other, higher priority work assignments.

The Service used to maintain a list of candidate species that included categorizations for species for which more information was needed ("C2" candidates), and for species that were more widespread than previously believed, that had experienced a change in taxonomic status, or had become extinct before they were listed ("C3" candidates). This candidate list was sufficiently broad to capture a wide variety of categorization needs, and it conferred some additional management or funding consideration to species at or above the "C2" level (current "candidate" species represent former "C1" species under the old candidate species list).

The Forest Service and BLM face strict requirements under their respective organic legislation to maintain viable populations and protect biological diversity. Each agencies ranking systems relies on the list maintained under the Act, and then adds early warning capability through their sensitive species programs. Sensitive species lists can be dynamic, with species added or deleted relatively quickly and with no associated regulatory process. In turn, there is essentially no regulatory protections afforded to these species. The presence of a species on any of the federal lists - under the Act, or on an agency’s sensitive species list - can lead to increased funds becoming available for completing surveys and management-related research on those species. In addition, these species are usually given some special consideration in planning for future land management actions.

The Forest Service and BLM sensitive species lists complement well the threatened and endangered species lists under the Act. These sensitive species lists are actively maintained by each agency. They provide the opportunity to categorize and conserve species for which listing under the Act may not yet be warranted, but for which concern still exists. Sensitive species can and often do receive special management consideration when the agencies make land management decisions. And sensitive species can receive special funding to promote research and conservation on those species, and on the threats they may face. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game Species of Special Concern list also provides a sufficiently broad range of categories to accommodate most species for which concerns exist.

 

The state Species of Special Concern list is similar to the sensitive species lists maintained by the Forest Service and the BLM. The state list can be dynamic, with species added or deleted relatively quickly. Also like the Forest Service and BLM sensitive species, state Species of Special Concern receive little additional management protection.

The TNC system is unique to all of the other lists due to the inclusion of naturally rare species (those species without known threats, but that are nonetheless rare). The status of naturally rare species are individually reviewed by agencies, but generally are not included if they are considered either "protected" in some fashion, or at least not threatened. In other words, if there are likely no management actions that will result in a decrease in the population level or habitat availability for a given species, then most agencies generally do not recognize that species on their list. The Service is the most unlikely of all the agencies to include species that are naturally rare, with no known threats, on its list. This is due to the direct mandate of the Endangered Species Act to review the status of a species under the one or more of the 5 factors identifying threats to a species, as mentioned above.

The TNC list appears to provide the least best fit for categorizing some amphibian and reptile species in Idaho. First, formerly widespread species that are declining significantly in parts of their range, yet remain abundant in other parts of their range, are not adequately captured by the ranking system. For example, western toads in Idaho appear to have declined in the southeastern part of the state, and perhaps elsewhere, but they are still commonly found in the southeastern portion of the central Idaho mountains. Although toads may be locally rare or uncommon, they may not be so across the entire state, nor throughout their entire range, and there are certainly well more than 100 occurrences for this species state-wide. The G3/S3 ranking therefore does not accurately reflect the status of toads in Idaho, even though it may come closer to doing so than other ranks. The fact that toads are declining seriously in many areas suggests to us that special attention is warranted. The G4/S4 ranking expresses too low of a level of concern, while the G2/S2 ranking expresses too high a level of concern.

Second, in many cases we do not have a clear understanding of the status of some species of amphibians and reptiles in the state, yet the TNC ranking system does not have a category that explicitly recognizes uncertainty in categorizing a species. In this case, the G4/S4 ranking, with its, "...cause for long-term concern..." comes closest to reflecting uncertainty, but it is not entirely adequate.

 

Key to maintaining these lists is original data regarding the occurrence of individuals of a species in the state or region, and any population or habitat trend information that may be available. It is important to submit all observations of individuals of a species included on one or more of the agency lists (see later class section on how to submit information). Key components of an observation include an accurate description of the animal you observed, it’s exact location, a photograph, if possible, habitat description, date, time, weather, and other information.

 

Table 2. Categories of rare species by agency, with relative comparisons suggested across rows.

Biological Factors U.S. Fish & Wildlife Serv./ NMFS U.S. Forest Service U.S. Bureau of Land Management Idaho Dept. of Fish and Game The Nature Conservancy*
One or more of "five factors" under ESA = significant threats exist Listed species, and species proposed for listing Recognize FWS/ NMFS list, must "promote conservation" Recognize FWS/ NMFS list, must "promote conservation" Species of Special Concern - Priority A Global 1

State 1

One or more of "five factors" under ESA = significant threats MAY exist Candidate species Sensitive species (recognize candidate status) Sensitive species (recognize candidate status) Species of Special Concern - Priority A Global 2

State 2

Some declines documented, and/or recognized by other agencies Species of concern May be a sensitive species May be a sensitive species Possible Species of Special concern - Priority A Global 3

State 3

Small population, limited quantity of habitat, or lack of information Watch species No Equivalent Watch List Species of Special Concern - Priority B and/or C  

*The Nature Conservancy categorization scheme is sufficiently different that we believe each global and state rank could match up very differently depending on what species is being classified. For example, a candidate species under the Endangered Species Act could be a G4 and an S1, depending on species distribution, status and threats relative to political boundaries (state and national borders). All other categorization schemes (notably, all designed by government agencies) are relatively more comparable across categories.

 


Tables of classified amphibian and reptile species with agency designation:

Amphibians:

Species U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service U.S. Forest Service U.S. Bureau of Land Management Idaho Dept. of Fish and Game The Nature Conservancy
Coeur d"Alene salamander (Plethodon idahoensis) Species of concern Sensitive Sensitive Species of special concern - Priority A G3 / S3
Western toad (Bufo boreas) Species of concern - Not ranked - Sensitive Species of special concern - Priority C G4 / S4
Woodhouse’s toad (Bufo woodhousii) Species of concern - Not ranked - - Not ranked - - Not ranked - G5 / S3
Northern leopard frog (Rana pipiens) Species of concern - Not ranked - Sensitive Species of special concern Priority A G5 / S3
Columbia spotted frog (Rana luteiventris) Candidate species (S. of Snake R.) / not ranked (N. of Snake R.) Sensitive (USFS Region 4 only) Sensitive Species of special concern - Priority A S. of Snake R. (Priority C N. of Snake River) G4 / S3-S4

 

 

Reptiles:

Species U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service U.S. Forest Service U.S. Bureau of Land Management Idaho Dept. of Fish and Game The Nature Conservancy
Northern alligator lizard (Elgaria coerulea) Species of concern - Not ranked - - Not ranked - - Not ranked - G5 / S2
Mojave black-collared lizard (Crotaphytus bicinctores) Species of concern - Not ranked - - Not ranked - Species of Special Concern - Priority B G5 / S2
Short-horned lizard (Phrynosoma douglassi) Species of concern - Not ranked - - Not ranked - - Not ranked - G5 / S5
Ringneck snake (Diadophis punctatus) Species of concern  

- Not ranked -

 

Sensitive

Species of Special Concern - Priority C  

G5 / S1

Longnose snake (Rhinocheilus lecontei) Species of concern - Not ranked - Sensitive Species of Special Concern - Priority B G5 / S3
Ground snake (Sonora semiannulata) Species of concern - Not ranked - Sensitive Species of special concern - Priority B G5 / S3

 

 


Authors:  Edward D. Koch and Geraldine Wood 1998

Adapted to html:  John Cossel Jr.