Efforts Underway To Protect Threatened Squirrel
The Department of Fish and Wildlife says the Western Gray Squirrel habitat is on the decline in the State of Washington.
This particular species of squirrel is found in remote parts of the Klickitat region (Klickitat, southern Yakima, and southeastern Skamania counties), the North Cascades (Okanogan and Chelan counties), and the southern Puget Trough (Joint Base Lewis-McChord and small areas off-base in Pierce and Thurston counties).
The Western Gray Squirrel is the largest tree squirrel native to the Pacific Northwest and is distinguishable by its very long, bushy tail that is primarily gray with white-frosted edges. It's sometimes confused with the Eastern Gray Squirrel which is commonly seen in parks and other urban areas.
Taylor Cotten with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife says concerns about the Western Gray Squirrel's habitat date back to the 90's.
"Catastrophic wildfires really reduced their habitat in that part of the state (Chelan and Okanogan Counties) by around 20%," Cotten said. "In the southern part of the (Cascade) range and the Klickitat, Yakima areas, it's more towards timber extraction and logging and that's primarily the reason we're seeing a loss around 20% of habitat."
The Western Gray Squirrel is already listed as a threatened species. The Department Of Wildlife recommends reclassifying the rodent as an endangered species.
"So it just sends a different message than a threatened species does and that's probably the biggest result of a reclassification. It doesn't trigger any significant extra penalties for taking individuals or anything like that," Cotten said. "It does also open the door for conversations with the Department and Natural Resources and the Forest Practices Board about forest practice in the Western Gray Squirrel habitat."
The recommendation to reclassify the Western Gray Squirrel is under a periodic status review in which public comment will be taken until May 10th.
If you would like information on how to comment, click here.