MONTPELIER – Populations of five species in Vermont have recently declined enough to warrant increased state protection.
The Vermont Endangered Species Committee recommends that the legislature list the American bumblebee and two plants – the street anemone and the Houghton’s sedge – endangered. The committee also recommends listing the Kentucky beetle, a prairie bird whose population has declined rapidly, as threatened.
A species is considered endangered when “its continued existence as a sustainable component of the state’s wildlife or wild plants is endangered” and threatened when it is “reasonable to conclude, based on the information available, that its numbers are declining ”and, unless protected, will become endangered, according to state law.
Meanwhile, two species – the bald eagle and the Canadian black snake, a member of the carrot family – have rebounded so strongly that the committee recommends removing their protection status.
Currently, 36 animals and 69 plants are considered threatened in Vermont, and 16 animals and 94 plants are considered threatened. The lists come as federal officials recently announced 20 cash extinctions across the country, many of which are exacerbated by climate change.
Mark Ferguson, a wildlife biologist at Vermont Fish & Wildlife, told VTDigger that some species in decline in Vermont could be affected by climate change, but it’s hard to know for sure. Warming waters could affect the creek float, which is a freshwater mussel, and several recorded bumblebee species have migrated north, but there is not enough suitable habitat in northern areas for them. to support.
“It’s kind of squeezing them into smaller areas,” he said.
The street anemone, a flowering plant member of the buttercup family, exists in only two locations in the state and is limited to fewer than 100 breeding individuals, according to officials from the Department of Fish & Wildlife. Houghton’s sedge, a perennial plant found in sandy soils, has only one known location in Vermont.
No sightings of the American bumblebee have been documented since 2000 despite increased investigations, officials said during a presentation of the proposed changes Tuesday night in Montpellier. Of the state’s 17 bumblebee species, this would be the fourth listed as endangered or threatened.
Committee members also recommend changing the status of the stream float, now found in only one river in Vermont, from threatened to endangered. The mussel lives in clear, moderately fast water, Ferguson said Tuesday, and is one of the “most endangered mussels in North America.” Its population has declined in 12 of the 16 states and provinces where it resides, according to the presentation.
Ferguson said on Tuesday there were between 105 and 163 pairs of Eastern Meadow Lark in the state. Data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey shows a 95% decline in the population over the past four decades, and the Vermont Breeding Bird Atlas shows a 55% decline over the past 25 years .
It might be worse
Kevin Tolan, a biologist from the Vermont Center for Ecostudies who attended the meeting on Tuesday evening, conducted a statewide survey of larks over the summer. He told Fish & Wildlife officials he thought the population was about half of their estimate.
The prairie habitat, often located in agricultural fields in Vermont, has become less hospitable recently due to development, more intense farming practices, and the intrusion of invasive plant species. Measures proposed to keep grassland birds safe include providing incentives to farmers who skip the first cut of hay, when the birds breed in their fields.
“We’re not even just losing fields with delayed hay, we are losing fields in general,” Tolan told VTDigger. “If they are not profitable, they will switch to corn. Now, with the booming real estate market, a beautiful piece of land in the Champlain Valley is going to be purchased.
Also, when farmers abandon fields, Tolan said, they often return to less hospitable habitat for birds within a few years.
“It’s kind of this weird intersection where we can’t handle it a lot, but we have to handle it a bit,” he said.
Tolan said Vermont’s conservation landscape has changed dramatically over the past 50 years.
“It’s crazy to me that when we didn’t have eagle breeding pairs here in the 1950s, larks were everywhere,” said Tolan.
The committee also proposes to classify three habitats as “critical”.
- The small islands of Lake Champlain are home to nesting areas for the endangered Common Tern.
- Aeolus Cave, located in Dorset on land owned by the Nature Conservancy, is home to between 70,000 and 90,000 bats, New England’s largest colony, Ferguson said Tuesday. This includes all four bat species on the state’s endangered species list.
- The only known Spiny Softshell turtles in New England and Quebec nest along the shores of Lake Champlain, and the committee proposed to rank the four most productive sites as critical. The sites are state-owned with the exception of one, where a private landowner supports the designation.
The committee consists of six members of the public appointed by the governor, plus the secretary of the Agriculture, Food and Markets Agency, the Commissioner of Fisheries and Wildlife and the Commissioner of Forests, Parks and Recreation.
Mark Scott, the state’s wildlife director, said committee members were making recommendations after reviewing a large amount of scientific data on each species.
“When a species becomes threatened or endangered, it is not good news for us,” he said, “but it is good news for the species that is being protected. special legal.
Members of the public can comment on the proposed changes until October 13.
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