Special Status Species

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There are many special status designations; often they are agency specific ( full list). These designations have different legal implications. Listed species are those that have been listed as either Endangered or Threatened under the state or federal Endangered Species Act. There are other designations that do not carry the same legal weight but serve to draw attention to at-risk species. For example, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) maintain a list of Species of Special Concern (SSC)[1]. The CDFW also maintains a Watch List for fish [2] and birds[3]. The BLM[4]and US Forest Service [5] maintain regional lists of Sensitive species.


These species are legally protected and include endangered and threatened status species; state and federal agencies are required to prevent further decline of listed species.

  • Endangered- any species that is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.[6]
  • Threatened- any species that is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.[7]

Species of Special Concern

Species of Special Concern <ref="ssc"></ref> designation does not confer legal protection but often plays a role in and use decisions. Large development projects, for example, may reject sites with documented Species of Special Concern to avoid complications should the species become listed. Species of Special Concern meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • was native to California but is now extirpated (or, for bird species, no longer breeding in California)
  • is federally but not state listed
  • is experiencing a substantial decline in population
  • has normally occurring small populations which are now at risk (e.g. from development, habitat fragmentation, etc...)

Watch List

The CDFW also maintains a Watch List. Species on the Watch List have recently been delisted from the SSC list or do not otherwise definitively meet SSC list criteria. In many cases species on the Watch List may be eligible for the SSC but are not for lack of information[8].

Sensitive Species

The Bureau of Land Management and US Forest Service maintain lists of sensitive species. These species are present on land managed by those agencies which are at risk of becoming threatened or endangered. Once listed as sensitive, the agencies make land management decisions based on preventing those species from becoming listed. These conservation efforts are intra-agency initiatives. There is no external agency that enforces sensitive species policies. In the Forest Service, this activity is managed by the Threatened, Endangered, and Sensitive (TES) Species Program.

There are many other designations specific to certain government agencies and conservation organizations. Here is a comprehensive list maintained by CDFW.

Lead Agencies

As stated by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's website, "any public agency may be a CEQA lead agency or have CEQA obligations."[9] CEQA is a self-executing statute[10]; lead agencies are responsible for CEQA compliance; enforcement is the duty of the public through the use of litigation when necessary.

The California Natural Resources Agency is responsible for adopting CEQA guidelines[11].

A comprehensive list of public agencies of the Central Coast that have acted as CEQA lead agencies can be found here.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife as Trustee Agency

When a CEQA project "may affect fish, wildlife, or their habitat" the CDFW is required to act as a CEQA Trustee Agency. Trustee agencies have jurisdiction over resources affected by CEQA projects. As a trustee agency, the CDFW "provides the requisite biological expertise" to assess the ecological implications of CEQA projects on fish, wildlife, and habitat[12]

Implications under CEQA

CEQA requires state and local governments to document the environmental impacts of their proposed projects. CEQA applies to state and local governments, and to private parties that require state or local permits. In addition to identifying environmental impacts, agencies are also required to propose project alternatives and mitigation options.[13]

Part of any environmental impact report is an assessment of the project's effect on special status species, as listed under the California Endangered Species Act. If a CEQA project has the potential to impact a protected species or a species of special concern then the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is notified to act as the Trustee Agency and one or more of the following may happen:

  • The project may not be approved by the lead agency
  • The project applicant must pursue an alternative project
  • The project applicant must carry out an approved mitigation effort
  • The project applicant may apply for an Incidental Take Permit

A full account of the CEQA process can be found here.

Special Status Species Of the Central Coast Lists


US Fish and Wildlife Endangered Species Lists

CA Fish and Wildlife Endangered Species Lists


  1. [1]
  2. [htps://www.dfg.ca.gov/wildlife/nongame/ssc/fish.html]
  3. [2]
  4. [3]
  5. [4]
  6. http://www.fws.gov/endangered/laws-policies/section-3.html
  7. http://www.fws.gov/endangered/laws-policies/section-3.html
  8. Species of special concern https://www.dfg.ca.gov/wildlife/nongame/ssc/
  9. CDFW CEQA page http://www.dfg.ca.gov/habcon/ceqa/
  10. Natural Resources Agency CEQA page http://resources.ca.gov/ceqa/more/faq.html
  11. http://resources.ca.gov/ceqa/more/faq.html
  12. http://www.dfg.ca.gov/habcon/ceqa/role.html
  13. California Natural Resources Agency http://resources.ca.gov/ceqa/more/faq.html


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