Special Status Species

From CCoWS Wiki
Revision as of 13:07, 14 April 2016 by Gabem (Talk | contribs)

Jump to: navigation, search

A summary of an environmental topic examined by the ENVS_560/L_Watershed_Systems class at CSUMB. The content on this page has been compiled from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and other environmental agencies.


Special Status Species is a term used primarily in the California regulatory community for species that are considered sufficiently rare that they require special consideration and/or protection[1]. Federal regulatory agencies consider special status species to be those at risk of becoming threatened, endangered, or extinct[2]. Other communities, such as scientific researchers, use a combination of Federal and State criteria when referring to special status species[3].

Statutes Affecting the California Central Coast

Federal Acts

  • The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was signed into law in 1970 and established the broad national framework for protecting the environment. NEPA's basic policy is to assure that all branches of government give proper consideration to the environment prior to undertaking any major Federal action that significantly affects the environment.[4]
  • The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was signed into law in 1973[5] and has been revised through time since its inception. One purpose of the ESA is to provide a means to preserve ecosystems used by threatened and endangered species by creating Critical Habitat[6]. These habitats and species are legally protected and California and Federal agencies are required to prevent further decline of listed species. Another goal of the ESA is to protect species by regulating their take.

California Acts

  • The California Endangered Species Act (CESA) was signed into law in 1970[7]. The act states that all native species of fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, invertebrates, and plants, and their habitats, threatened with extinction and those experiencing a significant decline which, if not halted, would lead to a threatened or endangered designation, will be protected or preserved. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) will work with all interested persons, agencies and organizations to protect and preserve these sensitive resources and their habitats.[7] The criteria for rare and endangered designations was formalized in the California Species Preservation Act.
  • Also in 1970, the California legislature passed and Governor Ronald Reagan signed the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) into law later the same year.[8] In 1983, the CEQA was amended to define and protect rare and endangered species. Rare species were reclassified as threatened, candidate species were introduced, and plants were included.[9]
  • The Native Plant Protection Act (NPPA) was enacted in 1977 and allows the Fish and Wildlife Commission to designate plants as rare or endangered. The NPPA directs the CDFW to carry out the intent to "preserve, protect and enhance rare and endangered plants in this State." The NPPA gave the California Fish and Wildlife Commission the power to designate native plants as endangered or rare, and to require permits for collecting, transporting, or selling such plants.[10]

Designations for Special Species

There are many, agency-specific special status designations that have different legal implications. These designations include formal listed statuses and a variety of less formal statuses as described below.

'Listed' Species (Federal and California)

Under the ESA designations, a species is listed under one of two categories, endangered or threatened, depending on status and the degree of threat. These species are legally protected and Federal agencies are required to prevent further decline of listed species. To help conserve genetic diversity, the ESA defines "species" broadly to include subspecies and distinct vertebrate populations.[11]

  • Endangered species are those which are in danger of extinction throughout all of a significant portion of its range.
  • Threatened species are those which are likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

Similarly, under the CESA designations, a species is listed under one of two categories, endangered or threatened, depending on status and the degree of threat. While the State of California works in cooperation with Federal agencies[12], there are some species listed only under CESA designations. These species are legally protected and California agencies are required to prevent further decline of listed species. Also included on this list are animal "Candidates" for state listing.[13]

  • Endangered species are those which is in danger of extinction throughout all of a significant portion of its range
  • Threatened species are those which are likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.
  • Candidate species are those which are under evaluation to determine a designation[14]

Species of Special Concern (California)

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) maintain a list of Species of Special Concern (SSC), which encompasses species, subspecies, or distinct populations of animals native to California that currently satisfies one or more of the following criteria (not necessarily mutually exclusive):[15]

  • extirpated from the State or, in the case of birds, in its primary seasonal or breeding role
  • listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA but not under the CESA
  • meets the CESA definition of threatened or endangered but has not formally been listed under the CESA
  • experiencing, or formerly experienced, serious (noncyclical) population declines or range retractions (that have not been reversed) that, if continued or resumed, could qualify the species for threatened or endangered status under the CESA
  • has naturally small populations exhibiting high susceptibility to risk from any factor(s), that if realized, could lead to declines that would qualify the species for threatened or endangered status under the CESA.

'Watch Listed' Species (California)

The CDFW also maintains a Watch List for species that were previously SSC but no longer merit SSC status, or which do not meet SSC criteria but for which there is concern and a need for additional information to clarify status.[15]

Rare Species (California)

Plant species designated as “rare” under the California Native Plant Protection Act (NPPA).[16] With the 1984 modification of CESA, plants listed as endangered under the NPPA became endangered under CESA, however plants listed as rare under NPPA did not receive a designation under CESA.[7]

Although both laws allowed for the adoption of regulations allowing take of listed native plants, it is only under CESA that regulations were promulgated that allowed for take incidental to development projects. Since no such regulations were ever developed under the NPPA there is currently no mechanism for permitting take incidental to most development projects of the sixty-four plant species that remained listed as rare under the NPPA; agricultural and nursery operations are exempt under the NPPA as well as certain maintenance and other activities after proper notification. The current lack of a regulatory mechanism to permit take of NPPA rare species may create an impasse for many projects.[17]

Sensitive Species (Federal)

The United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM)[18] and U.S. Forest Service[19] maintain regional 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 Species Program.[19]

Other Designations and Associated Agencies Recognized by CDFW

There are many other designations specific to certain government agencies and conservation organizations. Here is a comprehensive list maintained by CDFW:[1]

  • American Fisheries Society - Endangered
  • American Fisheries Society - Threatened
  • American Fisheries Society - Vulnerable
  • Bureau of Land Management - Sensitive
  • Calif Dept of Forestry & Fire Protection - Sensitive
  • Calif Dept of Fish & Wildlife - Fully Protected
  • Calif Dept of Fish & Wildlife - Species of Special Concern
  • Calif Dept of Fish & Wildlife - Watch List
  • IUCN - Critically Endangered
  • IUCN - Endangered
  • IUCN - Near Threatened
  • IUCN - Vulnerable
  • IUCN - Least Concern
  • IUCN - Data Deficient
  • IUCN - Conservation Dependent
  • Marine Mammal Commission - Species of Special Concern
  • National Marine Fisheries Service - Species of Concern
  • North American Bird Conservation Initiative- Red Watch List
  • North American Bird Conservation Initiative- Yellow Watch List
  • U.S. Forest Service - Sensitive
  • U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Birds of Conservation Concern
  • Western Bat Working Group - High Priority
  • Western Bat Working Group - Medium-High Priority
  • Western Bat Working Group - Medium Priority
  • Western Bat Working Group - Low-Medium Priority
  • Xerces Society - Critically Imperiled
  • Xerces Society - Imperiled
  • Xerces Society - Vulnerable
  • Xerces Society - Data Deficient

Management Implications of Special Species Designations

Special status species on the Central Coast are managed by various Federal and State agencies. Special status species must be considered when planning and managing on federal, state, and private lands at various levels depending on the type of special status designation. 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 (CESA). The detailed review process for development is outlined in the CEQA Overview.

'Listed' Species

Once a species is designated as endangered or threatened, Federal and State protective measures apply. These measures include:[20]

  • Protection from adverse effects of Federal activities
  • Restrictions on taking, transporting, or selling a species
  • Authority for agencies to develop and carry out recovery plans
  • Authority to purchase important habitat
  • Federal aid to California wildlife agencies
  • "Take" prohibitions

When listing a species as threatened or endangered, we work towards designating Critical Habitat for a species. This designation occurs about one year after the final listing, as long as it is prudent to do so and Critical Habitat is determined. Unlike the listing determination, economic impacts must be considered when designating Critical Habitat.

Species of Special Concern

The Species of Special Concern (SSC) designation does not confer legal protection, but often plays a role in land use decisions. SSC should be considered during the environmental review process. The CEQA requires State agencies, local governments, and special districts to evaluate and disclose impacts from "projects" in the State. Section 15380 of the CEQA Guidelines clearly indicates that species of special concern should be included in an analysis of project impacts if they can be shown to meet the criteria of sensitivity outlined therein. [15]

Large development projects often reject sites with documented Species of Special Concern to avoid complications should the species become later listed as endangered or threatened.[21]

'Watch Listed' Species

A Watch List species is one that was previously SSC or a Listed species, but no longer merits the status and/or does not meet the criteria. Additional information is often required to clarify a species' status, so it is monitored regularly to keep track of the degree of endangerment or rarity.[15]

Rare Species

The California Native Plant Society initially created five California Rare Plant Ranks (CRPR) in an effort to categorize degrees of concern[22]. This ranking was adopted by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) in their protocols for surveying and evaluating impacts to special status native plant populations and natural communities.[23] The CRPR are:

  • 1A: Plants Presumed Extirpated in California and Either Rare or Extinct Elsewhere
  • 1B: Plants Rare, Threatened, or Endangered in California and Elsewhere
  • 2A: Plants Presumed Extirpated in California, But Common Elsewhere
  • 2B: Plants Rare, Threatened, or Endangered in California, But More Common Elsewhere
  • 3: Plants About Which More Information is Needed - A Review List
  • 4: Plants of Limited Distribution - A Watch List

The CESA provides additional protections for species in the categories, including take prohibitions . As the responsible agency, CDFW has the authority to issue permits for the take of species listed under CESA, if the take is incidental to an otherwise lawful activity and the take would not jeopardize the continued existence of the species. Surveys are one of the preliminary steps to detect a listed or special status plant species or natural community that may be impacted significantly by a project.[23]

Incidental Take of Special Status Species

Normally, "take" of a threatened or endangered species, means to "harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct". Although, depending if the species is endangered or threatened, different take prohibitions may apply and Incidental Take Permits can be provided.[24][25]

While section 2080 of the Fish and Wildlife Code prohibits take of any species that the commission determines to be endangered or threatened, CESA allows for take incidental to otherwise lawful activity through section 2081(b) of the Fish and Wildlife Code. CESA emphasizes early consultation to avoid potential impacts to rare, endangered, and threatened species and to develop appropriate mitigation planning to offset project-caused losses of listed species populations and their essential habitats. For those state-listed species that are also listed under the ESA, CESA allows for consistent determinations with Federal incidental take statements under section 2080.1 of the Fish and Wildlife Code.[25]

See also



  1. 1.0 1.1 CDFW: Special Animals List
  2. Bureau of Land Management: Special Status Species
  3. Sanctuary Integrated Monitoring Network: Special Status Species
  4. EPA: Summary of the National Environmental Policy Act
  5. Brief History of the Endangered Species Act
  6. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Endangered Species Act of 1973
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 CDFW: California Endangered Species Act (CESA)
  8. California Natural Resources Agency: Frequently Asked Questions about CEQA
  9. CDFW: History of California's Legislative and Regulatory Actions to Protect Wildlife
  10. Conserving Plants with Laws and Programs under the Department of Fish and Game
  11. U.S. Fish and Wildlife: Endangered Species Act section 3
  12. CDFW: Cooperative Agreement Between the CDFW and the USFWS
  13. CDFW: Endangered and Threatened Animals List
  14. CDFW: California's Endangered Species Act Listing Process
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 CDFW: Species of Special Concern
  16. CDFW: California Laws Protecting Native Plants
  17. WRA: CFGC Proposes that Rare Plants Receive Same Regulatory Treatment as Threatened, Endangered, and Candidate Species
  18. U.S. Dept of Interior: BLM Sensitive Species
  19. 19.0 19.1 USDA Forest Service: Threatened, Endangered, & Sensitive Species
  20. USFWS: Listing a Species as Threatened or Endangered
  21. Habitat Conservation Planning: Endangered Species and Urban Growth by Timothy Beatley
  22. California Native Plant Society: The California Rare Plant Ranking System
  23. 23.0 23.1 Protocols for Surveying and Evaluating Impacts to Special Status Native Plant Populations and Natural Communities
  24. NOAA Fisheries: Incidental Take Authorizations under the MMPA
  25. 25.0 25.1 CDFW: State Laws, Regulations and Policy for the Incidental Take of State Listed Species under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA)


This page may contain students' work completed as part of assigned coursework. It may not be accurate. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion or policy of CSUMB, its staff, or students.