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Vermont's Species of Greatest Conservation Need

Vermonters love their wildlife. And wildlife love Vermont. During the past century many wildlife species once rare or missing from the state have returned in larger numbers. The resurgence of Vermont's forests is a significant reason. From a low of 40% forest cover in the 1840s the state is now 78% forested. However, more trees are not the whole story. Restoring wildlife to the state also required the hard work and dedication of scientists, wildlife and habitat managers, sportsmen and other conservationists. Signature species such as deer, moose, beaver, fisher, osprey, peregrine falcon and loon, all missing or in perilously low numbers just decades ago are now faring well.

Keeping wildlife populations healthy offers a host of benefits: healthier ecosystems upon which we all depend, more wildlife to enjoy; and, fewer species on the brink of extirpation means fewer regulatory mandates.

Our work, however, is not complete. A significant number of wildlife species need attention to avoid new threats such as habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation; invasive exotic species; unregulated collecting and harvesting by people; and even natural events that could contribute to the decline of a species.

The State Wildlife Grants program is helping Vermonters meet these new challenges. Created by Congress in 2001 it provides federal funds for conservation to prevent fish and wildlife populations from becoming endangered. Per Congressional requirements, the Wildlife Action Plan is centered on the identification and conservation of "Species of Greatest Conservation Need" (SGCN).

Selecting SGCN

Vermont's list of Species of Greatest Conservation Need includes 144 vertebrate species (of 470 in the state) and includes game and non-game species, 192 invertebrate species (of an estimated 15,000-36,000) and 577 plant species (of an estimated 2000 vascular and non-vascular plant species).

In Vermont, six Wildlife Action Plan Species Teams, with expertise in birds, fish, invertebrates, mammals, plants and reptiles & amphibians, met frequently between May and September 2004 to assess the status of Vermont's wildlife. They employed assessment criteria developed by the interdisciplinary Wildlife Action Plan Integration Team to aid and normalize SGCN selection. Criteria included the degree of species rarity, species designated as at-risk, population trends, species whose habitat are vulnerable to loss, habitat fragmentation, habitat conversion or succession changes and species threatened by exotic plants or animals.

Teams used the best information available at the time from local, regional and national sources. However, while a wealth of information is available for some species; others (especially invertebrates, fish, small mammals and some reptiles and amphibians) are poorly known. Species were ranked with a conservation priority of high, medium or low. Those ranked medium and high constitute Vermont's Species of Greatest Conservation Need. Those ranked low priority are considered reasonably secure. It is expected that low priority species will benefit from conservation efforts directed toward species ranked medium and high as well as from other ongoing wildlife management programs (e.g., federal aid to sportfish and wildlife).

Ongoing wildlife monitoring required by the State Wildlife Grants program will help track species and strategy progress toward greater security. Regularly scheduled Wildlife Action Plan review and revision will provide opportunities to add additional species to the list as warranted and to remove those species deemed secure.

Details of the Species of Greatest Conservation Need selection process can be found in Chapter 3: Developing the Vermont Wildlife Action Plan.

Plant SGCN

Vermont's plant SGCN list includes 577 of approximately 2,000 vascular and non-vascular plants found in the state. This list includes all species ranked S1 (critically imperiled) and S2 (imperiled) and a very few others that warrant concern. Those SGCN also on the New England Plant Conservation Program list of regionally rare plants will be ranked High Priority. All others were ranked medium priority. Plants are not eligible for SWG funds. The plant list can be found in appendix A6.

Use of and Changes to this List

The list of Species of Greatest Conservation Need will help prioritize the allocation of State Wildlife Grants funds and other conservation funds. The list will also provide a quick measure of our success conserving Vermont's wildlife. It should be noted that the SGCN list is not the same as the State or Federal Endangered Species List and should not be construed to function as one. Some of the species on the list may be relatively common including some game species. It is our goal to keep them that way.

The Species of Greatest Conservation Need list can be amended if and when important information becomes available about a species' status. For example, there are a number of current and pending inventory and assessment projects funded by State Wildlife Grants that could significantly increase our understanding of a species' status.

Big Game: White-Tailed Deer, Moose & Wild Turkey

Nearly 20 game and sportfish species are listed on the following pages as Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) due to concerns about population declines and loss of habitat. White-tailed deer, moose and wild turkey, however, were not selected as SGCN. Though absent or nearly extirpated from the state by the 1865, their populations are now sufficiently large and stable. And, relative to SGCN, our knowledge of deer, moose and turkey biology and management is great.

White-tailed deer, moose and wild turkey rank high among Vermont's greatest wildlife restoration successes. Still their management remains of utmost concern because of the great importance they have to Vermonters and because of the significant roles they play in their ecosystems. Fortunately, management plans (developed with significant public involvement), harvest regulations and monitoring protocols have long been in place for these species and dependable implementation funds come through license fees and the Federal Aid to Wildlife Restoration Act.

For more information about deer, moose and wild turkey go to http://www.vtfishandwildlife.com/wildlife_biggame.cfm

Listing of Vermont's Species of Greatest Conservation Need
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