Sixteen species, including the barn owl, the snowy egret and the Blanding's turtle, would be removed from the state's endangered species list under a plan approved by the state Department of Natural Resources Board Wednesday.
The changes are the result of a review of the endangered species listings conducted by the agency between January 2010 and August 2011, the first complete review since 1997. With board approval, the changes will now be the subject of upcoming public hearings before coming back to the board for final action.
In addition to the delistings, the proposal would add eight species. Among those are birds including the black tern, Kirtland's warbler, and upland sandpiper and a grassland-loving butterfly called the ottoe skipper.
The plan drew opposition from the Botanical Club of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation. George Meyer, executive director of the wildlife federation, asked that action on the changes be delayed because he said the agency did not consult outside experts on proposed additions to the list nor consider plants for listing.
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Kurt Thiede, DNR lands division administrator, agreed that outside experts were not consulted to the degree they have been in the past. But he added that part of the reason for not more extensively using outside expertise — and for not including plants species — had to do with keeping costs down.
"The more broad we make this, I'm sure we'd see more dollars and more staff time," said Board Member William Bruins. "There just isn't the money to be everything to everybody anymore."
Thiede said the review focuses conservation efforts on species in Wisconsin that are most in danger. The upland sandpiper, for example, was once reported at 55 sites in the state but now is in danger of disappearing from Wisconsin.
Thiede said it is important to add species to the list so that the agency can take action to protect habitat and conduct more intensive monitoring. Keeping track of species such as the upland sandpiper, a grassland bird, is important, agency experts say, because their health is often an indication of the condition of the landscapes where they live.
Another species being added to the list, a rarely-found mussel called a fawnsfoot, lives in medium to large rivers such as the St. Croix and Lower Wisconsin Rivers and is an important indicator species for the health of those watery habitats. Under endangered species rules, construction projects in waters where the fawnsfoot is found would have to take steps to avoid harming the mussel such as using erosion and silt control devices. Such measures are already required under DNR stormwater permits, according to agency officials.
As for the species proposed for delisting, studies have shown most of their populations either stable or in some cases already gone from the state, Thiede said. The Bewick's wren, for example, has not been observed breeding in Wisconsin or neighboring states for more than 40 years. Removing such species from the list, according to the DNR plan, will lessen the impact of such regulation on business by no longer requiring inventories or special precautions when building in areas known to be inhabited by the species.