Plan to Protect More than Game Species

$6.8 million in federal funds intended in part to prevent rare species from becoming endangered

Marsha Herbst / Juneau Empire / December 4, 2003

The state regulates the conservation of wildlife species that are hunted and fished, but doesn't have conservation plans to cover non-game animals. That will change when the state Department of Fish and Game develops a non-game wildlife conservation plan - Alaska's end of a bargain with the federal government that has poured $6.8 million into state coffers in the last three years.

The money comes from the federal State Wildlife Grant program, signed into law in fiscal year 2002. It is intended in part to help state agencies keep rare species from becoming endangered and keep common species common, said Mary Rabe, the non-game program coordinator and an employee of Fish and Game's Division of Wildlife Conservation.

"There can be lots of pieces to it. The idea was to put together a plan that would be kind of proactive in terms of looking at how to conserve fish and wildlife species," Rabe said. "The planning we're doing is sort of a parallel process to what the department already does for many of the species that we already hunt, trap and fish."

The plan is in the early development stages with a grant-stipulated deadline of October 2005.

The agency is gathering comments and developing criteria for target species, Rabe said. Atentative list of target species includes 125 bird species, 32 fish species, 24 mammal species, six amphibian species and four reptile species.

Rabe said the state planners want to focus on the many rare species in the state that haven't been well studied.

"We're hoping to identify those in the plan, and that's what we'd use our state wildlife grant funding for - to look at species in more detail, look at basic information like where they occur, how many do we have," she said.

Keith Boggs, manager of the Alaska Natural Heritage Program at the University of Alaska Anchorage, said his program is interested in placing any information gathered on those species into a database.

"Our goal is to avoid having to list species on the endangered species list. So when a development goes through - let's say a road or a new oil field or a new housing development - quite often they contact our program to find out where species of concern occur. If the road is to go over one of those locations, they move the road to avoid going over where these species occur," Boggs said.

One species that needs more study is the wood frog, Rana sylvatica, Rabe said. Amphibians aren't common in Alaska, and wildlife researchers don't know exactly where the wood frog occurs or what its natural habitat is. Rabe said Alaska is lacking a lot of information on uncommon species simply because the state is so large.

"It makes it very hard to talk about management when you're just lacking that basic information," she said.

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