NEW BERN — N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission employees were crisscrossing the state for much of last week, trying to receive feedback on proposed changes to the state’s protected animal list. 

The proposed changes would add 14 species to the state’s protected animals list, remove seven, and change the classifications of 16 others. An endangered species is, according to the commission, one that could feasibly become extinct. A threatened species is one whose existence could become endangered in all or part of its traditional habitat in North Carolina, while a species listed as special concern merits further monitoring. 

Biologists and researchers use the list to craft conservation projects and apply for grants in an effort to improve the species’ numbers. The N.C. Wildlife Federation is among the organizations that have provided feedback on the proposed list, writing in a letter that the list is “thoughtfully assembled.” 

“Citizens of North Carolina should care about the health and viability of these species because they are truly an indicator of the health of the larger ecosystem in which they live and in which all of us live,” said David Knight, a Wildlife Federation policy analyst. “So if they are not healthy, if they are not thriving, then it tends to show that the rest of the animal worlds and humanity is not thriving in that ecosystem.” 

Knight added that the wildlife federation worked closely with the wildlife resources commission and was confident in the science behind their classifications. 

The common tern, for instance, would be shifted from the special concern to the endangered list, while the green salamander would be shifted the other way, moving from the endangered category to threatened. 

The Roanoke slabshell, a mussel that is found in river basins ranging from the Neuse to the Tar to the Roanoke, is indicative of how the protected species lists can be used, said Todd Ewing, the supervisor of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s aquatic wildlife diversity program. 

After it showed signs of decline in recent years, researchers are beginning to find the freshwater mussel, one of North Carolina’s largest at about 150 mm, in more locations. 

Much of that recovery, Ewing said, is a result of fish passage projects conducted by the commission and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to return natural species above dams and culverts. Some of those species -- particularly American shad and American eels -- are hosts for the Roanoke slabshell. 

“Now that the fish is getting back into this area,” Ewing said, “the mussel is able to reproduce better. 

Shannon Deaton, the chief of the resource commission’s habitat conservation division, said feedback at public meetings in Raleigh and New Bern had been somewhat sparse, but mostly supportive so far. 

“They were more willing to show support for uplistings,” Deaton said, meaning those proposals that would grant species more protections. 

Anyone wishing to submit feedback on the proposed changes may email their comments to regulations@ncwildlife.org, but must include their name, phone number and mailing address in the email. 

The Wildlife Resources Commission will accept comments until May 15. They will then be used to craft a final decision during the commission’s July 27 meeting, with all changes effective Oct. 1.

 

Reporter Adam Wagner can be reached at 910-343-2389 or Adam.Wagner@GateHouseMedia.com.