[Federal Register: October 29, 2002 (Volume 67, Number 209)]
[Proposed Rules]               
[Page 65931-65933]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 90-day Finding for 
a Petition To List the Washington Population of the Western Gray 
Squirrel as Threatened or Endangered

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of 90-day petition finding and initiation of status 


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce a 
90-day finding for a petition to list the western gray squirrel 
(Sciurus griseus griseus) in Washington under the Endangered Species 
Act of 1973, as amended. After reviewing the petition and all available 
scientific and commercial information, we find that the petition 
presents substantial information indicating that there may be one or 
more distinct population segments (DPS) of western gray squirrels in 
Washington for which listing may be warranted. With the publication of 
this notice, we are initiating a status review of the western gray 
squirrel subspecies Sciurus griseus griseus in Washington. In addition 
to requesting information on the status of the western gray squirrel in 
Washington, we are requesting information on the subspecies rangewide 
for the purpose of determining if one or more of the Washington 
populations of this subspecies constitutes a DPS, or constitutes a 
significant portion of the range of the subspecies. We will prepare a 
12-month finding on our determination.

DATES: The finding announced in this document was made on October 17, 
2002. To be considered in the 12-month finding for this petition, 
comments and information should be submitted to us by December 30, 

ADDRESSES: Submit information, comments, or questions concerning this 
petition finding to the Manager, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 
Western Washington Fish and Wildlife Office, 510 Desmond Drive SE, 
Suite 102, Lacey, WA 98503. The petition, supporting information, and 
comments are available for public inspection, by appointment, during 
normal business hours at the above address.

section) (telephone 360/753-9440; facsimile 360/753-9518).



    Section 4(b)(3)(A) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as 
amended (Act) (16 U.S.C. 1533(b)(3)(A)), requires us to make a finding 
on whether a petition to list, delist, or reclassify a species presents 
substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the 
petitioned action may be warranted. This finding is to be based on all 
information available to us at the time the finding is made. To the 
maximum extent practicable, this finding is to be made within 90 days 
of the date the petition was received, and a notice of the finding is 
to be published promptly in the Federal Register. If the finding is 
that substantial information was presented, we are required to promptly 
commence a review of the status of the involved species, if one has not 
already been initiated under our internal candidate process. After 
completing the status review, we will issue an additional finding (the 
12-month finding) determining whether listing is, in fact, warranted.
    On January 4, 2001, we received a petition dated December 29, 2000, 
from the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, Bellingham, Washington, and the 
Tahoma Audubon Society, University Place, Washington. The petition and 
cover letter clearly identified itself as such and contained the names, 
addresses, and signatures of the petitioning organizations' 
representatives. Information relating to the taxonomy, the historic and 
present population status and trends, threats, and a discussion of the 
qualifications of the western gray squirrel (Sciurus griseus griseus) 
in Washington as a distinct vertebrate population segment (DPS) were 
included in the petition. The petition requested an emergency rule to 
list the Washington population(s) of the western gray squirrel as 
threatened or endangered under the Act or, as an alternative, the 
immediate emergency listing of just the southern Puget Sound population 
of western gray squirrels followed by a later consideration of the 
``full Washington State distinct population segment under the standard 
processing requirements.'' The petition also requested the designation 
of critical habitat for the western gray squirrel in Washington, 
coincident with the listing.
    In a letter dated March 9, 2001, we acknowledged receipt of the 
petition (Service, in litt., 2001). We stated that we were unable to 
address the petition at that time because we were required to spend 
nearly all of our listing and critical habitat funding for fiscal year 
2001 to comply with court orders and judicially approved settlement 
agreements. We also indicated in our letter that, from our initial 
review of the petition, there was no emergency situation for Washington 
population(s) of the western gray squirrel. The proposed construction 
of the Cross-Base Highway, identified by the petitioners as an imminent 
threat to the Puget Sound population, was not scheduled to be 
constructed for at least 5 years.
    On May 6, 2002, we received a 60-day Notice of Intent to sue from 
the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance and Tahoma Audubon Society 
(plaintiffs) alleging we had violated the Act by failing to make a 
finding on whether the petition to list the Washington population(s) of 
the western gray squirrel presented substantial information indicating 
that listing may be warranted. On July 17, 2002, the plaintiffs filed a 
lawsuit in United States District Court for the District of Oregon to 
compel us to comply with the listing requirements of the Act. We are 
making this 90-day petition finding in accordance with the court's 
order in this case, Northwest Ecosystem Alliance and Tahoma Audubon 
Society v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Badgely, Williams, and 
Norton, No. CV 02-945 (D. OR.).
    The western gray squirrel belongs to the mammalian order Rodentia, 
the suborder Sciurognathi, and the family Sciuridae. There are three 
subspecies of western gray squirrel: Sciurus griseus griseus, which 
ranges from central Washington to the western Sierra Nevada Range in 
central California; Sciurus griseus anthonyi, which ranges from the 
southern tip of the California Coast Range into south-central 
California; and Sciurus griseus nigripes, which ranges from south of 
San Francisco Bay in the central California Coast Range to San Luis 
Obispo County (Hall 1981). Sciurus griseus griseus was described from a 
squirrel seen by Lewis and Clark at the Dalles in Wasco County, Oregon 
(Rodrick 1987).
    The western gray squirrel is the largest native tree squirrel in 
the Pacific Northwest and is the only member of the genus Sciurus 
native to Washington. Two other members of the genus found in 
Washington are introduced species: the eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus 
carolinensis) and the fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) (Washington 
Department of Wildlife (WDW) 1993). Other common names applied to the 
western gray squirrel include the silver gray squirrel, California gray 
squirrel, Oregon gray squirrel, Columbian gray squirrel,

[[Page 65932]]

and gray squirrel (Northwest Ecosystem Alliance and Tahoma Audubon 
Society 2000).
    The historic distribution of the western gray squirrel was once 
widespread throughout Washington, Oregon, California, and in western 
Nevada along the base of the Carson Range and in Washoe County (Linders 
2000). Currently, the species is rare in Nevada. Western gray squirrels 
in California still occur in the interior valley margin of the 
Cascades, Sierra Nevada, Tehachapi, Little San Bernardino, Santa Rosa, 
and Laguna Mountains, and west through the Coast Range to the Pacific 
Coast (Carraway and Verts 1994). In Oregon, the western gray squirrel 
distribution extends along the southwestern foothills of the Coast 
Range northward to Coos Bay, north along the eastern side of the Coast 
Range and along both sides of the Cascades into Washington (Verts and 
Carraway 1998).

Washington Western Gray Squirrel Populations

    Historically, western gray squirrels probably ranged throughout 
western Washington and the Cascades in association with oak 
communities. One hypothesis suggests that the western gray squirrel 
migrated northward into Washington with the spread of Oregon white 
(Garry) oak (Quercus garryana) from the Willamette Valley in Oregon. 
Consequently, the species was more widely distributed in prehistoric 
times and has diminished in recent times along with the decrease in 
distribution of oak woodlands (WDW 1993). Western gray squirrels in 
Washington once ranged from southern Puget Sound south to the Columbia 
River, east along the Columbia River Gorge in the southern Cascades, 
and north along the eastern slopes of the Cascades to Lake Chelan. 
Documentation for western gray squirrels includes records for Whatcom, 
Pierce, Thurston, Grays Harbor, Lewis, Clark, Skamania, Klickitat, 
Yakima, Kittitas, Chelan, and Okanogan counties in Washington (WDW 
1993; Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife 1998). The subspecies' 
range extensions into Chelan and Okanogan counties, beyond the range of 
Oregon white oak, may have resulted from plantings of walnut trees by 
early settlers. The range extension north into Okanogan County occurred 
since 1965 (WDW 1993). Currently, in Washington, only three 
geographically isolated western gray squirrels remain: one in Thurston 
and Pierce counties, one in Klickitat and Yakima counties, and one in 
Chelan and Okanogan counties (Bayrakci 1999; Linders 2000; WDW 1993).

Distinct Vertebrate Population Segment

    We must consider any species for listing under the Act if there is 
sufficient information to indicate such action may be warranted. 
``Species'' is defined by the Act as including any subspecies of fish 
and wildlife or plants, and any distinct population segment of 
vertebrate fish or wildlife which interbreeds when mature (16 U.S.C. 
1532 (16)). We, along with the National Marine Fisheries Service 
(National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-Fisheries), developed 
the Policy Regarding the Recognition of Distinct Vertebrate Population 
Segments (DPS Policy) (61 FR 4722) to help us in determining what 
constitutes a distinct population segment (DPS). Under this policy, we 
use three elements to assess whether a population under consideration 
for listing may be recognized as a DPS: (1) Discreteness of the 
population in relation to the remainder of the species to which it 
belongs; (2) the significance of the population segment to the species 
to which it belongs; and (3) the population segment's conservation 
status in relation to the Act's standards for listing.
    The DPS analysis is a stepwise analysis; significance is considered 
only when discreteness of the population has been determined, and the 
conservation status is considered only when both discreteness and 
significance of the population have been established. Discreteness 
refers to the isolation of a population from other members of the 
species and is based on two criteria: (1) Marked separation from other 
populations of the same taxon resulting from physical, physiological, 
ecological, or behavioral factors, including genetic discontinuity; or 
(2) populations delimited by international boundaries. If the 
population is determined to be discrete, we determine significance by 
assessing the distinct population segment's importance and/or 
contribution to the species throughout its range. Measures of 
significance may include, but are not limited to, the following: (1) 
Persistence of the discrete population segment in an ecological setting 
unusual or unique for the taxon; (2) evidence that loss of the discrete 
population segment would result in a significant gap in the range of 
the taxon; (3) evidence that the discrete population segment represents 
the only surviving natural occurrence of the taxon that may be more 
abundant elsewhere as an introduced population outside its historic 
range; and (4) evidence the discrete population segment differs 
markedly from other populations of the taxon in its genetic 
    If we determine that a population meets the discreteness and 
significance criteria for a distinct population segment, we evaluate 
the threats to determine if endangered or threatened status based on 
the Act's standards is warranted. Endangered means the species is in 
danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its 
range. Threatened means the species is likely to become endangered 
within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion 
of its range.
    In requesting to list the ``Washington population(s)'' of the 
western gray squirrel as threatened or endangered, the petition 
describes three small disjunct populations in Washington that ``are 
separated by a distance of more than 300 km, and western gray squirrels 
are not likely to disperse more than 20 km.'' The degree of isolation 
of the three populations described in the petition suggest that 
individuals from the three populations would not naturally interbreed. 
The petition, however, provides sufficient information on each of the 
three Washington populations to indicate that we should consider 
whether one or more of these populations may meet the criteria for 
listing as a DPS. Threats to some populations of the subspecies include 
habitat modification and destruction due to fire suppression, logging, 
overgrazing, highway construction, and residential development. Other 
threats include fluctuating food supplies, disease, competition, road 
kills, and illegal shooting. The subspecies is listed as threatened by 
the State of Washington.

Emergency Listing and Critical Habitat Designation

    Petitions for emergency listing and concurrent designation of 
critical habitat with the listing action, as requested in the petition 
to list the Washington population(s) of the western gray squirrel, are 
not expressly provided for by the Act. However, we may address the need 
for an emergency rule pursuant to section 4(b)(7) of the Act (16 U.S.C. 
1533(b)(7). In addition, the Act requests us to designate critical 
habitat concurrently with listing a species to the maximum extent 
prudent and determinable (16 U.S.C. 1533(a)(3)(A).
    We may issue an emergency rule to list a species if threats to the 
species constitute an emergency posing significant risk to its 
continued survival. We consider a species for emergency listing when 
the immediacy of the threat is so great to a significant portion of the 
total population that the routine listing

[[Page 65933]]

process is not sufficient to prevent large losses that may result in 
    Upon receipt of the petition, we reviewed the available information 
to determine if the existing and foreseeable threats represented an 
emergency to the western gray squirrel. The petition identified the 
proposed construction of the Cross-Base Highway in Pierce County as 
presenting an imminent and significant threat to the well-being of 
western gray squirrels in south Puget Sound. Consequently, the 
petitioners requested an emergency listing of the Washington 
population(s) of the western gray squirrel or, as an alternative, 
emergency listing the Puget Sound population ``followed by 
consideration of the full Washington State distinct population 
    The currently anticipated schedule for the proposed Cross-Base 
Highway indicates the Record of Decision will not be completed until 
August 2003. There is limited funding available for project development 
beyond the completion of the environmental documentation phase. Before 
construction can begin, the project will require 2 years for 
engineering design and 2 years for right-of-way acquisition. Although 
there will be some overlap in timing, Pierce County anticipates the 
necessary time for completion of the three phases will not be less than 
about 5 years (T.G. Ballard, County Engineer, Pierce County Public 
Works and Utilities, in litt., 2002). Consequently, we have determined 
that the Cross-Base Highway does not present an imminent threat to the 
southern Puget Sound population of western gray squirrels, and an 
emergency listing is not warranted at this time. However, we would 
initiate an emergency listing if, at any time, we determine that an 
emergency listing of a species, including a DPS, is warranted.

Petition Finding

    We have reviewed the petition, the literature cited in the 
petition, and other literature and information available in our files. 
On the basis of the best scientific and commercial information, we find 
the petition presents substantial information that there may be one or 
more distinct population segments of western gray squirrels in 
Washington for which listing may be warranted.
    With the publication of this notice, we are initiating a status 
review of Sciurus griseus griseus to determine whether one or more of 
this subspecies' populations in Washington constitute a DPS, and if so, 
whether listing of such DPS(s) is warranted, not warranted, or 
warranted but precluded by other pending proposals.

Public Information Solicited

    When we make a finding that sufficient information exists to 
indicate that listing a species may be warranted, we are required to 
promptly commence a review of the status of the species. To ensure the 
status review is complete and based on the best available scientific 
and commercial information, we are soliciting information on the 
western gray squirrel throughout the subspecies' (Sciurus griseus 
griseus) range in Washington, Oregon, California, and Nevada. 
Information on the status of the subspecies rangewide will assist us in 
determining if one or more of the Washington populations of western 
gray squirrels meet the distinct vertebrate population segment 
criteria, particularly the significance test, or constitute a 
significant portion of the range.
    We request any additional information, comments, and suggestions 
from the public, governmental agencies, the scientific community, 
industry, and any other interested parties concerning the status of 
this subspecies of western gray squirrel throughout its range in 
Washington, Oregon, California, and Nevada. We are seeking information 
regarding historic and current distribution, habitat use and habitat 
conditions, biology and ecology, ongoing conservation measures for the 
subspecies and its habitat, and threats to the subspecies and its 
habitat. More specifically, for the three Washington populations of the 
western gray squirrel, we request any available information on: (1) The 
genetics of these populations, as they relate to each other and to the 
closest populations in Oregon; (2) the extent to which the two 
populations east of the Cascade Range are discrete from each other; (3) 
current status and trends of each of these populations; (4) the 
presence and status of the subspecies on additional public or private 
lands; (5) identification of current specific threats to each of the 
populations; and (6) any additional information that will support the 
DPS analysis of the significance, as defined in our DPS policy (see 
Distinct Vertebrate Population Segment section above), of each of these 
populations to the subspecies as a whole.
    If you wish to comment, you may submit your comments and materials 
concerning this finding to the Manager, Western Washington Fish and 
Wildlife Office (see ADDRESSES section). Our practice is to make 
comments, including names and home addresses of respondents, available 
for public review during regular office hours. Respondents may request 
that we withhold a respondent's identity, as allowable by law. If you 
wish us to withhold your name or address, you must state this request 
prominently at the beginning of your comment. However, we will not 
consider anonymous comments. To the extent consistent with applicable 
law, we will make all submissions from organizations or businesses, and 
from individuals identifying themselves as representatives or officials 
of organizations or businesses, available for public inspection in 
their entirety. Comments and materials received will be available for 
public inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours at the 
above address.

References Cited

    A complete list of all references cited herein is available upon 
request from the Western Washington Fish and Wildlife Office (see 
ADDRESSES section).


    The primary author of this document is Dr. Karolee Owens, of the 
Western Washington Fish and Wildlife Office (see ADDRESSES above).


    The authority for this action is the Endangered Species Act of 
1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.).

    Dated: October 17, 2002.
Marshall P. Jones Jr.,
Acting Director, Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 02-27297 Filed 10-28-02; 8:45 am]