PROVIDENCE – Over the course of the last year, many of our state's highly respected natural resource and wildlife specialists worked diligently to determine the Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) in Rhode Island. This list identifies those wildlife species that are in decline or vulnerable with the hope of providing conservation before they become endangered. The intent is to keep common species common and reverse and recover the declining populations. Using these sensitive fish and wildlife species as indicators of the overall health of our state's environment, along with the updated Wildlife Action Plan (WAP), we can help protect the land, air and water that keep Rhode Islanders healthy for future generations. Thanks to the additional input from the Scientific Review Team, a diverse group of 125 conservationists (individuals and organizations), the final list for Rhode Island's 2015 WAP is confirmed!
With this SGCN list of fish and wildlife, as well as information concerning habitat and conservation threats, the WAP for 2015 is well on its way to being updated. A total of 456 species are on the SGCN list and represent each of the major taxonomic classifications including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and invertebrates.
SGCN Mammals of Rhode Island
Of the 22 mammal species on the SGCN list, almost half are bats. White Nose Syndrome, an emerging disease that is usually fatal to its host, has devastated New England's bat populations. Recognizing these nine vulnerable bat species and this serious threat will help in the planning and protection of these animals in order to prevent further declines in their populations.
Five mammal species are marine mammals, including three large whales that use our coast. Several vulnerable small mammals rely on wetlands and emphasize the importance of working towards improved water quality on the land around our ponds, rivers and streams that eventually feed into the Narragansett Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
SGCN Birds of Rhode Island
Almost one-third of the approximate 416 species of birds that occur in Rhode Island are considered SGCN and in need of conservation attention. This figure is fairly consistent with nation-wide estimates, as almost half of shorebirds and 64% of shrubland birds, like the yellow-breasted chat, are exhibiting population declines. Long-term declines have resulted in state, regional, and national programs to measure and track bird populations to investigate and address these declines. New data from these monitoring programs, coupled with advances in mapping, give promise for continued improvements in management and conservation of these inspirational winged creatures. They are our "canaries in the coal mine" and tell us a lot about the declining condition of the habitats both they and humans face.
SGCN Reptiles and Amphibians (Herptofauna) of Rhode Island
Rhode Island hosts a total of 45 species of reptiles and amphibians. Their sensitive habitat needs often include healthy aquatic environments, so it is no surprise that over half of Rhode Island's herptofauna (23 species) are listed as Rhode Island SGCN. Four of the reptiles are federally protected sea turtles. Species like the marbled salamander rarely enter water, but require damp, undisturbed forests floors in order to survive.
SGCN Fish of Rhode Island
Maintaining healthy waters is of prime importance in Rhode Island, with more than 400 miles of coastline, 50 lakes and ponds, and 60 rivers. The 45 fish species listed as SGCN help Rhode Island focus on maintaining and improving these treasured waters for future generations. Many of the fish listed as SGCN are anadromous, meaning that they are born in fresh water, live most of their life in the sea, and return to freshwater to spawn. The American eel is catadromous and does the opposite during its life span which can exceed 50 years! As these fish are dependent upon multiple habitat types for their longevity and face perils and barriers such as dams and pollution, the WAP will recommend actions for improving their ability to thrive and provide clean water for both fish and humans in Rhode Island waters.
SGCN Invertebrates of Rhode Island
Invertebrates represent over half of the wildlife considered SGCN in Rhode Island, with 240 species listed. Ranging from tiny terrestrial insects to a wide variety of aquatic mussels, invertebrates provide the base of Rhode Island's natural food chains, and so are especially important as indicators for over all ecosystem health. From the elegant dragonflies and butterflies to the seldom seen burying and tiger beetles, these insects perform valuable functions in Rhode Island, from crop pollination to filtering water and recycling of nutrients to our forests and grasslands.
Updates on the 2015 WAP along with new species information are being posted as they are developed online at www.dem.ri.gov/programs/bnatres/fishwild/swap15.htm. Please take a moment to visit our website and take a short survey to tell us what you would like to see included in Rhode Island's Wildlife Action Plan revision. Suggestions can also be sent to RIwildlifeactionplan@yahoo.com.