Species of Greatest Conservation Need

Mar 01, 2015

New York State has issued a revised list of “Species of Greatest Conservation Need.” The development of this list comes from the State Wildlife Grants Program which is funded by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and is oriented towards non-game species. The goal is to prevent fish and wildlife species from becoming endangered. However, this list also includes endangered, threatened, and special concern wildlife species plus a large number of species that have no current designation as being rare. This list has been developed for the State-wide Action Plan.

The list consists of three categories which are high priority Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN), Species of Greatest Conservation Need, and Species of Potential Conservation Need. High priority SGCN are those species whose “status is known” and “conservation action is urgent in the next ten years” These species are “declining” and must receive timely management intervention or they are likely to reach critical population levels in New York. 


Species of Greatest Conservation Need have a known status and conservation action is essential. These species are expected to experience significant declines over the next ten years and will need management intervention to secure their populations.


Species of Potential Conservation Need have poorly known trends in abundance and distribution. But there is an identified threat to the species or the species has a high level of intrinsic vulnerability. Further research and surveys are needed to determine their natural population status. The Species of Potential Conservation Need, are not Species of Greatest Conservation Need but actions for their conservation will be identified.

In examining this list, there are many species which only spend a small portion of their life cycle in New York State. For example, the “little gull” is a gull species which breeds in Eurasia. This species was first noted in New York State in 1982 and only spends a limited portion of its life cycle in New York. Its total population in New York State is probably less than 10 birds in any one year.

In contrast to the little gull, the yellow-breasted chat does breed in New York. As indicated in the Second Breeding Bird Atlas, the yellow-breasted chat “has stable and increasing populations in the core of its range in the south and west.” The yellow-breasted chat prefers dense second growth thickets and brush. “Because of the ephemeral nature of its preferred habitat” and the “population at the edges of its range” its decline should not be surprising (From The Second Breeding Bird Atlas of New York, McGowan et al. 2007.)


Cape May WarblerAnother bird species listed is the Cape May warbler. The Cape May warbler is a bird found breeding in spruce-fir forests of the Adirondacks. During two New York Breeding Bird Atlas periods, it occupied 18 Atlas blocks in the 1985 census and 14 Atlas blocks in the 2005 census. This bird’s population is closely tied to spruce budworm outbreaks. The spruce budworm has periodic outbreaks which lead to large-scale decline of spruce-fir trees. What conservation measures would be needed to benefit the Cape May Warbler?


It is difficult to determine what active management will be proposed by the NYSDEC. In addition to bird species, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, mollusks, and insects are included in this list. What measures will the state implement? How can the NYSDEC implement conservation measures for 372 species? In reviewing the previous statewide Action Plan from 2005, it is difficult to determine what, if any, conservation measures were implemented for the vast majority of the species listed.


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