The Fate of the Washington Ground Squirrel

The Washington ground squirrel’s largest remaining block of habitat is effectively an island of native grasslands and sagebrush steppe in a sea of dryland wheat and irrigated croplands.  The Navy operates a naval weapons training facility in the area, but their activities have been primarily focused on electronic warfare tactics.  The squirrel is listed as endangered under Oregon’s law and has been listed as a candidate species (currently a category 5 priority for listing) under Federal law.

Threats to the squirrel were not considered imminent until a few years ago when the Oregon National Guard proposed building a heavy weapons training on the Navy’s Boardman Bombing Range in the heart of the Washington ground squirrel’s remaining habitat. The proposed facility would offer live-fire training exercises and utilize tanks, artillery, machine guns and ground-launched missiles.  Not only is there a risk of direct loss of squirrels due to ground disturbance, construction activities, and increased road traffic, but also increased threat of wildfire and encroachment of invasive species.  Using live ammunition is likely to result in fires, also increasing the post-fire invasion by cheatgrass and weeds.

The Oregon Military Department issued a Draft Environmental Assessment in 2006 but the training facility has been on hold until recently when the U.S. Navy’s announced their plan to draft an Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed project.  As threats become more imminent, Defenders and other conservation groups close to this issue are preparing scoping comments for the EIS and will work to protect the future of the Washington ground squirrel.

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Gina L. LaRocco is a Conservation Program Associate at Defenders of Wildlife’s Northwest office. Gina is working to develop market-based conservation incentives, with an eye toward improving the ecological and economic benefits of mitigation programs.

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dotWild is the blog of scientists and policy experts at Defenders of Wildlife, a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.