Photo: Kevin Manns/Shutterstock

Five of Oregon's Most Endangered Species and How to Help Them Thrive

Oregon Travel
by Ali Wunderman Nov 1, 2016

OREGON IS A STATE revered for its urban proximity to the outdoors, making it a major destination for travelers interested in experiencing the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. And there is quite a bit to experience, from forests to mountains to the Pacific coast. Despite lacking in endemic creatures, Oregon is extremely active in wildlife conservation, with only 22 species on the endangered species list, and a further 34 considered threatened.

Even so, Oregon is a state of dichotomies, as committed to conservation as they are to maintaining a culture of hunting, which draws its own population of travelers. Fortunately the Department of Fish and Game is vigilant about reducing hunting that strays beyond the declared boundaries, particularly when it comes to the endangered animals that call Oregon home.

Here are five species of concern in Oregon that will hopefully one day move to a list of wild abundance.

Gray Wolf

Photo: Pat Lauzon/Shutterstock

Gray wolves have had a tough time maintaining consistency throughout the United States, being hunted almost to extinction only to be reintroduced and then killed by hunters, despite federal protection. Oregon is home to at least 110 wolves as of 2015, all of which are closely monitored through The Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan run by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, which seeks to decrease conflict between wolves and humans using non-lethal means.

Their livestock-eating ways have never made wolves particularly popular, but their role as apex predators and an indicator species means they must be given extra attention in order to maintain growth. Large rewards are offered to those who can provide information on illegally-hunted wolves, and a shared goal of non-lethal conflict resolution will help keep their numbers returning to a natural normal. Visitors to Oregon can report instances that violate that concept, and of course avoid interactions with wolves at all cost. The best thing for them is to fear humans, not become normalized to them, which could lead to them becoming comfortable around livestock.

Northern Spotted Owl

Photo: Georgia Evans/Shutterstock

It was four years before conservation efforts were made to protect the Northern Spotted Owl after it was declared endangered in 1990. That’s the pace of the government when it comes to conservation, but fortunately it wasn’t too late for this particular species. This medium-sized owl occupies forests from British Columbia to the San Francisco Bay Area, but like many wood-dwelling creatures, suffers predominantly from habitat loss. In an ideal scenario they could nest in any tree of their choosing, but when habitats become smaller, they have to settle for wind-prone nesting sites, and compete for food.

How can the Northern Spotted Owl see its numbers increase in Oregon? Switching to non-timber alternatives goes a long way, as Oregon is home to a huge number of logging sites. Oregon Wildlife is another conservation group that focuses on rebuilding species populations, and donations can be made through their website. Ultimately education is the most powerful tool in helping animals, so when using timber products is inevitable, knowing how ethical the logging process was can help ensure this owl continues to see the light of the moon.

Malone Jumping Slug

A two-inch long slug that can jump: who wouldn’t want to save that? The entire forest ecosystem of the Pacific Northwest, as it turns out. Slugs are essential to the decomposition process that keeps forests in a constant state of recycling, and this particular species is endemic to the region. Their unique name stems from the defense mechanism applied during potentially dangerous situations: they suddenly straighten and fall (or apparently, jump) from wherever they are, disappearing from sight and breaking away from their slime trail.

While not technically threatened, as an endemic species they are incredibly susceptible to even minor changes to their environment. In Oregon, logging and deforestation pose a real threat to all those that dwell among the trees, and without hedging that kind of destruction, the Malone Jumping Slug could quickly become a jumping slug of myth. The Oregon Wildlife Institute is a great organization to support, as they promote conservation through research, and data always helps get the point across.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Photo: Kevin Manns/Shutterstock

Once a common bird throughout the contiguous United States, the Yellow-billed Cuckoo has experienced serious population decline west of the rockies as they lost their streamside habitats. According to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office, this bird has never been particularly common in Oregon to begin with, making conservation efforts especially important. Notable features of this cuckoo include the yellow bill for which it’s named, but behaviorally it often warns of oncoming storms, granting it the nickname “stormcrow.”

There isn’t a tremendous amount of specific conservation for the Yellow-billed Cuckoo, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be preserved. A good way to keep this rare bird from getting any rarer is to participate in birding activities in Oregon, and downloading the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s app eBird in order to record sightings of the birds. This crowdsourced data will ultimately help conservationists determine the bird’s status, plus it’s the real life version of Pokemon Go!

Oregon Giant Earthworm

If a jumping slug wasn’t enough, then the endangered, Oregon-endemic Giant Earthworm will certainly create some competition. This rare worm has only ever been spotted 15 times since its 1937 discovery in the Willamette Valley. They live more than fifteen feet beneath the surface of the earth in permanent burrows, making them elusive to track and study. Plus, they seem to tend towards areas of soil that experience less disturbance from the environment, so unlike other worms, the rain doesn’t draw them out nearly as much.

Which is welcome news to anyone who isn’t interested in seeing a 4-foot-long worm wriggling about in the dirt. Its length is where the Oregon Giant Earthworm gets its name, which is possibly better than the alternative of it being extremely thick. In any case, there is no denying the uniqueness of this Oregon-specific species, and like its fellow endangered creatures, anti-logging efforts will ultimately be their savior. Another problem is competition from other, more typical earthworms, so all conservation efforts to remove them are a great way to support the Giant Earthworm.

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