Ranking species according to their risk of extinction is an important exercise that helps to prioritize which species most urgently require conservation action to prevent extinction. Several ranking systems are used in Vermont. Some consider species status at a statewide scale, while others consider the global status of species. Scientists at the Vermont Center for Ecostudies are often involved in conducting these detailed species status assessments. For many species, VAL holds the best, and often only, data available to help make status recommendations.
The Red List of Threatened Species
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) was founded in 1948 as the world’s first global environmental organization. A major aspect of their work is assessing the conservation status of different species and assigning rankings to help prioritize conservation actions. The IUCN Species Survival Commission manages this work, and the rankings are published in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, an internationally recognized system for evaluating conservation status. The list aims to help prioritize the species that most urgently need conserving and to provide a global biodiversity index. The process of assigning rankings is very thorough and based on scientific evidence. Thousands of scientists around the world, including VAL scientists, are involved in IUCN rankings.
Several species that have been recorded in Vermont are either critically endangered (n = 7) or endangered (n = 15) globally. Nearly 80 other species are ranked either near threatened (n = 37) or vulnerable (n = 37) by the IUCN. The vast majority of insect species either have not yet been evaluated by the IUCN or fall into the data-deficient rank, indicating that there are not enough data for those species to be assigned a global rank. Most species that occur in Vermont have a global rank of Least Concern; however, some species of Least Concern globally are relatively rare or declining in our region.
NatureServe Conservation Status Ranks
NatureServe conservation status ranks are a part of an international ranking system first developed by The Nature Conservancy and now managed by NatureServe. This system is used by Natural Heritage programs in all 50 states, by the 8 Canadian Conservation Data Centres, and by other international partners. NatureServe, Network Programs, and collaborators like VAL use a rigorous, consistent, and transparent methodology to assess the conservation status (extinction or extirpation risk) of species. The Vermont Natural Heritage Inventory, part of the Wildlife Diversity Program at the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, gathers data and assigns Conservation Status Ranks (S-ranks) at the subnational or state level, in cooperation with partners like VAL. Assigning a Conservation Status Rank to a species requires scoring it along 10 conservation status factors, then weighting and pooling the scores into an overall score, which is then translated into a calculated rank, ranging from S1 (very rare/critically imperiled in the state) to S5 (common and widespread/secure). To learn more about NatureServe ranking, visit NatureServe Conservation Status Assessments: Methodology for Assigning Ranks.
Assigning S-ranks to species requires a considerable amount of primary biodiversity data. Sufficient data are available to assign S-ranks to 3,390 species in Vermont, mostly plants, reptiles, amphibians, and birds; however, some species—even entire taxonomic groups—currently lack Vermont S-ranks due to data deficiencies. By crowdsourcing and vetting primary biodiversity data, VAL is helping to solve this dilemma for invertebrates and other under-surveyed groups.
Species of Greatest Conservation Need
Congress created the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants Program (SWG) in 2001. To receive SWG funds, each entity is required to develop a Wildlife Action Plan (WAP). The first Vermont WAP was completed in 2005. The goal of both the State Wildlife Grants program and the Action Plan is to prevent wildlife from becoming endangered through early, strategic efforts to conserve wildlife and habitat. SWG provides funding and the Action Plan provides strategic guidance. SWG is now the nation’s core program for preventing endangered species listings. Each Wildlife Action Plan is required to be updated every 10 years. The next update for Vermont will be in 2025. Wildlife Action Plans are centered on the identification and conservation of Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN). In Vermont, six taxonomic teams, with expertise in amphibians and reptiles, birds, fish, invertebrates, mammals and plants assessed the status of native species using criteria such as rarity, population trends, threats by invasive species, disease, and habitat loss, fragmentation, or change. Additionally, a regional group assessed and assigned some species as Regional Species of Greatest Conservation Need in the Northeast. Learn more about the Vermont Wildlife Action Plan.
State and Federal Threatened and Endangered Species
The federal Endangered Species Act of 1973 provides for the identification, listing, and protection of both threatened and endangered species and their habitats. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the law was designed to prevent the extinction of vulnerable plant and animal species through the development of recovery plans and the protection of critical habitats. Vermont’s Endangered Species Law was established in 1981. The statutes cover the process of listing a species as Threatened or Endangered and designating their critical habitat within the state. It establishes the Vermont Endangered Species Committee (ESC) as well as its members' advisory roles. The ESC also created state advisory groups of regional experts (Plants, Invertebrates, Reptiles and Amphibians, Mammals, Birds, Fungi, Bryophytes). All federally listed species occurring in Vermont are also automatically listed by the state law.