Both the federal Fish and Wildlife Service and the State of Oregon’s Fish and Wildlife Service classify species in danger of going extinct as “threatened” or “endangered.” They also catalogue many less-critically endangered life forms, as well as ones they have concerns about for which not enough is known.
The agencies’ lists include mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish, invertebrates and plants.
“It is possible that there will be extinctions in our lifetime,” says Dr. Mary Santelmann, Director of the Water Resources Graduate Program at Oregon State University, about the species categorized as at risk in the Willamette Valley.
Threatened and endangered species reside in every county in Oregon, Fish and Wildlife says.
Threatened birds of both Polk and Marion counties include Bald eagles and Northern Spotted Owls. Chinook salmon and Steelhead living in the Willamette River of both counties are also threatened. Both are also the home of the Fender’s blue butterfly – now an endangered species.
“There have been many extinction events during the long history of the Earth,” says Santelmann, “and many scientists see the current time period as having the potential to be another great extinction event.”
The Oregon giant earthworm, which can reach lengths of more than 3 feet, is only found in our state, particularly in the Willamette Valley. Listed as only a “species of concern” by Fish and Wildlife, the worm has not been sighted in years, and is feared extinct.
Nine mammals and nine birds are also deemed “species of concern” in Marion County, Fish and Wildlife says, while, in Polk County, nine mammals and eight birds are “species of concern.”
The survival of these and more depends, Dr. Santelmann says, on “what people will do, how they will manage land in the Willamette Valley, the response of the organisms to future change and what will happen globally to drivers of change such as CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere.”
Oregon Explorer, a natural Resources digital library provided by OSU online, lists threatened and endangered species in Oregon. Because many groups have not been studied or closely followed, many more may be at risk than are listed there.
Much will depend on the decisions made by people, Santelmann says. “We can make choices that would make extinctions less likely, and other choices that make extinctions more likely.”