The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) assembled a Special Animals List that compiles 930 taxa, including information on their level of risk. All animals tracked by the CDFW’s California Natural Diversity Database are considered “special animals.” Special animals also include those that are listed under the national Endangered Species Act, the California Endangered Species Act, or considered a Species of Special Concern by the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Each of these animals has its own category for each list― as well as a global ranking, developed collaboratively with other states, and a state ranking, determined by state programs.
For the plants and animals of Griffith Park, perhaps the most prominent list is the California Endangered Species Act (CESA), which offers several listing codes and protects around 250 species. Plants and animals under CESA are protected by the state government: hunting, killing, purchasing or capturing are all prohibited for species listed as endangered or threatened― so their designation directly impacts their future.
State-listed as Endangered (SE): species that are listed as endangered are under serious danger of becoming extinct in all or the majority of their habitat. Several potential causes of extinction are listed, including habitat loss, disease and predation. In Griffith Park, the evergreen flowering shrub Nevin’s barberry (Berberis nevinii) is listed on the CESA as endangered. The predominant threat facing this plant: encroaching development onto its habitat, making biodiversity hotspots like Griffith Park essential to its survival.
State-listed as Threatened (ST): species listed as threatened are not facing a pressing danger of becoming extinct, but are likely to become listed as endangered in the near future. Their situations are exacerbated by a lack of protection efforts. Before 1984, this title was designated “rare.” Although not found in Griffith Park, the Mohave ground squirrel (Xerospermophilus mohavensis) is a state-listed threatened species. The diurnal rodent is endemic to the western Mojave Desert.
Candidate species (SCE, SCT): species that are being formally considered, via a CDFW-created status report, to be listed as endangered or threatened are designated candidate species. Plants or animals that are considered candidate species are awarded the same protections as those already under endangered or threatened state lists. The Crotch bumble bee (Bombus crotchii), threatened by climate change, development and pesticides, is a state-listed candidate endangered species. They have been spotted several times in Griffith Park!
The federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) follows similar categorizations. However, their rankings focus on specific species on a broader, national scale, meaning some species are ranked differently and those listed on ESA are federally protected. Nevin’s barberry (Berberis nevinii) is listed on both acts as endangered, so it is protected in both its state and country.
Beyond the California Endangered Species Act and Endangered Species Act, there are global and state ranks that you likely won’t come across unless reviewing the Special Animals List is a personal hobby. G1 or S1 are the highest category: species that fall under this ranking are at an extremely high risk of extinction. The numbers progress to G5 or S5, including species that are widespread and secure.
For the flora of the state, the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) categories plant species under six rankings, organized numerically. The California Rare Plant Rank 1A is for plants assumed extinct, while Rank 4 is considered a watchlist for more uncommon plants. Additionally, each rank is accompanied with one of three threat ranks: 0.1 (seriously threatened), 0.2 (somewhat threatened), or 0.3 (not very threatened). The Humboldt lily (Lilium humboldtii) of Griffith Park, a yellow-orange flower with maroon splotches, is listed on CNPS as 4.2―on the watchlist, and moderately threatened. The Southern California black walnut (Juglans californica) is also found in Griffith Park and ranked as a 4.2.
Even if the rankings can seem confusing at times, the impact of lists such as CESA is necessary. For the essential species in our state and park that are on the brink of extinction, their protection under CESA is essential to their survival.
~Aoife O’Connell, FoGP Member
Photo: Gerry Hans