After precipitous declines over the previous century, some of the iconic wildlife populations of the Pacific Northwest have notched tentative gains in recent years. That’s according to a new report by Sightline Institute’s Cascadia Scorecard—a regional progress report on sustainability in the region.

Yet the news is not all good. Even though 2009 proved to be the best year since 1980 for Sightline’s wildlife index, the key populations tracked by the Scorecard remain at just a fraction of their historic abundance.

Sightline’s index measures five wildlife populations around the region. Recent population trends spelled good news for the southern resident orcas, the chinook salmon that return to the Lower Columbia in spring and summer, and the growing population of wolves in Montana and Idaho. But those gains were offset by a decline in the Selkirk caribou herd, and a troubling fall in Oregon’s greater sage-grouse.

“There’s some good news in recent trends,” said Clark Williams-Derry, research director for Sightline. “We’ve made strides in protecting our natural heritage, but we still have a lot of work to do.”

The report provides a look at how each species has fared in the last decades, and what the future may look like.

In 2009 the EPA decided against listing the sage-grouse as an endangered species—despite a steep decline in 2008. Chinook salmon in the Lower Columbia remain at just a small fraction of their historic levels, and runs vary widely from year to year. And because orcas depend on salmon for food, both species remain in peril.

Meanwhile, wolves continue to spread in the northern Rocky Mountains, despite the first recreational hunts in Montana and Idaho. Soon, they could come into conflict with the perilously-low caribou population that maintains a toe-hold south of the 49th parallel.

Read the full report here (PDF).

About the Cascadia Scorecard: Sightline monitors five species that give a glimpse into the state of wildlife and habitat in the Northwest. These species make up the wildlife indicator of the Cascadia Scorecard project, a regional progress report of key sustainability trends for the region. In addition to wildlife, the Scorecard measures sustainability in the Northwest with indexes on health, population, economy, sprawl, energy, and pollution.

Learn more about the Cascadia Scorecard.

June 24, 2010