For Immediate Release, March 24, 2009
Brendan Cummings, Center for Biological Diversity, (760) 366-2232
Whit Sheard, Pacific Environment, (907) 982-7095
Josh Mogerman, NRDC, (312) 651-7909
Yellow-billed Loon Protection Under Endangered Species Act Illegally Delayed
Rare Bird Threatened by Oil Development and
Global Warming in Alaska's Arctic
ANCHORAGE, Alaska— In response to a court-ordered deadline, the Department of the Interior concluded that the yellow-billed loon warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act. However, rather than actually propose a regulation to protect the loon as the law requires, Interior invoked an excuse regularly used by the Bush administration to deny species legal protection, claiming that protecting the loon was somehow “precluded” by higher-priority actions Interior would be taking to protect other species.
The yellow-billed loon, one of the rarest of all North American birds, is threatened by oil development in Alaska and Russia, drowning in fishing nets, overharvest, and the loss of its tundra habitat in the face of global warming.
“Unfortunately, in denying protection to the yellow-billed loon, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has adopted as his own one of the least defensible anti-wildlife policies of the Bush administration,” said Brendan Cummings, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The loon is now trapped in an administrative purgatory where the only escape is extinction.”
With today’s “warranted but precluded” finding, the yellow-billed loon joins 251 other similarly-situated species considered “candidates” for listing. On average, candidate species have been waiting for protection for more than 20 years. Such delays have real consequences, with at least 24 species having gone extinct after being designated candidates for protection.
After finding that protecting a species is “warranted,” Interior can lawfully make a “precluded” finding only if “expeditious progress” is being made in listing other species. In fact, Interior has listed only two domestic species in the past thirty-five months (the polar bear in May 2008 and a critically endangered Hawaiian plant last week), the lowest listing rate in the Endangered Species Act’s history.
“The fact that other species are also in trouble is hardly an excuse for inaction,” said Charles Clusen, director of the Alaska Project of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “Since the Fish and Wildlife Service shares our deep concerns about the survival of the yellow-billed loon, it is time to work to protect this rare species, not look the other way.”
The largest of all loon species, with a wingspan up to five feet, the yellow-billed loon breeds in tundra wetlands in Alaska , Canada, and Russia, and winters along the West Coast as far south as California. The species has a global population of approximately 16,000 individuals, of which about 4,000 breed in Alaska. The majority of yellow-billed loons breeding in Alaska breed in the western Arctic in areas recently opened up to oil and gas development, such as near Teshekpuk Lake and along the Colville River.
In addition to oil leasing in its habitat in Alaska, much of the yellow-billed loon’s habitat in Russia is also subject to rapid and irresponsible oil and gas development.
“From Russia to Alaska, oil development in the Arctic is pushing the yellow-billed loon and other Arctic species ever closer to extinction,” said Whit Sheard, Alaska program director of Pacific Environment. “Further delay in protection is unacceptable.”
Throughout their range, yellow-billed loons are also threatened by changing sea levels, deteriorating ocean conditions and the inundation of low-lying wetlands in the face of global warming. In April 2004, the Center for Biological Diversity, Pacific Environment, NRDC, and Trustees for Alaska, along with several Russian scientific and conservation organizations, filed a formal administrative petition seeking protection of the species. Today’s finding comes in response to a court settlement of a lawsuit filed in December 2007.
A copy of the petition, today’s finding, and other information on the yellow-billed loon can be found at www.biologicaldiversity.org.