Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, October 7, 2020


Stephanie Kurose, (202) 849-8395,

Rare, Elusive Marsh Bird Receives Endangered Species Protections

Eastern Black Rail Vanishing From Freshwater, Coastal Wetlands

WASHINGTON— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that the eastern black rail will receive protection as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

The Center first petitioned to protect the species in 2010. Today’s decision comes after the Center for Biological Diversity and Healthy Gulf sued the Service for its long delay in finalizing protections for this rare bird. Unfortunately, while the Service’s own assessment finds the rail is highly likely to be extinct by 2068, the agency declined to designate needed critical habitat for the bird.

“After a decade of being ignored, these shy, fascinating birds are finally getting some much-needed protections,” said Stephanie Kurose, senior endangered species policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “But federal officials’ refusal to designate critical habitat is a big blow to these little creatures. If the rail is going to have any chance of survival, we must protect the coastal wetlands where it lives from polluting industries, urban sprawl and increasing sea-level rise.”

Eastern black rails once occurred across much of the eastern United States, but the birds have lost major portions of their range and are in steep decline. In some areas the population has declined by more than 90% in less than 25 years.

The primary threat to these rails is the destruction of wetlands by urban and agricultural sprawl. But the birds are also increasingly threatened by sea-level rise along the coast, groundwater withdrawals, more frequent extreme weather events, invasive species and pollution.

“What remains of the eastern black rail’s habitat could be largely underwater by the middle of the century,” said Kurose. “For the rail to stand a fighting chance, the Fish and Wildlife Service needs to use the full powers of the Endangered Species Act. The failure to designate critical habitat gives developers and polluters a free pass to continue destroying rail habitat until there’s nothing left.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service has long struggled to provide timely protection to species. The entire process of listing species and designating critical habitat is supposed to take two to three years. But on average it has taken the Service 12 years, and in many cases decades, to protect species. At least 47 species have gone extinct waiting for protection.

Eastern black rail. Photo by Christy Hand, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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