(Washington, D.C., July 19, 2018) The U.S. Department of the Interior is proposing new rules to implement for the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that will make it more difficult to recover Threatened and Endangered birds.
“These rules put species listed as ‘Threatened,’ rather than the more dire category of ‘Endangered,’ at greater risk of endangerment by eliminating the blanket protection known as the 4d rule,” said Steve Holmer of American Bird Conservancy. “Under these changes, birds newly listed as Threatened could legally be killed or harmed. The changes would also make it more difficult to list species that the best science indicates should be listed, and to conserve and restore habitat, due to the weakening of Sec. 7 consultation for management of federal lands.
“Several bird species listed as Threatened under the ESA — the Marbled Murrelet and Northern Spotted Owl in particular — likely owe their current existence to the ESA’s blanket 4d rule against take and the interagency cooperation mandated by Sec. 7,” continued Holmer.
One of the proposed changes is to adopt the 4d rule process currently used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for marine species. Instead of providing blanket protection for species newly listed as Threatened, NOAA puts 4d rules in place as threats arise, leading to delays in conservation action.
For example, because the Hawaiian monk seal is listed as Endangered, NOAA is addressing the emerging threat of the disease toxoplasmosis on the seal. “If the monk seal were listed as a Threatened species instead of Endangered under the ESA, it would require additional protection from toxoplasmosis in the form of new 4-d rule,” said Holmer. “The overall effect could be substantially delayed protection and an increased risk of further population losses.”
Seventy-eight percent of mainland birds listed as Threatened or Endangered under the ESA have populations that are now stable, increasing, or have recovered enough to be delisted, according to a 2016 report published by American Bird Conservancy. The Endangered Species Act: A Record of Success analyzed population trends and recovery success for all U.S. listed birds, including those in the Hawaiian Islands and U.S. territories where the recovery success rate is lower due to the high number of threats.
“Added funding could help continue the upward trend of 41 listed U.S. bird populations and make their eventual recovery possible,” said Holmer. “Black-capped Vireo was recently delisted, and Kirtland’s Warbler and Nene (Hawaiian Goose) are on their way toward delisting due to successful conservation. We are supportive of these delistings provided that adequate conservation measures are assured moving forward.”
A proposed definition change to the ESA would make it easier to eliminate critical habitat, because any loss would have to be considered “as a whole.”
“Critical habitat is essential for maintaining and recovering species, but this change would allow the loss of habitat to occur drip by drip,” Holmer said. “Eventually there could be little critical habitat left.”
Another change could undermine the listing process by allowing for misleading economic analysis to be included in the listing rule, potentially inviting political interference. The benefits of wildlife conservation, which provide billions of dollars to the economy, are undervalued or not even included in these analyses.
“Maintaining the existing science-based listing process is crucial to conserve declining bird populations,” said Holmer. “Just this decade, seven new populations of birds were listed. If slanted economic analysis were included, it is likely that some of these species — such as the Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Red Knot, and Gunnison Sage-Grouse — may not have been granted ESA protection due to political interference. American Bird Conservancy is urging that the existing science-based listing process be retained.”
A 60-day comment period has been set for these proposed changes. Submit comments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Photo: Changes to the ESA may reduce protections for birds such as Red Knots. Photo by Ray Hennessy/Shutterstock
American Bird Conservancy is dedicated to conserving birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@abcbirds1).