Deal with conservation group may help speed listing decision
By Bob Berwyn
FRISCO — Conservation advocates say a rare Atlantic seabird has moved one step closer to gaining endangered species protection under a settlement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity gives the federal agency until Sept. 2018 tod decide whether the black-capped petrel — once thought to be extinct — will be protected under the Endangered Species Act. The agreement follows a lawsuit filed by the Center this summer.
“Black-capped petrels need Endangered Species Act protection, particularly given new offshore oil exploration in the Atlantic,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center. “Petrels have a deadly attraction to oily surfaces, so this long-overdue determination could come just in time to prevent their extinction.”
These cliff-dwelling seabirds forage off the Atlantic Coast from North Carolina to Florida. With only a few breeding colonies in the Caribbean, WildEarth Guardians submitted a petition to protect the black-capped petrel in 2011. After the USFWS failed to meet its legal deadline for responding to the petition, environmental advocates went to court.
“This settlement is an important first step, but now we need the Service to recognize that blacked-capped petrels deserve full protection under the Endangered Species Act. That’s especially important given the rush to drill for oil offshore in the Atlantic, which puts the petrel and hundreds of other species at risk of a Deepwater Horizon-type disaster,” said Lopez.
There are only 13 known petrel breeding colonies in Haiti and the Dominican Republic and fewer than 2,000 breeding pairs. The petrel is considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the international authority on endangered species. The birds are threatened by the destruction of breeding habitat through deforestation, as well as oil and gas development.
President Obama recently opened the Atlantic Coast to seismic exploration activities for oil and gas, and the Department of the Interior is reviewing 10 applications for permits. The administration has also proposed a plan to offer an area off the mid-Atlantic for drilling in its five-year plan for offshore oil leases. These industrial activities threaten the petrel and its habitat.
The black-capped petrel is one of 10 species from across the country that now have binding deadlines for the Fish and Wildlife Service to issue final protection decisions. The other species include the Mohave shoulderband snail, which is threatened by an open-pit gold mine in California; the western glacier stonefly, which is threatened by the disappearance of glaciers in Glacier National Park; and seven freshwater species from the Southeast, including one mussel —the yellow lance — and six imperiled fish: candy darter, trispot darter, ashy darter, longhead darter, sickle darter and frecklebelly madtom, all threatened by water pollution.