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(fwd) Cerulean conservation

Forwarded from Derb Carter of the Southern Environmental Law Center

------- Forwarded message follows -------
A coalition of 28 national, regional and local conservation organizations 
notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) today that the agency 
has violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to respond 
appropriately to the coalition's petition to list the Cerulean Warbler as 
a threatened species.  The groups, including the National Audubon 
Society, say the agency has failed to initiate the steps required under 
the law to respond to the petition filed in October 2000. The Act 
requires that before filing a lawsuit, citizens must give the agency 60 
days notice, which the coalition did in a letter sent today.  

The Cerulean Warbler is one of the fastest disappearing songbirds in the 
country.  The bird, known for its brilliant blue plumage and distinctive 
song, has declined an average of 4% a year throughout its eastern U.S. 
range, for a total loss of 70% over the last three decades.  Experts 
attribute this dramatic decline to the destruction and fragmentation of 
large native forests in the U.S., which the Cerulean needs to reproduce 
in the summer, and deforestation in the Andean mountains of South 
America, where it spends the winter.  In the U.S., the Cerulean's decline 
has been the worst in the core of its range in the Southeast and Midwest, 
where its population has plummeted by about 80%.

"If the Fish and Wildlife Service would do what it is supposed to do 
under the law, we would be moving forward toward listing this songbird 
and protecting the forests it needs to survive," said Doug Ruley, an 
attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents the 

"We are in real danger of losing this spectacular songbird forever," said 
Lois Schiffer, a senior vice-president of Audubon. "The Fish & Wildlife 
Service needs to act immediately so our children can hear its special 
song and see the bright blue color of this unique bird." 

Under the Endangered Species Act, the FWS is required to (1) determine 
within 90 days whether the citizens' petition presented substantial 
information indicating that the listing may be warranted, (2) if so, 
conduct a status review of the species, and (3) make a final 
determination concerning the listing within 12 months of the petition. 
The FWS has taken none of these steps since the conservation groups filed 
their petition to list the Cerulean.  

Ruley said the coalition did not take legal action sooner because the FWS 
undertook an informal consideration of the Cerulean's status that could 
have led to a listing decision.  However, in a letter dated December 21, 
2001, the FWS told the coalition that it would not proceed with a formal 
review process at this time.  

"For too long, FWS has shirked its duty to protect America's endangered 
wildlife. Our aim is to propel this bureaucratic juggernaut toward 
positive action," said Marty Bergoffen, an attorney with the Southern 
Appalachian Biodiversity Project, one of the petitioners.

The FWS letter questioned the use of Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) data to 
determine the extent of the Cerulean's decline, even though the BBS has 
been widely recognized for many years as the primary source for 
determining avian population trends.  In the Cerulean's case, the BBS 
data is confirmed by multiple independent sources that indicate a drastic 
decline in populations, especially in the core of the bird's range.  The 
FWS also claimed that it lacked information about threats to the bird, 
even though the FWS is directly involved in studies of destructive 
activities, such as mountaintop removal mining, in several of the 
remaining forests that retain concentrations of this songbird.  

"They're playing Catch 22 with the Cerulean," said Ruley.  "We know this 
songbird has declined precipitously, that we've lost much of its forest 
habitat here and in South America, and that the remaining forests face 
significant threats. To the extent more information would be helpful, a 
listing is the best way to insure that the needed research occurs." 

The FWS letter indicated the agency will seek funding in FY2002 to 
prepare a 90-day finding and, based on the outcome, the full status 
review as required under the Act.  However, "moving forward as required 
under the law should be a certainty, not a maybe," said Ruley.       
"Protection under the Endangered Species Act is the Cerulean's best 
chance to survive," added Schiffer.   

If the FWS does not meet the terms of the Act as outlined in the notice 
filed by the groups today, the coalition may go to court after 60 days to 
enforce the law.  Joining the National Audubon Society in seeking 
protection for the Cerulean Warbler are the Sierra Club, the Wilderness 
Society, Defenders of Wildlife, and 24 local, state and regional 
conservation groups from 15 states.

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Charles W. "Will" Cook                  w 919-660-7423
http://www.duke.edu/~cwcook            cwcook@duke.edu
Biology Dept., Duke Univ., Box 90340, Durham, NC 27708