Conservation Group Sues to Protect Farallon Islands Bird
A conservation group sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in federal court in San Francisco today for delaying a decision on whether to protect a rare seabird that inhabits the Farallon Islands.
The lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity says the service missed an Oct. 16 deadline for deciding whether the ashy storm petrel should be listed as threatened or endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
The suit says the bird is in danger of extinction as a result of global warming and ocean pollution. It charges that the service's delay "deprives the species of statutory protection vitally necessary to its survival."
The lawsuit asks the U.S. District Court to order Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to make a determination "forthwith" on whether a listing is warranted. The Interior Department is the wildlife service's parent agency.
The ashy storm petrel, a small, ash-colored relative of the albatross, inhabits California coastal islands, including the Farallones 27 miles off the San Francisco coast. It nests in rocky crevices and forages at night for small fish and plankton on the ocean surface.
Center biologist Shaye Wolf said the bird's numbers have fallen to about 5,400 breeding individuals worldwide and that about half of them nest in the Farallones. The second largest colony inhabits the Channel Islands off the Santa Barbara coast.
The lawsuit says the petrel has been harmed by global warming, ocean pollution, ocean acidification, and nighttime light from commercial fishing vessels and offshore oil and gas platforms.
Wolf said, "The ashy storm petrel is a barometer of the health of California's coast waters.
"The declines in its numbers and breeding success are indicative of the increasing stress to the coastal ocean from global warming, pollution and development," Wolf said.
Erica Szlosek, a spokeswoman for the wildlife service's Pacific Southwest Region, said the agency could not comment on a pending lawsuit.
When a species is listed as threatened for endangered, the Endangered Species Act provides protections by prohibiting federal agencies from taking actions that could harm it and barring individuals and businesses from killing members of the species without a permit.
The Oct. 16 deadline for the interior secretary to decide whether a listing was warranted for the petrel was triggered when the Center for Biological Diversity, based in Tucson, Ariz., submitted a listing petition on Oct. 16, 2007.
Under the law, if the secretary decides after 12 months of study that a listing is warranted, a public notice is published, the public is given an opportunity to comment and the secretary must make a final decision within a year.
© MMIX, CBS Broadcasting Inc.
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