For Immediate Release, March 31, 2008
Contact: Shaye Wolf, (415) 436-9682 x 301 or (415) 385-5746 (mobile)
Government Misses Endangered Species Act
Deadline for Declining California Seabird
Conservation Group Initiates Legal Process to Enforce Deadline
SAN FRANCISCO— Today the Center for Biological Diversity notified the Fish and Wildlife Service of its intent to file suit against the agency for missing the first deadline in the Endangered Species Act listing process for the ashy storm-petrel, a California seabird imperiled by development and global warming.
“The ashy storm-petrel is a barometer of the health of California’s coastal waters, and the outlook is not good,” said Dr. Shaye Wolf, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity who has studied the ashy storm-petrel as well as the effects of ocean climate change on California’s seabirds. “The declines we’ve observed in its numbers and breeding success are indicative of troubling changes we’re seeing throughout the ocean off the West Coast.”
The ashy storm-petrel (Oceanodroma homochroa) is a small, smoke-gray seabird that lives almost exclusively on the offshore islands and waters of California near San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego. These waters are profoundly affected by development, including offshore energy terminals, shipping traffic, commercial fishing, and pollution, as well as by global warming. Faced with these multiple threats, the seabird has experienced sharp population declines in recent decades. The largest colony of ashy storm-petrels decreased by 42 percent in 20 years, prompting the World Conservation Union and BirdLife International to list the species as endangered.
The marine ecosystem off the California coast is changing due to global warming, resulting in warmer, less productive waters with less food available for seabirds like the ashy storm-petrel. Also, ocean acidification caused by the ocean’s absorption of excess carbon dioxide may lead to declines in the storm-petrel’s prey. Sea-level rise from global warming threatens to drown important breeding habitat for the bird in sea caves and on offshore rocks.
Fossil-fuel demand is also spurring the proliferation of proposed offshore liquefied natural gas terminals off California’s coast, which not only increase pollution but also add artificial lighting at night. “Artificial light attracts nocturnally active seabirds like the ashy storm-petrel like moths to a flame, and the effects can be devastating,” said Dr. Wolf. Instead of going about their natural foraging and breeding activities, storm-petrels will continuously circle or collide with lighted structures at night, leading to exhaustion, injury, and even death.
The Endangered Species Act listing process was initiated by a scientific petition filed by the Center on October 15, 2007. The Fish and Wildlife Service is required to issue an initial determination on the petition within 90 days. Following a positive initial finding on the petition to list the ashy storm-petrel, the Fish and Wildlife Service must commence a full status review for the species, the next step in the listing process, which is then followed by the decision whether to propose the species for listing as threatened or endangered.
“Protecting the ashy storm-petrel under the Endangered Species Act will not only provide critical protections to this unique seabird,” said Dr. Wolf, “but will also enhance the health of California’s coastal ecosystem as a whole.”
The petition is available at http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/birds/ashy_storm_petrel/pdfs/ashy_storm-petrel_petition.pdf.