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For Immediate Release, October 2, 2013                                               

Contact: Shaye Wolf, (415) 632-5301, swolf@biologicaldiversity.org  

Declining Alaskan Seabird Denied Endangered Species Act Protection

Kittlitz's Murrelet Imperiled by Climate Change, Oil Pollution, Fishing Nets

SAN FRANCISCO— Responding to a 2001 petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today denied Endangered Species Act protection to the Kittlitz’s murrelet, an Alaskan seabird threatened by oil pollution, gillnets and shrinking glaciers due to climate change. The seabird is considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, an international authority on endangered species.

“The Kittlitz’s murrelet is one of America’s most imperiled birds, but federal officials have decided not to save the species from extinction,” said Shaye Wolf, the Center’s climate science director. “It’s tragic that our government has denied protection to this clearly endangered seabird, despite overwhelming scientific evidence of drastic population declines and escalating threats from climate change.”

The Kittlitz’s murrelet — also known as the “glacier murrelet” — forages in coastal waters near glacier outflows, where its fish and zooplankton food is abundant. As climate change has melted Alaska’s glaciers, Kittlitz’s murrelet populations in Alaska have plummeted. The number of birds has declined by 80 percent to 90 percent in recent decades in core areas from Glacier Bay to Prince William Sound.

The Kittlitz’s murrelet is also threatened by oil spills in Alaskan waters due to high-volume traffic from oil tankers and other vessels and offshore oil and gas development. Up to 10 percent of the worldwide population is estimated to have been killed by the 1989 Exxon-Valdez oil spill, highlighting the bird’s vulnerability to spills. In addition, hundreds of Kittlitz’s murrelets are estimated to drown each year in coastal gillnets in Alaska.

In its listing analysis, the Service concluded that Kittlitz’s murrelets in Alaska experienced a large-scale decline of 30 percent per year between 1989 and 2000 and likely have continued to decline at a slower rate since 2000. While acknowledging that most murrelets forage in glacially influenced waters during the breeding season, the Service determined that the loss of Alaska’s glaciers to climate change does not pose a threat.

“Like the polar bear, the Kittlitz’s murrelet is in terrible danger from climate change,” said Wolf. “In an age of massive climate disruption, it’s disturbing to see our wildlife management agencies fail to take this threat seriously.”

The Center submitted a petition in 2001 to list the Kittlitz’s murrelet under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. In 2004 the Service determined that the Kittlitz’s murrelet warranted protection but was “precluded” from listing, putting this species on a long waiting list for protection. In 2011 the Center and the Service reached a landmark agreement that ensures that all the species on the federal waiting list for protection as of 2010 get decisions within the next four years. Today’s decision resulted from this agreement. 

More information on the Kittlitz’s murrelet and the Center’s work to protect the species is available at
http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/birds/Kittlitzs_murrelet/index.html.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 625,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.


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