Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, February 28, 2018

Contact: Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495,

Lawsuit Seeks Stronger Protection for Streaked-horned Lark in Oregon, Washington

Near-extinct Bird Doomed by Government's 'Threatened' Designation, Massive Protections Loophole

PORTLAND, Ore.— The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today over the lack of protections for the streaked-horned lark, a songbird with distinctive feathered horns that has undergone massive declines across its range in western Oregon and Washington.

Today’s lawsuit challenges the agency’s October 2013 decision to protect the lark as “threatened” rather than the more protective “endangered” status and to create a “4(d) rule” that exempts all agriculture and airport activities from the prohibitions of the Endangered Species Act, regardless of whether they harm the lark. 

“By creating a loophole big enough for a tractor, the Fish and Wildlife Service short-circuited the lark’s chances at survival and recovery,” said Noah Greenwald, the Center’s endangered species director. “Agribusiness and airports could take modest, sensible steps to avoid killing these ground-nesting birds but these just aren’t happening because the agency carved out this massive exclusion. That’s got to be fixed to save the lark.”

With the loss of most native short grass prairies in the Puget Trough and Willamette Valley, the lark is now in many cases found on human-disturbed areas that mimic their natural habitat, including grass-seed fields and airports.

In such cases management is creating habitat, but birds are also dying when their nests are destroyed by plowing or mowing. This can easily be avoided by locating the nests and cordoning them off. Such measures are being effectively used by Joint Base Lewis-McChord, but they’re not often practiced elsewhere in the bird’s range. 

“These handsome birds were once a common sight, but tragically, they’re now rarely seen,” said Greenwald. “With just a little care on our part, we could save them.”

Formerly a common nesting species in prairies west of the Cascade Mountains, from southern British Columbia through Washington and Oregon, the lark was so abundant around Puget Sound that it was considered a nuisance by turn-of-the-century golfers.

The widespread destruction of the lark’s grassland habitats, however, caused cataclysmic population declines. It has been wiped out in the San Juan Islands, northern Puget Sound, Oregon’s Rogue Valley and Canada. The population now numbers as few as 1,200 birds.

The lark is a small, ground-dwelling songbird with conspicuous feather tufts, or “horns,” on its head. Its back is heavily streaked with black, contrasting sharply with its ruddy nape and yellow underparts. It is part of a growing list of species imperiled by loss of prairies in the Willamette Valley and Puget Trough to urban and agricultural sprawl, including the Fender's blue butterfly, Taylor's checkerspot butterfly, Willamette daisy and Kincaid's lupine. 

The Center is represented in the lawsuit by the public-interest law firm of Meyer, Glitzenstein and Eubanks. 

Streaked-horned lark

Photo by David Maloney, USFWS. This image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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