May 10, 2001
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS PETITION TO ADD KITTLITZ'S MURRELET TO ENDANGERED
Contact: Kassie Siegel,
Center for Biological Diversity (510) 841-0812
Don Muller, Sitka Conservation Society (907) 747-8808
Eric Holle, Lynn Canal Conservation (907) 766-2295
For More Information: Kittlitz's
Murrelet Website, petition,
Declining and Threatened by Climate Change, Oil Spills, Vessel Traffic,
and Other Factors
Today the Center for
Biological Diversity, joined by four local Alaska groups, the Coastal
Coalition, Eyak Preservation Council, Lynne Canal Conservation, and Sitka
Conservation Society, petitioned
the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to add the Kittlitz's murrelet (Brachyramphus
brevirostris) to the list of federally endangered species. The petition
cites climate change, oil spills, vessel traffic, and other factors including
precipitous population declines and reproductive failure as reasons for
The Kittlitz's murrelet
is a small diving seabird in the Alcid (Auk) family. The Kittlitz's murrelet
is sometimes called the "Glacier Murrelet" because in the summer
it forages almost exclusively at the face of tidewater glaciers or near
the outflow of glacier streams, and nests in alpine areas in bare patches
among the ice and snow. This intimate association with glaciers is unique
among seabirds. "Global warming poses the greatest threat to the
continued survival of the Kittlitz's murrelet in the long term,"
said Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity, "Global
warming is no longer theoretical. It is very real and it is driving this
species towards extinction."
Declines and Reproductive Failure. The largest populations of Kittlitz's
murrelets occur in Southeast and Southcoastal Alaska, where dramatic population
declines have been observed over the past decade or so. In Prince William
Sound, data show an average 14.5% annual decline between 1989 and 1998.
Recent surveys also suggest a decline of 80% in Glacier Bay between 1991
and 1999. The current worldwide population likely numbers approximately
10,000 individuals, a dramatic decline from the several hundred thousand
estimated to occur in the Gulf of Alaska alone in 1972.
A near-total lack
of recruitment has been documented in one recent study in Prince William
Sound. Recruitment failures are also suspected in Glacier Bay, one of
the species' historic strongholds. The precise cause of the Kittlitz's
murrelet's inability to produce chicks that survive and mature is unknown,
but it is likely linked to one or more of the threats cited in the petition.
vanishing species is telling us, just like the proverbial canary in a
coal mine, that we have some very serious environmental problems in the
Southeast Alaskan marine environment," said Eric Holle, President
of Lynn Canal Conservation, based in Haines, Alaska.
Threatened by Global
Warming and Reduced Prey Availability. The Kittlitz's murrelet's habitat
is disappearing as Alaska's tidewater glaciers retreat in the face of
human-induced climate change. Global warming is happening even faster
in Alaska than in temperate regions. Average temperatures in the range
of the Kittlitz's murrelet have risen 5° F (3° C) since the 1960s
and 8° F (4.5° C) in the winter. In addition to this overall warming
trend, the Gulf of Alaska underwent a cyclical regime shift in 1976-1977
from a cold to a warm regime. The warming of ocean temperatures due to
this shift has been linked to the decline of the Kittlitz's murrelet forage
fish prey such as capelin, herring, and sandlance.
Threatened by Current
Energy Policies. The Bush Administration's renunciation of the Kyoto
protocol, as well as other pro-industry goals such as opening the Arctic
National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, will ensure that the planet
heats up faster than ever. "The Bush Administration's energy policy
will increase the rate of global warming and virtually ensure the extinction
of the Kittlitz's murrelet," said Kassie Siegel, "To protect
this species in the long term, a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions
must be achieved."
Threatened by Marine
Oil Pollution, Vessel Traffic and other Factors. The Kittlitz's murrelet
is likely the most vulnerable of any extant bird species to oil spills.
The species likely suffered a larger proportionate loss of its population
than any other species in the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The Kittlitz's murrelet
has not subsequently recovered from the spill in Prince William Sound.
"Since the Exxon Valdez oil spill, there have been several more close
calls. The oil industry and the regulatory community have failed to significantly
reduce the risk of future spills, nor can they develop an effective spill
response program. As long as oil is shipped through Prince William Sound,
the Kittlitz's murrelet and other species are in extreme jeopardy,"
said David Grimes of the Coastal Coalition, based in Cordova, Alaska.
Disturbance from chronic
vessel traffic may cause Kittlitz's murrelets to abandon areas where they
feed and breed. Vessel traffic may also scatter the Kittlitz's murrelet's
forage fish prey, making it difficult or impossible for the birds to feed.
These threats will intensify as human activity in Prince William Sound
and Southeast Alaska continues to increase. "For the Eyak Tribe,
protecting the Kittlitz's murrelet and the ecosystem upon which it depends
is integral to protecting our culture, heritage, and ancestral lands and
waters," said Dune Lankard, founder of the Eyak Preservation Council,
based in Cordova.
Threatened by the
Bush Administration's Attack on the ESA. Under the ESA, the Fish &
Wildlife Service has 90 days to determine whether the Petition presents
substantial information indicating that listing may be warranted for the
Kittlitz's murrelet. Then, within one year the agency must either propose
the species for listing or find that the listing is not warranted. The
Fish & Wildlife Service has one additional year to finalize the proposal
and designate the species critical habitat.
However, the Bush
Administration's latest move in its war on the environment is a legislative
proposal that would eliminate the statutory timelines for listing species
under the ESA. This proposal, if adopted, would almost certainly preclude
the listing of new species that are desperately in need of protection,
such as the Kittlitz's murrelet. "It's very sad," said Don Muller
of the Sitka Conservation Society, "The Kittlitz's murrelet is yet
another species that is disappearing as the result of man's activities,
and the Bush Administration is busy trying to repeal all or part of the
ESA. If anything, the Act should be strengthened."