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SAVING THE WESTERN GULL-BILLED TERN

The western gull-billed tern is the victim of a bad rap. Though often condemned for preying on other sensitive species — namely, the threatened western snowy plover and the endangered California least tern — the western gull-billed tern is highly endangered itself, and is actually less abundant and has fewer breeding pairs than either the snowy plover or the least tern. And while the impact of predation must be acknowledged, the real problem for the plover and the least tern is one of the biggest threats facing the gull-billed tern, too: habitat destruction.

But instead of protecting the western gull-billed tern, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hatched plans to reduce its small population by destroying eggs at the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge, where concern for the well-being of snowy plovers and least terns is mounting. To remind the Service that all endangered species are created equal — and should be protected accordingly — in 2009 the Center filed a scientific petition to list the gull-billed tern as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Just after we filed our petition, we learned that the Service decided not to move forward with its tern egg-destroying plans any time soon. The next year, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced the western gull-billed tern may warrant protection.

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KEY DOCUMENTS
2009 Federal Endangered Species Act petition

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RELATED ISSUES
Oceans
Climate Law Institute
The Endangered Species Act

Contact: Tierra Curry

Western gull-billed tern photo © Kimball L. Garrett