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Western gull-billed tern
The Desert Sun, June 3, 2009

Group seeks endangered species protection for Salton Sea bird

The Center for Biological Diversity is filing a scientific petition with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeking endangered species status for the western gull-billed tern.

Only about 300 to 500 of the birds exist in the United States, and they nest in only two places -- the Salton Sea and the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Prompting the center's action is a plan by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to intentionally destroy some 43 percent of the tern's nests and eggs this year in San Diego in a population control measure, as the bird preys on two other threatened bird species.

Fish and Wildlife Service should concentrate on acquiring more habitat for the birds; not stopping the nesting of a portion of an already threatened population, said Center for Biological Diversity conservation biologist Tierra Curry.

"Historically these three birds would not be nesting right next to each other," she said. "It’s a recent development. All of the habitat has been condensed into this very small area. It’s a very unnatural situation."

At the Salton Sea, dwindling water levels threaten the erosion of the small islands the terns use to nest, and makes the bird's eggs accessible to predators such as raccoons, Curry said.

Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Stephanie Weagley said the agency has not yet received the center's petition.

"We need to review the petition first and then determine if there’s substantial information to pursue a listing of the western gull-billed tern," she said. "Until then, we can’t speculate on what the outcome will be."

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