Bookmark and Share

More press releases

For Immediate Release, August 18, 2009                                         

Contact:  Shaye Wolf, (415) 632-5301

Interior Department Denies Endangered Species Act Protection to Imperiled California Seabird
Ashy Storm Petrel Threatened by Climate Change, Pollution, Predation

SAN FRANCISCO— The Department of the Interior today denied protection for the ashy storm petrel, an imperiled California seabird, under the Endangered Species Act. The Department acknowledged that this seabird faces threats from multiple sources, but contends that broad-ranging impacts from predators, light pollution, oil pollution, and climate change, including lower ocean productivity due to ocean warming and ocean acidification, do not endanger this species.

“Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is continuing a Bush-era approach of denying protections to species based on an incomplete and selective interpretation of the science,” said Shaye Wolf, a seabird biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The decision reads like a laundry list of excuses to avoid acting to protect the ashy storm petrel rather than a solid evaluation of the science.”

The ashy storm petrel (Oceanodroma homochroa) is a small, smoke-gray seabird that nests and forages almost exclusively on the offshore islands and heavily used waters of California near San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego. Faced with threats from climate change, pollution, development, and predation, the seabird has experienced severe population declines in recent decades.

The Department of the Interior’s decision ignored the findings of a recent study that found that the ashy storm petrel’s at-sea abundance in the northern part of its range declined by 76 percent over a 22-year period from 1985 to 2006. The largest population of ashy storm petrels at the Farallon Islands decreased by 42 percent in 20 years, prompting the World Conservation Union and BirdLife International to list the species as endangered.

Already global warming is resulting in warmer, less productive waters that lead to lower food availability for seabirds like the ashy storm-petrel. The storm petrel’s prey is also vulnerable to increasingly acidic seawater resulting from the ocean’s uptake of carbon dioxide. Moreover, sea-level rise from global warming threatens to drown important nesting habitat for the bird in sea caves and on offshore rocks.

The specter of new oil and gas development off California’s coast and proposed offshore liquefied natural gas terminals threaten to increase greenhouse gas pollution, oil spills, and artificial lighting at night. An oil spill near breeding or foraging hotspots could decimate a large percentage of the global population. Artificial light at night attracts nocturnally active seabirds such as the ashy storm petrel like moths to a flame. Instead of going about their natural activities, storm petrels will continuously circle or collide with lighted structures at night, leading to exhaustion, injury, and even death.

The storm petrel faces a variety of other threats at sea and on its island breeding colonies, including eggshell thinning from persistent pollutants like DDT, and predators that kill adults and chicks at island breeding sites.

“Secretary Salazar’s decision not to protect the ashy storm petrel pushes this seabird a step closer to extinction,” said Wolf. “This unique California seabird deserves the immediate, time-tested protections of the Endangered Species Act so that it is not lost forever.

The Center for Biological Diversity submitted the petition to list the ashy storm petrel on October 15, 2007. On May 15, 2008, the Department of the Interior announced that listing the seabird may be warranted triggering a full status review and final listing decision that became overdue on October 15, 2008. On July 12, 2009, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Department of the Interior reached a settlement that set a deadline for the Service to decide whether to list the ashy storm petrel by August 12, 2009.

The petition and more information on the ashy storm petrel are available at


Go back