For Immediate Release, December 30, 2014

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

Review Initiated Over Protected Status of Coastal California Gnatcatcher

Anti-wildlife Group Trying to Strip Protection from Imperiled Bird 

CARLSBAD, Calif.— In response to a petition from the anti-wildlife group the Pacific Legal Foundation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it will review the status of the coastal California gnatcatcher to determine if it still qualifies as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. As in a petition that was rejected in 2011, the group does not argue that the gnatcatcher has recovered in the United States — but rather that it is not a valid subspecies and should be stripped of protection because its populations are healthy in Baja, Mexico. 

“The Pacific Legal Foundation has repeatedly argued that species should be allowed to go extinct in the United States if it’s found in other countries. They’ve tried it with orcas and caribou, and now they’re trying it with California gnatcatchers,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Fortunately, these cynical arguments that would impoverish our nation of some of its most fascinating wildlife have failed so far, and all these species remain protected. I certainly hope this will be true for the gnatcatcher, whose Endangered Species safeguards have also protected some of the last, best places in Southern California.”

The Pacific Legal Foundation’s petition is based on additional genetics work that suggests that coastal California gnatcatchers may not be a genetically distinct subspecies. Setting aside the fact that the geneticist who conducted the study does not believe that subspecies should be recognized in any bird, the Fish and Wildlife Service has other reasons to continue protection for the gnatcatcher should it conclude that the study represents the best available scientific information. Specifically, the agency could protect the imperiled songbird as a distinct population segment or conclude that the United States constitutes a significant portion of the gnatcatcher’s range, and thus the species should be protected. 

“In passing the Endangered Species Act, Congress made abundantly clear that it wanted to see endangered species protected in the United States regardless of their status in other countries,” said Greenwald. “There’s no question that the gnatcatcher and the unique coastal sage scrub habitats it depends on are threatened in the United States and need continued protection.”

Today’s finding is an initial “90-day finding” on the foundation’s petition and merely concludes that the petition warrants further consideration. 

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 800,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.


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