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Monday, December 11, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Feds Abused Data on Petrels, Enviros Say

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service revoked the Ashy Storm-petrel's endangered status based on "the unsupported belief that Ashy Storm-petrel populations are increasing," the Center for Biological Diversity claims in Federal Court. The environmentalists say the feds ignored a peer-reviewed study that found the bird's population had declined by 76 percent in its primary breeding grounds.

"The Service's determination that Ashy Storm-petrel populations are increasing is also directly contrary to scientific evidence in the record indicating population declines on Southeast Farallon Island," the group says. "The 12-month finding failed to consider a peer-reviewed study that found that the at-sea abundance of Ashy Storm-petrels declined by 76 percent during the twenty-two year period from 1985 to 2006 in a large marine region surrounding the Farallon Islands."

The Ashy Storm-petrel is a gray seabird found along the rocky California coastline. The breeding grounds for more than 95 percent of the remaining birds are the Farallon Islands and the California Channel Islands, according to the complaint.

The center attributes the Ashy Storm-petrel's plight to "depredation by introduced and native predators, artificial light pollution from vessels and off-shore energy terminals, plastic ingestion, eggshell thinning due to marine contaminants and oil spills. Climate change and ocean acidification also pose serious threats to this species' long-term existence."

Nonetheless, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar determined in August 2009 "that listing of the Ashy Storm-petrel was not warranted," the complaint states. "In reaching this conclusion, the Secretary overturned the recommendations of its own scientists [sic] concluding that the species merited protection and misused a preliminary analysis in an unpublished report by PRBO [Point Reyes Bird Observatory] Conservation Science to conclude that Ashy Storm-petrel populations are increasing."

The center claims the Point Reyes Bird Observatory sent the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service a letter in which it "faulted the Service for its misuse of the study. In a memo to the Service, the authors expressly disagreed with the Service's conclusion, stating, 'we disagree with the last statement above, "their report ... suggests an increasing population of ashy storm petrels."' The authors further explained that the report was 'preliminary and not intended to be the basis for decision-making' and that the data in the report was insufficient to 'indicate the status of the species.'"

The center says Salazar's ruling was "arbitrary and capricious and otherwise unlawful because it was not based on the best available science, not adequately supported by the administrative record, and fails to provide a reasoned explanation for the Service's decision not to list the Ashy Storm-petrel as required by the ESA [Endangered Species Act]."

The center says Salazar sent a letter on Sept. 2, 2010, informing it that Salazar hired the PRBO "to develop an up-to-date assessment of population trends for the Ashy Storm-petrel at Southeast Farallon Island. The Secretary stated that it plans to use this new information to re-evaluate the August 19, 2009 12-month finding and intends to complete a revised finding by the end of 2011. However the Secretary's September 2, 2010 letter to the center did not commit the Secretary to a specific and binding deadline to complete a revised 12-month finding."

The center demands a court order declaring that Salazar violated the Endangered Species Act in finding that the Ashy Storm-petrel did not warrant endangered status, and that he be required to make another finding that complies with the ESA.

The environmental group is represented by Matthew Vespa.

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