Feds Propose Adding Seabird to Endangered Species List

A little devil Caribbean seabird. (Photo via Wikipedia Commons)

WASHINGTON (CN) –The little devil Caribbean seabird, named for its nocturnal habits and haunting call, has been proposed for inclusion on the endangered species list Friday, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The little devil seabird – formally known as the black-capped petrel – is native to the Caribbean and its population has been estimated to hover between 2,000 to 4,000 birds, the agency said in a statement Friday.

But the bird’s propensity to forage the open sea from as far south as the Caribbean to as far north as Virginia in the United States, makes the actual population size hard to nail down.

The bird’s decline, the service said, is a result of “deforestation, human-caused fires, agricultural development and changes in climate patterns” occurring at its only known nesting site on Hispaniola, an island shared by both Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Studies conducted by the Fish and Wildlife Service found that the “overwhelming” use of wood and other wood-based cooking fuels have contributed to substantial deforestation on the island, ultimately posing a threat to the species’ survival.

According to a peer-reviewed assessment conducted by the service, the petrel’s survival is also under threat due to a steadily increasing human population on the island.

Though now formally endangered, the service said the nocturnal sea bird’s habitat will not be given protected status or designated as critical since its habitats and breeding sites are beyond U.S. borders.

Existing protections barring intentional harm to the birds are already enforced under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the service said in a statement Friday. Plus, they argue, the birds are already prohibited from U.S. import and export.

But with Friday’s endagered species designation, a newly proposed rule has followed.

The proposed rule falls in line with the agency’s plans to streamline the Endangered Species Act and actively “eliminates redundancies,” in the legislation, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Specifically, the proposed rule suggests removing existing Endangered Species Act language which bars the “import/export or intentional ‘take’ permitting” of the birds…so long as permitting requirements under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act are met.”

But according to the environmentalist group Center for Biological Diversity, the proposed rule is counterintuitive and does little to close already existing loopholes.

Instead, the new rule could widen them, said Jaclyn Lopez,  director for the center’s Florida division.

The new rule strips away the most “meaningful protection of the act,” she said Friday and without a protected habitat designation, the rule does nothing to stop “incidental harm to the bird” posed by offshore gas and oil rigs dotting its migratory path.

“At sea, oil and gas activities in the Gulf and Atlantic threaten the bird and its habitat with seismic exploration, oil spills and night lightning,” Lopez said.

The proposed rule, at least in part, relies on the Trump administration’s reinterpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, she said, which only applies to the intentional killing of birds – not other activities which incidentally kill birds.

The public comment period on the proposed rule will remain open through December 10.

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