09 June 2009

Protection Sought for Tern Threatened by Population Control Proposal

The Center for Biological Diversity has requested protection of the western Gull-billed Tern under the Federal Endangered Species Act.

A 41-page, detailed scientific petition requesting that the Western Gull-billed Tern, (Gelochelidon nilotica vanrossemi; or, alternately Sterna nilotica vanrossemi; also known as Van Rossem’s Gull-billed Tern) be listed as a threatened or endangered species was filed June 3 with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"The western gull-billed tern is endangered and needs the same protections afforded the snowy plover and least tern." said Tierra Curry, a conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. "The Center strongly supports the conservation of all three of these endangered birds."

"The western gull-billed tern has only two breeding sites in the United States," according to the organization. "At one of them, San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge, it is immediately threatened by a Fish and Wildlife Service plan to reduce its population by destroying eggs. The control effort is intended to protect two other endangered seabirds: the western snowy plover and the California least tern. "

The Refuge issued a draft environmental assessment on its proposal to destroy the eggs in more than 40 percent of the gull-billed terns’ nests by coating them in corn oil or by other methods. The public comment period for the assessment ended on May 22, 2009.

"The western gull-billed tern is less abundant," according to the Center, "and has fewer breeding sites, than the two listed endangered seabird species, and does not pose a significant rangewide threat to either of them."

"It is the job of Fish and Wildlife Service to protect this rare tern, not to push it closer to extinction," said Curry.

"Other threats to the gull-billed tern include falling water levels and pollution at the Salton Sea, predation, human intrusion at nesting locations, and the killing of adults to prevent collisions with naval aircraft in San Diego Bay," according to the Center.

"In Mexico, where the western gull-billed tern has 12 breeding sites, it is threatened by habitat development and disturbance, flooding, and the killing of foraging adults at commercial shrimp farms.

"In the United States and Mexico, there are roughly 1,000 to 2,000 western gull-billed terns, 5,000 snowy plovers, and 14,000 California least terns," according to the Center. "On the Bay Refuge, there are roughly 100 adult gull-billed terns, four adult plovers, and 160 adult least terns. Western gull-billed terns do prey on plover and least tern chicks, but they are not the only threat facing these species and they themselves are highly endangered."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has 90 days to respond to the petition.

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