“The yellow-billed loon is one of the rarest and most vulnerable birds in the United States, and it is at risk of getting trampled in the rush to develop oil and gas in the Arctic,” said Andrea Treece, attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This settlement is an important step towards ensuring that this remarkable species doesn’t fall victim to our fossil fuel addiction.”
The yellow-billed loon breeds in tundra wetlands in Alaska, Canada, and Russia, wintering along the west coast as far south as California. The species has a global population of approximately 16,000 individuals, of which about 4,000 breed in Alaska. Most yellow-billed loons breeding in Alaska breed in the western Arctic in areas recently opened up to oil and gas development, such as sites near Teshekpuk Lake and along the Colville River. Much of the species’ habitat in Russia is also subject to rapid and irresponsible oil and gas development.
A previous federal decision to allow oil development near Teshekpuk Lake was overturned by the courts last year. The administration is nearing completion of a new plan that could once again open up the area for oil development.
“Teshekpuk Lake is one of the most important breeding areas in the United States for loons and other endangered waterfowl,” said Chuck Clusen of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Opening up this area for oil leasing would be another case of oil companies robbing Americans of our wildlife heritage, all to pad their pockets while not doing anything to create energy security.”
“From Russia to Alaska, oil development in the Arctic is pushing the yellow-billed loon and other Arctic species ever closer to extinction,” added David Gordon, executive director of Pacific Environment.
Throughout their range, yellow-billed loons are also threatened by changing ocean conditions and the inundation of low-lying wetlands in the face of global warming and sea-level rise.
In April 2004, the Center for Biological Diversity, Pacific Environment, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Trustees for Alaska — along with several Russian scientific and conservation organizations — filed a formal administrative petition seeking protection of the species. By law, the Department of the Interior was required to make an initial finding on the petition within 90 days and issue a proposed rule within one year of the petition. In June 2007, the Department of the Interior finally responded to the petition and concluded that the loon may warrant the protections of the Endangered Species Act. Today’s settlement resolves the conservation groups’ suit seeking to force the Department of the Interior to issue the overdue listing proposal.
A copy of the complaint and petition, as well as more information on the yellow-billed loon, can be found at www.biologicaldiversity.org. A copy of a detailed status review on the species can be found at http://www.trustees.org/publications/publications_index.html.