Bird Habitat Protected in United States; Decline of Migratory Bird Habitat in Canada Continues at Alarming Rate

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(01/20/2000) - Defenders of Wildlife today announced that it has reached a tentative agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) over a three-year old lawsuit to protect critical habitat for piping plovers, an endangered migratory songbird with breeding grounds in both the United States and Canada. The announcement came while concerns for similar habitat protection in neighboring Canada increased. Defenders and other conservationists cited proposed legislation pending in Canada that would leave 95 percent of all endangered wildlife habitat unprotected in that country.

"While Americans can feel confident that our imperiled natural heritage in protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act, the same can not be said for our Canadian brethren," said Brock Evans, Executive Director of the U.S. Endangered Species Coalition. The coalition represents more than 400 environmental, animal welfare, and other citizen groups.

During today's visit with Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt by Canada's Environment Minister David Anderson, Defenders noted that of the 313 species considered "at risk" in Canada, nearly 80 percent either migrate or range across the U.S. - Canada border.

"The piping plover epitomizes the quandary now facing many North American endangered species as a result of Canada's reluctance to pass endangered species legislation," said Bill Snape, Vice President for Law at Defenders of Wildlife. "Despite the considerable effort and resources directed at protecting grizzly bears and northern spotted owls and others in the United States, Canada must also step up to the plate if we are to succeed in preserving biological diversity on this continent."

The agreement between Defenders and FWS will designate under the Endangered Species Act critical habitat for piping plover breeding populations in the Great Lakes and Great Plains. The decline in plover populations is directly attributed to considerable habitat loss from development, farming expansion, and motorized recreational activities. The Great Lakes and Great Plains piping plovers spend their winters in the southern U.S. and Caribbean, and breeds in several U.S. states, including Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Iowa.

"It's great progress that we've been able to reach this agreement and protect the dwindling populations of plovers in the U.S.," said Snape. "But it's disheartening to know that the birds also breed in Canada, and as of today, they're not protected there. The minute they cross the border, their chance for survival plummets."

Biologists have identified Canadian plover habitat as crucial to the species' recovery. However, Defenders notes that under current draft legislation proposed by Minister Anderson, plover breeding habitat in central Alberta, southern Saskatchewan, southern Ontario, southern Quebec, and other areas would remain unprotected. Although the piping plover is listed as endangered under Canadian law, such designation brings no additional conservation benefit to it or other species with the same designation.

The piping plover is covered by the Migratory Bird Treaty between the United States and Canada, which was implemented in each country by domestic legislation outlawing the killing of migratory birds. However, neither country has chosen to protect habitat for this bird under this treaty.

"The current proposal in Canada is terribly deficient," said Snape. "This legislation would leave species listings to politicians and not scientists, it would not allow citizens to enforce violations of the law against endangered species, and it would leave standardless discretion to the government to protect imperiled species. That doesn't seem like much of a law to me."

"Last October, 11 U.S. Senators sent President Clinton a letter urging him to press Canadian Prime Minister Chretien for better endangered species protections in Canada," said Evans. "We want to send the same message today to Minister Anderson while he's in the U.S. The future of untold endangered species may very well be in Canada's hands."

Defenders is being represented in the piping plover case by the Madison, WI law firm of Davis and Kuelthau.

Defenders of Wildlife wishes to acknowledge the late Walter Kuhlmann for his work on this and many other issues of great importance to endangered species and biodiversity habitat protection.

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Contact(s):

Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270