Groups Seek Emergency Listing of Red Knot

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Data in scientific report highlights need for immediate action

(02/27/2008) -  WASHINGTON D.C. – Emergency protections are needed to prevent further catastrophic declines in numbers of red knots, warns a letter submitted to federal officials today by nine conservation groups. The letter comes on the heels of a new report by 20 shorebird biologists from around the world, which details the rapid and ongoing decline of the migratory shorebird’s populations in the Western Hemisphere.

“The science was clear years ago that the red knot faces imminent extinction yet the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to list this bird. The causes of the red knot’s decline have only gotten worse in the two years since that decision. The most recent information leaves no doubt that the Service should list it immediately,” said Jason Rylander, staff attorney, Defenders of Wildlife.

The letter from the conservation organizations was submitted to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Director Dale Hall, and asks that the federal agencies use emergency authorities to list two subspecies of red knot under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The letter cites a new scientific report also submitted to FWS today, titled “Update to the Status of the Red Knot Calidris canutus in the Western Hemisphere, February 2008.” A similar letter signed by Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) was also sent to Secretary Kempthorne urging him to place the rufa subspecies of the red knot under the protection of the ESA.

The new report confirms that both the rufa and roselaari species of red knot in the United States need immediate protection or risk further decline and extinction. 

In addition to the evidence showing decreased populations of both subspecies of red knot, the report also found that weights of red knots caught in the Delaware Bay during their spring stopover have suffered significantly due to the reduced availability of horseshoe crab eggs that are needed to sustain the shorebird on the last leg of their migration to breeding grounds in the Arctic. Delaware and New Jersey currently do not have strong enough conservation measures in place to ensure adequate numbers of horseshoe crabs, and the Department of the Interior has failed to request the funds necessary to deal with the growing number of candidates – now totaling 282.  

Two years ago the FWS de nied a listing petition for rufa on an emergency basis but eventually issued a 12-month finding on the petition through its 2006 Candidate Notice of Review.  FWS specifically stated that “the threats, in particular the modification of habitat through harvesting of horseshoe crabs to such an extent that it puts the viability of the knot at substantial risk, are of a high magnitude.”  It also concluded that the substantial risks did not warrant listing, however, because the risks were “nonimminent because of reductions and restrictions on harvesting horseshoe crabs.”  The rufa subspecies was assigned a listing priority number of six and categorized as “warranted but precluded” by species with higher conservation priority.

Not only has the Interior Department not made protecting endangered species a priority, they have in fact asked for an 11% decrease  in funds for candidate conservation in their FY09 budget. Federal officials need to prioritize the protection of vulnerable species in the region or species such as the red knot will continue to face the imminent danger of extinction.

“New Jersey is proud to host this international traveling bird, the red knot, and we should do all we can to give it a hospitable welcome,” said Senator Menendez. “Putting the red knot on the endangered species list is an important step we should take to preserve our endangered biodiversity; this should be part of a larger effort to support sustainability. Recognizing the importance of this shorebird is recognizing that all life on this planet is connected.”

A copy of the petition letter, the Senators’ letter and the report can be found here.

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Contact(s):

Jason Rylander, (202)486-8650
Erin McCallum, (202)772-3217

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