FWS may list van Rossem's Gullbilled Tern (but then what?)
75 Fed. Reg. 32728 / Vol. 75, No. 110 / Wednesday, June 9, 2010 / Proposed Rules
DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR / Fish and Wildlife Service
50 CFR Part 17 / Docket No. FWS–R8–ES–2010–0035 / MO-92210-0-0008-B2
Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 90-Day Finding on a Petition To List van Rossem’s Gullbilled Tern as Endangered or Threatened.
SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce a 90–day finding on a petition to list van Rossem’s gull-billed tern (Gelochelidon nilotica vanrossemi) as an endangered or threatened species under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act), and to designate critical habitat. Based on our review, we find the petition provides substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that listing this subspecies may be warranted. Therefore, with the publication of this notice, we are initiating a review of the status of the subspecies to determine if listing is warranted. To ensure that this status review is comprehensive, we are requesting scientific and commercial data and other information regarding this subspecies. Based on the status review, we will issue a 12–month finding on the petition, which will address whether the petitioned action is warranted, as provided in section 4(b)(3)(B) of the Act.
Like other terns, gull-billed terns (including van Rossem’s gull-billed tern) are predators, but they differ from most other tern species in how they forage and in the types of prey they consume. Unlike many other tern species that eat only fish caught by shallow dives into water, gull-billed terns forage on a variety of prey items found in different habitat types: (1) Gull-billed terns in flight capture flying insects in the air; (2) they swoop down and snatch up terrestrial prey (such as crabs, lizards, insects, or chicks of other birds) and aquatic prey (such as small fish) near the water’s surface; and (3) they land to pick up prey items. Van Rossem’s gull-billed tern is predominantly a coastal bird, but it does occur at certain inland sites with aquatic resources. Caption information from Federal Register Notice, gull-billed tern pictured above from Wikipedia, but not a van Rossem's.
KEITHINKING: According to the FWS Federal Register Notice, the petition asserts that the nesting and foraging habitat of the species is threatened by four significant sources: (1) military training activities, (2) declines to inflows to the Salton Sea due to the reduced availability of irrigation water; (3) the effects of global climate change, including sea level rise, shoreline erosion, and changes in vegetation; and (4) in Mexico, commercial aquaculture development, tourism-related development, development of evaporation ponds for commercial salt production (saltworks), flooding from beach erosion, and fluctuating water levels in water impoundments. However, each of these four threats demonstrates the increasing difficulty of Endangered Species Act implementation. Even if the species is listed, global climate change and Mexican domestic development policies are immune from ESA regulation, so the listing will only result in increased regulation of other activities that are not the primary source of these threats. Similarly, creating a confrontation between the needs of terns vs. the military, or terns vs. irrigation, will simply generate another massive wave of litigation akin to the whale vs. Navy sonar cases and the delta smelt vs. Sacramento Bay-Delta. Sometimes, ESA implementation is not necessarily the best way to improve the status of a species (and may make things much harder for the people). But the alternative of doing nothing to protect a species at risk of extinction seems equally unacceptable. Our challenge is to find a better way...
LINKS: FWS press release, Center for Biological Diversity,