NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

October 5, 2013

Feds move to protect several area shorebirds

(Continued)

All these once-common coastal species are declining due to threats from climate change, coastal development and hunting, as well as other threats such as oil spills and diminishing food resources, Fish and Wildlife Service said.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe called the red knot “an extraordinary bird that each year migrates thousands of miles from the Arctic to the tip of South America and back.” Like many shorebirds, the red knot “is vulnerable to climate and other environmental changes,” Ashe said, noting that steep population declines have occurred in recent years, with much of the decline taking place in the past decade.

More than 100,000 red knots once were common in Delaware Bay, which separates New Jersey from Delaware, but populations have dwindled to about 25,000.

The red knot was one of many species harmed last year by Superstorm Sandy, although officials said the storm played little or no role in the decision to list the bird as threatened.

“I wouldn’t say the listing is particularly tied to Sandy, but (the storm) does underscore or illustrate some of the habitat loss that can be exacerbated by major storms,” said Wendy Walsh, a senior biologist in the New Jersey Division of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Altered storm patterns due to climate change “may contribute to the threat” faced by the red knot and other shorebirds, Walsh said.

Red knots may also be vulnerable in areas where juveniles spend their first winter away from the Arctic, said Stephanie Koch, biologist for Eastern Massachusetts National Wildlife Refuge. Identifying those locations will enable experts to evaluate if they are protected and secure enough for the species.

Under the Endangered Species Act, plants and animals declared “threatened” are considered likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future. “Endangered” means they are in danger of extinction. The law prohibits a person without a permit from killing, shooting, hunting, pursuing, harassing, capturing or engaging in other activities deemed harmful to the endangered or threatened species.

The proposal to list the red knot and the other birds as threatened likely will be finalized next year.

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