Groups Seek Emergency Endangered Listing for Red Knot

WASHINGTON, DC, February 28, 2008 (ENS) – Emergency protections are needed to prevent further declines in numbers of a small migratory shorebird called the red knot, warns a letter submitted to federal officials Wednesday by the American Bird Conservancy and eight other conservation groups.

The red knot makes one of the longest yearly migrations of any bird, traveling 9,300 miles from its Arctic breeding grounds to Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America.

Red knot on the beach at
Delaware Bay (Photo by
Kevin T. Karlson courtesy
Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

Red knots congregate at traditional staging grounds during migration. New Jersey’s Delaware Bay is an important staging area during spring migration, where the red knots feed on the eggs of spawning horseshoe crabs. The reduction in food available to the red knots because of the heavy harvesting of horseshoe crabs is thought to be responsible for a steep decline in red knot populations.

Horseshoe crabs have been harvested for commercial bait to catch eels and conch until now the Delaware Bay beaches have been virtually emptied of egg-laying crabs.

In the past, New Jersey has placed a moratorium on harvesting horseshoe crabs. But by a 5 to 4 vote on February 11, the Marine Fisheries Council rejected a state Department of Environmental Protection recommendation to continue the current moratorium, opening the door once again for a horseshoe crab harvest in New Jersey.

The conservation groups say now only the protection of the Endangered Species Act can save the red knots.

“The Endangered Species Act has repeatedly proven that with its resources and conservation tools, even the most imperiled birds, such as the California condor and whooping crane, can recover and thrive once again,” said Darin Schroeder, American Bird Conservancy’s executive director of conservation advocacy.

“We urge the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Department of Interior to address the imminent danger of extinction facing the red knot, and enact our emergency listing petition without delay,” said Schroeder.

The letter, from American Bird Conservancy, American Littoral Society, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Defenders of Wildlife, Delaware Audubon, Delaware Nature Society, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, National Audubon Society, and New Jersey Audubon Society 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,” said Jason Rylander, staff attorney with Defenders of Wildlife.

In its decision two years ago, the Fish and Wildlife Service 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.”

Yet the Service concluded that the substantial risks did not warrant listing because the risks were “nonimminent because of reductions and restrictions on harvesting horseshoe crabs.”

Now New Jersey has lifted those restrictions.

“The causes of the red knot’s decline have only gotten worse in the two years since that decision,” said Rylander. “The most recent information leaves no doubt that the Service should list it immediately.”

The letter from the conservation organizations to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall asks that the federal agencies use emergency authorities to list two subspecies of red knot under the Endangered Species Act.

The letter also cites a new scientific report also submitted to the Fish and Wildlife Service today, titled “Update to the Status of the Red Knot Calidris canutus in the Western Hemisphere, February 2008.”

A similar letter signed by U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, and other legislators was also sent to Secretary Kempthorne.

“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.”

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