June 11, 2014

Petition to delist coastal California gnatcatcher filed

By Damien M. Schiff Senior Attorney
Coastal California Gnatcatcher (photo: USFWS)

Today, PLF filed a new delisting petition with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, on behalf of interested property rights groups, requesting that the agency delist the coastal California gnatcatcher under the Endangered Species Act.  PLF argues in the petition (which is joined by the National Association of Home Builders and the California Building Industry Association) that a new nuclear DNA analysis performed by Dr. Robert Zink of the University of Minnesota definitively demonstrates that the coastal California gnatcatcher is the same bird as the gnatcatcher found throughout Baja California, Mexico.  Hence, the petition concludes, based upon the millions of gnatcatchers happily dwelling throughout Baja, that ESA protection for the coastal California gnatcatcher is not warranted.

This petition comes a few years following PLF’s first gnatcatcher delisting petition, which relied on a 2000 study by Dr. Zink that analyzed the gnatcatcher’s mitochondrial DNA.  The Service rejected that petition on the ground that mtDNA analysis is probative but not dispositive of whether the coastal California gnatcatcher should be considered its own subspecies.  At that time, however, the Service strongly suggested that a nuclear DNA analysis would be needed to definitively disprove the coastal California gnatcatcher’s subspecies status.  Let’s hope, therefore, that the Service will be true to its statement and act to delist the gnatcatcher (whose listing the Service has estimated to cost nearly $1 billion in negative economic impacts) expeditiously.

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Center for Environmental Science, Accuracy & Reliability, et al. v. U.S. Department of Interior, et al.

The federal government has expanded its reach using the Endangered Species Act to cover spurious “subspecies.” The ESA does not define “subspecies” and the Fish and Wildlife Service has offered no definition of its own. Instead, it simply announces when it has determined a “subspecies” to exist and, relying on the subspecies’ smaller numbers relative to the entire species, imposes onerous regulations. The California gnatcatcher was listed as a threatened subspecies, but a 2013 study shows that, at a DNA level, the songbird is not meaningfully distinct from millions of gnatcatchers dwelling in Baja California. PLF represents a coalition of property owners, developers, and scientists in a challenge to the continued listing of this thriving species.

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