December 30, 2014

Positive first step to the gnatcatcher's delisting

By Damien M. Schiff Senior Attorney

Today, the Fish & Wildlife Service announced a positive 90-day finding on our petition to delist the coastal California gnatcatcher.  The Service has determined that our petition presents substantial information indicating that the bird’s delisting may be warranted.  Our petition argues that a 2013 taxonomic study by Dr. Robert Zink of the University of Minnesota confirms that the gnatcatcher does not qualify as its own subspecies, and thus its threatened listing as a subspecies is invalid.  The Service has until June of next year to make a final decision on whether to delist the songbird.

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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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