The Center for Biological Diversity reached a settlement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service late Monday giving the agency four years to consider whether to protect the Bicknell’s thrush under the Endangered Species Act.
The thrush nests only high in the mountains of the U.S. Northeast and eastern Canada, including Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York. Scientists have predicted that 98 percent or more of the songbird’s U.S. habitat could be lost to climate change.
“The Bicknell’s thrush is a canary in a coal mine,” said Mollie Matteson, a wildlife biologist and Northeast representative at the Center in a statement to the press. “Protecting this bird under the Endangered Species Act will help to preserve its future — and help sustain the mountain landscapes we depend on for clean water, flood mitigation, recreation and beautiful scenery.”
Scientists have documented annual population declines of nearly 20 percent in parts of the bird’s range, and widely accepted climate models show that a 6 degree increase in Northeast temperatures will virtually eliminate the species’ habitat in the United States.
In response to a petition from the Center, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found in 2012 that the Bicknell’s thrush may warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act. The Center sued when the agency failed to make a final decision within one year, as the Endangered Species Act requires. Under Monday’s agreement the Bicknell’s thrush will receive a protection decision in fiscal year 2017.
The thrush is one of 10 species that the Center prioritized for protection this year under a 2011 multi-species settlement agreement with the Service. That landmark settlement is expediting protection decisions for 757 species and has already resulted in final protection of 109 plants and animals and proposed protection for another 61. Monday’s agreement gives the Bicknell’s thrush a place in the line of species awaiting protection decisions.
Bicknell’s thrushes are olive-brown, migratory birds that nest in dense, coniferous forests near timberline in the Northeast and also breed in Quebec and Canada’s Maritime provinces. Scientists first recognized them as a distinct species in 1993.
Photo by T.B. Ryder, USFWS.