Earlier this year, Audubon New York sent a letter to the Department of Environmental Conservation urging them to update the State’s list of list of endangered, threatened, and special concern species. The list was last updated in 1999, and a number of species have since experienced significant changes in their populations as well as new threats.
Thanks to these efforts, the Department recently issued a draft proposal to update the list, and the existing regulations governing permits for the take of such species.
The designation of a species as endangered or threatened provides the State with the legal authority to protect listed species and prohibit any unauthorized takings. Additionally, the list also helps prioritize the conservation efforts of environmental groups and others who wish to focus on protecting New York State’s most vulnerable species. Through these combined efforts, many of the state-listed species have benefited from the protections afforded by the state and associated conservation efforts.
The establishment of the Bald Eagle restoration program at the Montezuma Wildlife Refuge contributed to a larger conservation effort that led to an increase in the number of nesting pairs in New York from only one pair in 1976 to 389 territories in 2015. In addition, the efforts to monitor and steward the state-endangered Piping Plover on Long Island have resulted in the species population increasing from 187 pairs in 1992 to 381 pairs in 2016.
There are also species that appear to meet the criteria for being listed as threatened or endangered that are not currently listed, such as the Saltmarsh Sparrow. This small songbird is endemic to the Atlantic Coast where it nests in coastal salt marshes just above the high tide. The species is facing threats from habitat quality and predation, and also from sea level rise driven by climate change, which inundates nests with water and reduces reproductive success.
Recent data show that the Saltmarsh Sparrow is declining by nine percent every year and ongoing threats put it at-risk of extinction unless action is taken now. The species is a candidate for federal listing and the North American Bird Conservation Initiative included it on the 2016 Red Watch List, indicating that it is in need of urgent conservation attention. Listing the Saltmarsh Sparrow as state endangered would increase the protection afforded to this highly vulnerable species and facilitate mitigation for any additional stressors that may impact its abundance.
Executive Director of Audubon New York Ana Paula Tavares said, “The remarkable recovery of the Bald Eagle in New York State and beyond is one of our nation’s best stories of conservation success. Help came to this species when it was needed most—exactly what the state endangered, threatened, and special concern species list exists to achieve. Moving forward, we must ensure timely resources are directed to those at greatest risk—like the Saltmarsh Sparrow. We thank the DEC for their work on this update, and urge them to periodically revise the list moving forward to prioritize our most vulnerable birds.”