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Rare Grassland Bird Added to Endangered Species Act Waitlist

Sprague's Pipit the Latest Species on Whom Salazar Drags Feet

Denver, CO-Sept. 15. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar published a decision in today’s Federal Register that the Sprague’s Pipit warrants Endangered Species Act listing but Mr. Salazar stated that protection is precluded due to “higher priorities.” The Pipit is therefore a candidate for listing. Like the Jemez Mountains Salamander less than one week ago, the Sprague’ Pipit has been placed in a waiting line where it could remain for decades to come all the while, unprotected.

“The Sprague’s pipit continues to plummet, with no rescue in sight from the federal government,” stated Nicole Rosmarino, Wildlife Program Director of WildEarth Guardians. “We’re pleased that the government recognizes this grassland bird is in real trouble, but the pipit will not benefit from the Endangered Species Act unless it is actually listed under the law.”

Prompt protective action is particularly deserved given that the government describes the species as facing “high-magnitude and imminent threats” and considers it to be at the highest risk of extinction. Secretary Salazar found that habitat protection and inadequate legal safeguards are the primary reasons behind the Pipit’s decline of up to 80 percent over the past 40 years. In addition to the historical threat from conversion of native grassland to crops, energy development was singled out as the primary threat to the bird currently.

Historically, the bird’s range included approximately 1 billion acres in North America. Less than 2 percent of its habitat in the U.S. remains. Less than 6 percent of its habitat in Canada is intact. Much of the bird’s wintering habitat is in Mexico, where it is being rapidly converted to other uses.

This small, unassuming bird is known for its unique territorial displays, in which the males engage for up to 3 hours. Historically, the Sprague’s Pipit was reliant on bison grazing, which was a major ecological force in the Great Plains. While today’s finding represented that effects of cattle substitute for bison, WildEarth Guardians’ petition demonstrated that the two grazers are very different. For instance, cattle grazing has led to brush encroachment in many areas in western North America that bison had previously maintained as intact grasslands. Brush encroachment is a threat to the Pipit.

For a species to enjoy Endangered Species Act safeguards, it must be added to the list of endangered or threatened species. The national listing program continues to stagnate, with only 1 new U.S. species in the lower 48 states listed thus far under Secretary Salazar. In his decision on the Pipit, Mr. Salazar complained that, while listing was appropriate, it was “precluded” by higher priorities. However, Mr. Salazar is not listing higher priority species, but rather he is listing few new species at all. As a result, nearly 250 species await protection as “candidates” for ESA listing. Some have waited for decades.

“It’s amazing to us that Ken Salazar finds time to remove federal protection for imperiled species such as wolves, but can’t or won’t bother to list species urgently in need of federal shields. On endangered species, this administration needs to change course,” stated Rosmarino.

WildEarth Guardians is a west-wide conservation group dedicated to protecting and restoring wildlife, wild rivers and wild places. Guardians’ work to protect the Sprague’s Pipit is part of its “Western Ark” project to usher needy species on board the legal ark provided by the Endangered Species Act. The group is also celebrating the International Year of Biodiversity, of which WildEarth Guardians is a partner. During this year, through the United Nations, “The world is invited to take action in 2010 to safeguard the variety of life on earth: biodiversity.”

For more information, including photos of the Pipit, the group’s petition, and the petition finding, email or call 505-699-7404.

View the Sprague pipit's factsheet here

View the Sprague pipit's petition here


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