More than 1/4 of U.S. birds threatened: report
By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than a quarter of all U.S. bird species are vulnerable to extinction, according to a comprehensive list compiled by two conservation groups released on Wednesday. Global warming may be partially to blame.
The new WatchList 2007, compiled by the National Audubon Society and the American Bird Conservancy, found 178 species in the continental United States and 39 in Hawaii in danger.
Of those, 98 are on the "red list" of greatest concern, and 119 in the "yellow" category, indicating their numbers are seriously declining or the species is rare.
Global warming, the loss of habitat due to urban and suburban sprawl and the current U.S. administration's policies on endangered species are all to blame, a co-author of the list said in a telephone interview.
"It's a sign that basically the human relationship with the environment is off-kilter and these are some of the species that are suffering from that," said Gregory Butcher of the National Audubon Society.
The sea level rise caused by global warming puts pressure on bird populations, Butcher said.
Coastal bird habitats of species like the seaside sparrow and the piping plover are likely to be inundated, he said.
"And because there's so many people living close to the oceans, we're not sure that the natural habitats at the edge of the sea will continue to exist in the face of sea level rise," Butcher said.
Arctic birds that breed in Canada and Alaska, such as the puff-breasted sandpiper and the snowy owl, are losing their tundra habitat as the planet warms. "We're very concerned about those species due to global warming," Butcher said.
David Pashley, a co-author from the American Bird Conservancy, agreed that global warming was a "looming threat" but said, "This is not something the bird conservation community can tackle."
The problems of urban sprawl and the resulting loss of habitat are critical, Pashley said by telephone.
Both authors said the Bush administration's policies on endangered species had not helped.
"Unfortunately we've been seven years in an administration that really doesn't believe in the Endangered Species Act, so they've sort of been looking for excuses not to list species that should be added to the act," Butcher said.
Some of the "most imperiled" birds on the WatchList are not protected under the Endangered Species Act, the two groups said in a statement.
These include the Gunnison sage-grouse, whose numbers have been reduced by drought and habitat destruction in Colorado and Utah; the lesser prairie-chicken, which has isolated populations from Kansas to New Mexico; the ashy storm-petrel, whose breeding populations are restricted to the West Coast; and the Kittlitz murrelet, whose breeding and feeding habitat appears linked to Alaska's tidewater glaciers.