A species of grassland songbird, the Sprague’s Pipit, has declined in number by about 80 percent in the last 40 years. In the United States it lives in Minnesota, Montana, and the Dakotas.
Recently the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a press release about the species stating it does deserve to be considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act, but they are simply lacking the resources at the moment to complete the process. They wrote, “The Service has completed a comprehensive status review – known as a 12-month finding – and determined that there is sufficient scientific and commercial data to propose listing the species as threatened or endangered throughout its range. However, the Service is precluded from beginning work immediately on a listing proposal because its limited resources must be devoted to other, higher priority actions.” (Source: USFS) The birds will have some legal protection, however, under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
An environmental group has said the Sprague’s Pipit must be added to the Endangered Species list now, in order for it be helped, “This is a species that doesn’t have the luxury of time.” There’s been an 80 per cent decline in the past 40 years and it shows no sign of abating.”
Most of the birds live in Canada where they are designated as threatened and have legal protection. The Montreal Gazette speculated that the US Forest and Wildlife Service is dragging its feet on protecting the Sprague’s Pipit as an endangered species because doing so would put them in conflict with powerful agriculture and oil industries.
The greatest threat to the birds is conversion of prairie grassland habitat (the only place it lives) to croplands, and some oil and natural gas development. Grassland ecosystems are some of the most threatened in the world. They are being converted to commercial uses faster than the Amazon rainforest. This conversion has led to a steady decline in grassland bird species.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act does not protect this grassland habitat for the Sprague’s Pipits. It only protects them, their eggs, and active nests. Protecting the birds but not their habitats is sort of a peculiar conservation strategy. Without the unique prairie grass ecosytems, the birds will not be able to live.
The Canadian Wildlife agency notes, “The species has experienced long-term declines with no evidence of recovery.” It also states more habitat loss and fragmentation have been projected. Maybe it is a fortunate situation most of the Sprague’s Pipits live in Canadian territory, as at least on paper they have legal protection there.
Image Credit: Finaira1