Regulators review rare loon for protections

Posted: Wednesday, May 30, 2007

ANCHORAGE - A petition seeking Endangered Species Act protection for a rare loon that breeds in Alaska's National Petroleum Reserve has been accepted for review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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Conservationists hope an eventual listing of the yellow-billed loon will curb petroleum development in the 23-million acre reserve that covers much of Alaska's western North Slope.

The petition was filed three years ago by the Center for Biological Diversity, the National Resource Defense Council, Pacific Environment and other U.S. and Russian scientific and conservation organizations.

The Fish and Wildlife Service said it will publish its determination today in the Federal Register that the yellow-billed loon may merit protections.

The finding requires the agency to solicit public comment, carry out a status review of the species, and if merited, issue a proposed rule to protect the loons later this year.

The yellow-billed loon breeds in tundra wetlands in Alaska, Canada and Russia, and winters along the west coasts of Canada and the United States.

Petroleum development through leasing ordered by President Bush could reduce its numbers, said Brendan Cummings, ocean program director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

"The yellow-billed loon is one of the rarest and most vulnerable birds in the United States, yet the Bush administration's plan to 'protect' it is to approve oil drilling in its habitat," Cummings said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates there are 16,500 yellow-billed loons in the world, including 3,700 to 4,900 that breed in Alaska.

More than 75 percent of the Alaska breeders nest in the petroleum reserve. Smaller numbers breed on the Seward Peninsula and on St. Lawrence Island.

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