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USFWS declines to list Tufted Puffins

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced this week that it will not list the Tufted Puffin (Fratercula cirrhata) under the Endangered Species Act. In 2014, the Natural Resources Defense Council petitioned asking that the Tufted Puffin be listed either as a species or a distinct population segment (DPS) of Tufted Puffins in the contiguous U.S.  

The Tufted Puffin, a pelagic seabird found in the North Pacific Ocean, nests along the coasts of California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska in the United States, and in Japan, Russia, and British Columbia, Canada. About 82% of the global population nests in the U.S., primarily Alaska. 

In 2015, the USFWS issued a 90-day finding, indicating that listing may be warranted, although it did not indicate whether that was range-wide as a species, or as a distinct population segment. This week’s announcement serves as the 12-month finding, and concludes that, “While the tufted puffin's range will likely continue to contract in the south due to climate change, models predict the species will continue to remain widely distributed throughout most of its historical range.” 

According to USFWS, the most significant threats affecting Tufted Puffins and their habitat are climate change, oil spills, fisheries bycatch, predation, nonnative plants and animals, and human disturbance, with climate change and oil spills being the most significant. However, “the best available information for tufted puffins indicates adequate redundancy and representation across the species’ range, including robust populations across the majority of its range,” says the USFWS. 

In a species status assessment completed earlier this year, the USFWS noted that in 2002 the global population of Tufted Puffins was about 3 million. Since then, several populations have declined. According to the assessment, the current consensus among experts is that Tufted Puffins “are undergoing a range contraction, particularly on the southern end of its range ... However, the species continues to be widely distributed across its northern historical range, and maintains high abundance overall.”

The USFWS also declined to list the White-tailed Ptarmigan (Lagopus leucura)  under the ESA, noting that while they are potentially threatened by climate change, predation, mining and related poisoning due to toxic concentrations of trace metals, hunting, recreation, and livestock and native ungulate grazing, the current risk of extinction is low and listing is not warranted.  

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