Press-Republican

August 19, 2012

Bicknell's thrush considered for federal protection

By JEFF MEYERS, Press-Republican
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — The Bicknell’s thrush, a small songbird that spends its summers in the mountains of upstate New York and New England, may soon be classified as a threatened or endangered species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided to evaluate the current status of the Bicknell’s thrush to determine whether the species needs federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.

“We’re at a very early stage in the process,” said Meagan Racey, spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We are now moving into a 60-day period in which we will collect information from the public, and then we will move into a more extensive 12-month review of the status of the Bicknell’s thrush.”

The Bicknell’s thrush is smaller than a robin but larger than a sparrow. Adults are olive-brown on the upper parts, with a red tint along the tail. The under parts are white with gray on the flanks. The breast is gray with darker spots.

LOBBIED FOR PROTECTION

The Fish and Wildlife Service received a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity to consider federal protection for the species. After a 90-day fact-finding process that followed the petition, the federal agency decided the Bicknell’s thrush warranted formal consideration.

“Based on the information in the petition and in our files, we believe there is evidence that warrants further evaluation,” Racey said, adding that the species has been impacted by loss of breeding habitat and by a consistent threat to its habitat from climate change.

The Bicknell’s thrush relies on the mixed spruce and fir forests found in higher elevations across New England and the Adirondack Mountains. Climate change could have a significant impact on those evergreen forests over the next quarter century, Racey noted.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service evaluates the status of plants and animals based on five distinct factors, including threats to habitat and other natural or human-induced factors, such as climate change.

Those factors could impact the summer range of the Bicknell’s thrush as well as its wintering habitat in the Caribbean, where it is threatened by substance farming and excessive logging.

LOCAL HABITAT

The Bicknell’s thrush has a definite connection to the North Country, as it breeds in several areas above 3,000 feet across the region, including Lyon Mountain, where it was first identified around 2006.

“Since 2004, the Nature Conservancy’s Adirondack Chapter has conserved 12 mountain sites with Bicknell’s thrush habitat, the largest of which are Lyon Mountain and Boreas Mountain (in Essex County),” said Connie Prickett, communications manager for the regional Nature Conservancy chapter.

Boreas Mountain lies within the 69,000 acres that New York state will be purchasing from the conservancy for addition to the publicly owned Forest Preserve, Prickett noted. It is by far the most extensive area with Bicknell’s thrush habitat on the 161,000-acre tract of land in the central Adirondacks that the conservancy purchased in 2007, she added.

Other regional sites, like Dun Brook Mountain near Tupper Lake, are on lands already protected by conservation easements that include provisions to protect Bicknell’s thrush and other species, such as the blackpoll warbler, Prickett said.

“In addition to securing vital habitat, these Adirondack sites can also serve as important reference areas for understanding how the birds are responding to other threats, like climate change and mercury contamination,” she added.

GLOBAL THREAT

Allison Buckley, conservation director for the Adirondack Council, sees the move from a larger perspective.

“We think it’s important, not only for the Bicknell’s thrush but for all migratory birds that are experiencing unprecedented extinction rates around the world,” she said.

“We do have quite a bit of habitat (in the Adirondacks). They breed at higher elevations that are mostly protected already, but it is certainly going to take a lot more stakeholders to ensure the survival of the species.

“It opens the door for possible funding, which is critical for any conservation movement,” she added of the opportunities created when a species is protected.

“But education is huge. There is definitely a need for coordination between the U.S. and the Dominican Republic (where a high percentage of the species winters).”

 Upon completion of the 12-month review, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will make its final decision on whether to place the Bicknell’s thrush on the threatened and endangered list.

Email Jeff Meyers:

jmeyers@pressrepublican.com