Dec 302014

The Fish and Wildlife Service will conduct a status review on the threatened coastal California gnatcatcher in response to a delisting petition, the service said in a 90-day finding to be officially published Dec. 31.

Pacific Legal Foundation filed the petition earlier this year, claiming the bird was not a valid subspecies.

The service's finding was brief, to say the least. In its entirety, it reads, "Based on our review of the petition and sources cited in the petition, we find that the petition presents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted for the coastal California gnatcatcher (Polioptila californica californica).

"Thus, for the coastal California gnatcatcher, the service requests information regarding the species taxonomy and listing factors under section 4(a)(1) of the Act."

A news release was more specific. It said FWS "is particularly interested in receiving new morphological, genetic or other relevant information about the bird; analyses or new interpretations of existing morphological, genetic or other information; the methods, results and conclusions of 2000 and 2013 research by Robert Zink et al., on which the 2014 petition heavily relies; and information related to consideration of the coastal California gnatcatcher as a Distinct Vertebrate Population Segment (DPS) under the ESA."

An earlier petition filed by PLF resulted in a negative 90-day finding. But this time, the petitioners have a new study of DNA evidence.

Polioptila californica californica (photo from FWS)

The petition was filed by PLF on behalf of Property Owners Association of Riverside County, the Center for Environmental Science, Accuracy & Reliability (CESAR), and the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture, and Business (COLAB). The California Building Industry Association and the National Association of Home Builders, represented by Robert Thornton, a partner with Nossaman LLP, joined the petition.

"[T]he petition is based on a peer-reviewed study of gnatcatcher DNA by Dr. Robert Zink of the University of Minnesota and several other scientists," PLF said in a news release. "The 2013 study, published in the respected ornithological journal The Auk, confirms earlier genetic studies of gnatcatcher DNA by Dr. Zink. The new study concludes that gnatcatchers in California are not genetically distinct from the abundant populations of gnatcatchers south of the border. The new DNA evidence is precisely the information that federal officials have suggested would warrant removing the ESA listing."

Zink's study is contained in the delisting petition

Gnatcatcher docket