Vt. green group plans to sue feds to protect rare songbird (update)

MONTPELIER, Vt. – An environmental group said Tuesday the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has passed a legally mandated deadline to decide on endangered species status for a rare songbird and the group plans to sue the federal government to protect the bird.

The Center for Biological Diversity said climate change threatens to destroy the habitat of the Bicknell’s thrush, which nests in coniferous forests on mountaintops in northern New England, the Adirondacks and eastern Canada. The bird winters in the Caribbean.

The center, based in Richmond, petitioned the federal agency in August 2010 for the protective status for the sparrow-sized bird, and maintains that the agency was required by law to issue a decision one year later. The Fish and Wildlife Service said last summer that the bird was being considered for endangered species status.

“Without swift government action, this icon of our wild Northeast mountains is on track to disappear in our lifetimes,” said Mollie Matteson, a conservation advocate at the center’s Northeast office.

The office on Tuesday notified the Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of Interior that the group plans to file a lawsuit.

“Last year was the warmest year on record in the United States, with record storms, drought and fires,” Matteson said. “The disappearance of a plucky brown bird nesting at the tops of mountains may not be as dramatic, but all these events point to a world increasingly hostile to life as we know it. Our fate is not separate from that of the thrush or of other species at risk from climate change, and we need to start acting like we know that.”

Meagan Racey, a spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Northeast region in Hadley, Mass., said the agency would review the notice once it receives it.

The Fish and Wildlife Service completed a 90-day review in August and found that the habitat of the Bicknell’s thrush faces threats from climate change and forestry, energy, and recreational development, such as ski areas.

“Like other migrating songbirds, the Bicknell’s thrush is further challenged by the impacts of changing climate on its breeding and wintering areas,” the agency said. “The loss of high-elevation forests, shift in available food, and increase in extreme weather could affect the survival of this species.”

The service then began a 60-day period when it invited more information on the bird and its habitat. Following that period, the service said, it would issue a 12-month finding on the center’s petition. That finding has not been issued and the bird also is not on the service’s listing work plan for 2013 to 2018, released last month. Because of the possible litigation, Racey said she could not comment on why the bird wasn’t on the plan.