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Conservation groups to sue over Eastern Black Rail protection

Eastern Black Rail
An Eastern Black Rail is held for banding in Texas in January 2017. Photo by Christy Hand, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

The Center for Biological Diversity and Healthy Gulf filed a formal notice on Thursday of their intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) over a Trump administration decision that the Eastern Black Rail should have threatened rather than endangered status under the Endangered Species Act. The FWS predicts that the critically imperiled marsh bird will likely be extinct by 2068.

“Without strong federal action, Eastern Black Rails could be gone within our lifetime because of human-caused habitat destruction,” said Kristine Akland, a staff attorney at the center. “If the Service doesn’t think this dire scenario qualifies a species as endangered, then I don’t know what would. To save these remarkable, elusive birds, we have to protect them and the wetlands where they live.”

The Center and Healthy Gulf sued the Service in March 2020 for its long delay in finalizing Endangered Species Act protections for Eastern Black Rails. As a result — more than 10 years after the Center petitioned for the species’ protection — the Service finally listed the rail as threatened in October 2020. In March 2021, the Center and Healthy Gulf notified the Service of their intent to sue to challenge the agency’s decision not to designate critical habitat for this species.

The Eastern Black Rail once occurred across much of the eastern United States, but the rapid disappearance of wetlands has caused a steep decline in its populations.

The Service found that the bird is likely to be driven completely extinct over the next five decades, primarily because of wetland habitat destruction from urban and agricultural sprawl and climate change. The agency also found that in the next 15 years, the rail will likely be extinct throughout the Great Plains.

The birds are gray-black with a chestnut neck and bright red eyes. Black rails are extremely secretive, walking or running under dense marsh vegetation to catch prey, including insects, snails, and seeds.

“It is well past time that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service takes action to protect this species from extinction,” said Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of Healthy Gulf. “The dire warning that this species could face extinction within 48 years if nothing is done should be a wakeup call that this bird deserves the highest level of protection.”

Thanks to the Center for Biological Diversity for providing this news.

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