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Sparrow, four plants to be removed from endangered list

Bell's Sparrow
San Clemente Bell’s Sparrow. Photo by Nicole Desnoyers/Institute for Wildlife Studies (CC BY 2.0)

Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Navy announced that one bird and four plant species from San Clemente Island, the southernmost of the Channel Islands of California, have recovered and no longer require Endangered Species Act protection. Consequently, they will be removed from the list of endangered species on February 24.

The bird, San Clemente Bell’s Sparrow, is a non-migratory subspecies of the Bell’s Sparrow, which occurs in mainland California, Baja California, and neighboring states. Its population hit an all-time low of 38 individual adults in 1984, but today it numbers in the thousands.

“As the native shrub habitat recovered following the removal of the nonnative grazing and browsing animals, the distribution of SC Bell’s Sparrow expanded on SCI,” according to the Federal Register notice announcing the delisting. “Observations of Bell’s Sparrows in areas of the island outside the marine terraces on the west shore increased. … The population estimates ranged from 4,194 to 7,656 adult Bell’s Sparrows in the period 2013–2018.”

Also, habitat on the island available to the bird increased from about 4,196 hectares in 2009 to about 13,132 hectares in 2018.


Similarly, the four plants — San Clemente Island paintbrush, lotus, larkspur, and bush-mallow — have also made comebacks, the agency said.

“We have determined that the five SCI species are not in danger of extinction now nor are they likely to become so in the foreseeable future based on a comprehensive review of their status and listing factors,” FWS wrote. “Specifically, our recent review indicated that the Navy’s successful removal of nonnative herbivores (goats, sheep, pigs, cattle, mule deer) led to recovery of vegetation in areas of severely degraded habitat on SCI and to the recovery of these five species to the point that they no longer require protections under the Act. Accordingly, the species no longer meet the definition of endangered or threatened species under the Act.”

Martha Williams, FWS director, said in a statement: “The recoveries we celebrate today in this unique place demonstrate what is possible when partners work together under the Endangered Species Act. Across the nation, the Service and partners have ensured hundreds of species are stable or improving. We are grateful for the Navy’s leadership and long-term commitment to recovery efforts that have enabled us to bring these species back from the brink of extinction.”

Wilderness alongside a training ground

San Clemente Island is one of eight islands that comprise the Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California. The successful recovery of four plants and one bird adds to the list of species that have now successfully recovered across the islands, including the island night lizard, island fox, and the Santa Cruz Island dudleya and island bedstraw. Bald Eagle and Peregrine Falcon populations decimated by impacts from DDT have also rebounded nationally and are successfully breeding on the Channel Islands.


With climate change, including drought and sea-level rise, new challenges face many species.  Habitat Conservation Plans, recovery planning and habitat conservation through grants to states are all ESA tools necessary for safeguarding our native species and their habitats for future generations.

San Clemente Island is the primary maritime training area for the Navy Pacific Fleet and Sea, Air and Land Forces. Before the island was transferred to the Navy, intensive grazing by nonnative herbivores largely denuded it of its habitat, causing declines in numerous native plants and animals.

The Navy placed a priority on removing all nonnative herbivores from the island, allowing the habitat to recover. What was once a largely barren landscape now supports numerous endemic species of plants and animals, including the five species being removed from the federal lists of threatened and endangered species.

Additional efforts to aid recovery of the species include the Navy’s development of an Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan, a long-term planning document that balances the installation’s mission with conservation and management of its natural resources, and implementation of erosion and fire control measures, surveys and monitoring. 


Thanks to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for providing this news.

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