Wildlife service declines special protection request for tufted puffin

A tufted puffin sits in its burrow on the coastline of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge during summer.
Tufted puffins burrow all along the coastline of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge during the summer. Wintering out to sea, they return to Kodiak each May to breed and nest. (Lisa Hupp/USFWS)

The tufted puffin, a black seabird known for its white “mask” and orange bill, does not warrant Endangered Species Act protections, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Wednesday.

The agency was petitioned in 2014 by the Natural Resources Defense Council to provide protections. The environmental group cited, in part, steep declines in breeding populations over the last three decades in California, Oregon and Washington.

It asked the agency to list as threatened or endangered the contiguous U.S. population as a “distinct population segment,” or to list the entire species if the population in the contiguous U.S. did not meet agency standards for a distinct population.

The Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday said climate change and oil spills pose the biggest threat to the species. It said its review found the birds are “undergoing a range contraction, specifically on the southern end of their range, but that the species continues to be widely distributed across the northern part of its range and maintains high overall abundance.”

The agency said tufted puffins in the U.S. nest along the West Coast and Alaska, and in British Columbia, Russia and Japan.

Stewart Cogswell, supervisor of the agency’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office in Anchorage, said the agency will continue participating in efforts to monitor the species.

The commissioner of Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game, Doug Vincent-Lang, agreed with the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision.

Brad Sewell, senior director of the Natural Resource Defense Council’s oceans program, in a statement Wednesday called puffins “iconic species.”

Sewell said his group has long worked to protect the species and “won’t stop until they get the protections needed.”

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