Petition to List Golden-winged Warbler under the Endangered Species Act

(Tom Will, Division of Migratory Birds, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Region 3)

On 10 February 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service received a petition to list the Golden-winged Warbler as Threatened or Endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The petition was referred to the Midwest Region, largely because over 80% of the global breeding population of the species resides in the forests surrounding the Great Lakes.

How is a petition to list a species processed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service?

Once the Division of Ecological Services receives a listing petition, there are two key decision points. The first, called a 90-day Finding, considers whether the information contained in the petition is substantial enough to justify additional evaluation by the Service. If the information in the petition is determined to be not substantial, the petition for listing receives no further consideration. In making this first determination, the Service considers the information presented in the petition and any other information readily available from its files. The standard for a substantial 90-day Finding is whether that information is adequate and reliable enough to lead a reasonable person to believe that listing may be warranted.

If the petition is judged to be substantial, additional evaluation by Service biologists is justified, and a second decision point occurs when a 12-month Finding is prepared. Evaluation of the petition during this period involves a review of the scientific evidence and a call to state agencies, organization partners, and the public for any new information which would be relevant. A biological document is prepared recommending one of three possible decisions regarding the petitioned listing: warranted, not warranted, or warranted but precluded. Warranted and not warranted have their commonly understood meanings. Warranted but precluded means that the species warrants listing, but other species have higher priority in the decision queue; after listing decisions are made for those species, the warranted but precluded species will get its turn. Evaluation is based on the criteria of the Endangered Species Act: the likelihood of extinction in the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of the species range. If listing of the species is determined to be not warranted, no further action is taken. If listing of the species is considered to be warranted, that finding ordinarily would be accompanied by a proposal to list the species. If the species is considered warranted but precluded, the species becomes a candidate for listing and is assigned a listing priority. If the species is ultimately listed, the provisions of the Act apply and the next step is normally the preparation of a Recovery Plan.

In actual practice, processing of the petition and both decisions (90-day Finding and 12-month Finding) may take more than a year (sometimes much longer) and is influenced by the availability of both personnel time and funding.

What does the listing petition mean for ongoing research and conservation action of the Golden-winged Warbler Working Group and its Conservation Initiative?

Because there has been such a backlog of species petitioned for listing coupled with limited available funding and staff capacity, the USFWS Division of Ecological Services conducted a prioritization exercise and developed a National Listing Workplan. In that plan, work on the 12-month Finding for Golden-winged Warbler would commence in fiscal year 2013.

Until a decision to propose listing is rendered as a result of a 12-month finding, all activities and permitting would proceed as they have been. Nonetheless, the petitioning of the species for listing under the ESA should serve to highlight the conservation vulnerability of Golden-winged Warbler in the public eye. The goal of the Golden-winged Warbler Working Group has always been and should continue to be prioritized research and monitoring and proactive conservation action through interstate and international partnerships for the benefit of Golden-winged Warbler and its breeding, migratory, and non-breeding habitats.