ALBANY — The state Department of Environmental Conservation is exploring changes to its endangered and protected species designation including removing the storied Bald Eagle from the threatened list to that of “special concern.”
The DEC’s preproposal would remove 19 species from the state’s endangered and threatened species list. Several species like the bald eagle, northern harrier, peregrine falcon, and humpback whale have experienced significant growth in their numbers and range, with some populations now 10 times the state’s initial recovery goals.
“The remarkable recovery of the bald eagle in New York state and beyond is one of our nation’s best stories of conservation success,” said Executive Director of Audubon New York Ana Paula Tavares. “Help came to this species when it was needed most-exactly what the state endangered, threatened, and special concern species list exists to achieve.”
The bald eagle was once on the brink of extinction with just one breeding pair in the entire state when they were listed as endangered in 1973. Now, there are some 390 breeding eagles nesting within every region of the state, according to the DEC. The bald eagle was removed from the federal endangered species list in 2007, through it does remain protected under the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
The bald eagle can live more than 30 years and they mate for life. They return to nest in the general area, within 250 miles, from which they fledged, according to the DEC. Once a pair selects its nesting territory, they use it for the rest of their lives. The nests are large, up to 100 pounds, and are usually located high in a tall, live white pine tree near water.
Other species that would receive an upgraded categorization based on their overall wellbeing, according to the DEC proposal include:
- The deepwater sculpin, a 2- to 5-inch fish living in Lake Ontario, would move from endangered to special concern.
- The eastern fence lizard would move from threatened to special concern
- The northern harrier, a raptor, would move from threatened to special concern
- The peregrine falcon would move from endangered to special concern
The DEC is proposing to “downgrade” 18 species that are not doing as well and would see an increase in their protective designations.
- The pocketbook mussel would move from no designation to one of special concern
- The saltmarsh sparrow would move from none to special concern
- The swallowtail shiner, a small bird, would move from none to threatened
- The tricolored bat would move from none to threatened
- The eastern hellbender (salamander) would move from special concern to threatened.
Other species would be removed from the state’s endangered or threatened lists because they have been found to no longer include New York within their range, such as the silver chub, or because they have gone extinct like the eastern cougar and Eskimo curlew.
When a species is listed as threatened or endangered under the state Endangered Species Law, it becomes a priority for DEC monitoring and management programs and is protected through a permit requirement for projects likely to cause harm to the species.
“The state has invested significant resources to support the recovery of vulnerable fish and wildlife through habitat restoration, management plans, stocking, and more to help populations grow,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “Unlike the Trump Administration, which continues to roll back critical protections for endangered species and dismisses the very real threats climate change presents going forward, DEC is committed to using science to focus on the species most in need of protection and improving how we interact with New Yorkers living alongside our state’s endangered and threatened species so both natural and man-made communities benefit.”
The preproposal, released on Friday, Oct. 25, is intended to solicit public and expert comments on the need for list changes from the existing 90 endangered and threatened designations to ensure upcoming formally proposed list changes reflect the latest science that accurately accounts for the species most in need of additional legal protections.
The full list of draft changes to the state endangered and threatened species listing can be found in the DEC pre-proposal on the DEC’s website.