Friday, Aug. 31, 2007 | Alongside the taxiway at Lindbergh Field sit four gravel-filled ovals. The empty enclosures are small oases amid the airport’s asphalt-covered grounds.
The ovals — 20 acres in all — serve as nesting sites for the California least tern, an endangered bird. They are visual reminders that the bird came close enough to extinction that nests alongside a busy jet runway were worth preserving. But they are also representative of the effect that the Endangered Species Act has on land use. The airport authority says larger planes could land at Lindbergh Field but for the ovals.
As The Tern Turns
The Issue: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed downgrading the California least tern from endangered to threatened.
What It Means: Downgrading the bird’s status under the federal Endangered Species Act would decrease the protections it’s afforded under the law. Some question whether the move is politically motivated. A staff biologist opposed the move, but he was vetoed from above. References he made to global warming were deleted.
The Bigger Picture: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has come under fire for its handling of endangered species issues after a senior official resigned in the wake of a federal auditor’s report that said she had unduly influenced agency decisions.
A federal proposal currently under consideration would reduce protection for the least tern. The proposal would make it possible for local agencies such as the airport authority to get permission to remove the nesting areas. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed downgrading the least tern from endangered status to threatened, a lower distinction that decreases protection.