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
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.
In making the proposal, the Fish and Wildlife Service ignored its own wildlife biologist’s recommendations to keep the bird listed as endangered, according to internal e-mails.
While the bird’s estimated population has increased to 7,100 pairs, other vital goals have not been met, wrote the biologist, Joel Pagel, in an Aug. 23, 2006 e-mail to three officials in the service’s Carlsbad office.