Testimony in support of LD 57, An Act to Amend Maine’s Endangered and Threatened Species List
Senator LaFountain, Representative Landry, and distinguished members of the Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife;
I am Dr. Jeff Wells. I am a long-time member of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, a Fellow of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Vice President of Boreal Conservation for National Audubon. I am testifying in support of LD 57 on behalf of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, which requested that I represent them at today’s public hearing.
I was born and raised in Maine and I currently live in Gardiner, Maine. I received my Masters and Ph.D. from Cornell University studying ecology and conservation. I have written and lectured extensively on conservation and ecology and have written a number of books and hundreds of articles, papers and reports on the subject. Most recently I was a co-author of the book, Birds of Maine, for which I was the lead author on the chapter on the status and conservation of Maine birds.
I thank you for the opportunity to submit this testimony in support of LD 57, An Act to Amend Maine’s Endangered and Threatened Species List. The recognition of species that are at risk of loss from the state without concerted conservation action is one important function of a state-sanctioned endangered and threatened species list. When coupled with explicit legislation, as is the case here in Maine with the Maine Endangered Species Act, enacted into law in 1975, this list of endangered and threatened species becomes even more critical for ensuring that the species most at risk are provided with interventions that increase their long-term likelihood of maintaining viable populations in our state.
The eight species that have been recommended by Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to be added to the list (Bank Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Bicknell’s Thrush, Blackpoll Warbler, Saltmarsh Sparrow, Tricolored Bat, Ashton’s Cuckoo Bumble Bee, and Marginated Tiger Beetle) are all species that have experienced significant population declines both within the state and across their North American ranges. Because of these declines and the vulnerability of these species, most of them have had the unfortunate distinction of being added to various lists of species vulnerable to continued decline and extinction.
Birds are the taxon for which we have the best long-term population trend estimates. One of the species that is proposed to be added to the list, the Bank Swallow, has had the largest documented decline of all the birds of Maine with an 11% per year decline since 1966; that puts the current numbers of Bank Swallows in Maine at less than 1% of their abundance in 1966. Unfortunately, the Cliff Swallow and Blackpoll Warbler, two others proposed to be added to the Maine list are, with the Bank Swallow, among the top ten most declining breeding birds of our state. I will provide a table from our recently published Birds of Maine book that summarizes this information.
Population trends of Bicknell’s Thrush and Saltmarsh Sparrow are not as easily monitored because they occur in highly specialized and hard to access habitats but available data also suggest significant declines. More importantly, both species are at high risk from climate change. The Saltmarsh Sparrow, as its name suggests, is found solely in the narrow band of salt marsh habitat along our coast, nesting just inches above the normal high tide mark. As sea levels rise and storm surges become more frequent as a result of climate change, their nests are increasingly at risk as is their salt marsh habitat itself. Bicknell’s Thrush populations occur at the opposite elevational extreme, being found only above about 2,700 feet on mountain tops in spruce-fir forests. As climate change causes more intense heat and drought, these high elevation mountain forests are predicted to become smaller and eventually disappear.
Because of the declines and threats that have been well documented for the species proposed to be added to Maine’s list, they have already been added to various lists of species of global and national conservation concern. Saltmarsh Sparrow is listed as Endangered on the well-known global IUCN Redlist and as a Red category (highest concern) species by Partners in Flight, a highly respected bird conservation coalition. Bicknell’s Thrush is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Redlist and also as a Red category species by Partners in Flight. I will provide here the relevant pages from the appendix in Birds of Maine that summarizes this information.
Neighboring states have already listed many of these species. For example, the Cliff Swallow has been listed as Threatened in New Hampshire, the Tricolored Bat is listed as Endangered in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont. The Ashton Cuckoo Bumble Bee has been listed as Endangered in Vermont. In addition, the Bicknell’s Thrush and Bank Swallow are on our neighbor Canada’s list of Threatened wildlife while the Tricolored Bat is officially listed as Endangered in Canada.
I’m sure that the members of this Committee are well aware of and concerned about the continuing documentation of the loss of biodiversity and ecological degradation around the world and right here in Maine. The rapidly changing climate and environmental conditions of our world necessitate that governments be as responsive as possible in fulfilling their duties, including for protecting and maintaining the native species of plants and animals. The current timeline of reviewing and renewing Maine’s list of Endangered and Threatened species every eight years will not keep up with the changes that are already underway in our wildlife and plant populations. It will be very important to begin reviewing and updating the list every two to four years if there is any chance of identifying the species at greatest risk quickly enough to be able to recover their populations.
For these reasons, I urge the Committee to support LD 57, An Act to Amend Maine’s Endangered and Threatened Species List.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify on this bill.
Jeffrey Wells, Ph.D.