MOREHEAD CITY -- Local bird watchers, environmentalists and anyone with an interest in birds or endangered species will have a chance to comment on protection for the threatened red knot.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will hold a public hearing at 5 p.m. Sunday at the Crystal Coast Civic Center on the proposal to list the red knot, a migratory bird that can be found in North Carolina, as a threatened species. This would mean the red knot is at risk of becoming an endangered species and would have certain protections under the Endangered Species Act.
According to a release from the USFWS, the red knot is “a robin-sized shorebird that visits the U.S. on its annual journey between the tips of the Americas.” The service said the knot’s population has declined to about 75 percent in some areas since the 1980s.
“Changing climate conditions are already affecting the bird’s food supply, the timing of its migration and its breeding habitat in the Arctic,” the service said. “The shorebird also is losing habitat along its range due to sea level rise, shoreline projects and development.”
Lilibeth Serrano, public affairs specialist with the USFWS Raleigh field office, said there’s not a total population count currently for how many red knots winter in North Carolina.
“The number can vary from year to year depending on available food resources and because there has been a lack of consistent long-term surveys,” she said. “However, from 2009 to 2012, during North Carolina’s May spring peak migration, counts reported about 1,400 to 2,800 red knots.”
Ms. Serrano said incidental red knot sightings from the 2001 and 2006 wintering piping plover surveys reported 455 and 157 red knots, respectively. However, these may be an under representation because red knots, while counted using consistent methodology, were not the target of the survey efforts.
While red knots don’t stay consistently in North Carolina year-round, they can be found along the coast throughout the year. The knots tend to gather in marshes and shallow beach areas to find shelter and food: mostly coquina clams, sand fleas, mole crabs and other crabs.
“Red knots require open habitats that allow them to see potential predators and that are away from tall perches used by avian predators,” Ms. Serrano said.
The USFWS has reopened the comment period on its proposal to list the knot as threatened. The public can provide comments on the proposed rule for 45 days through Monday, May 19.
Comments provided during the first comment period need not be resubmitted, as those are already part of the administrative record. During the initial comment period, the service received more than 560 individual comments and 19,000 form letters.
Additionally, requests were made to hold public hearings specifically in North Carolina and Texas. The service said a public hearing is offered upon request with every federal rulemaking to ensure maximum public participation and awareness of a proposed action.
The service expects to take final action on the listing rule by the end of September. As required by the ESA, the USFWS is also reviewing the U.S. range of the knot to identify areas that are essential for its conservation, called critical habitat.
Critical habitat focuses the coordination of federal agencies, which are directed by the ESA to aid in the conservation of listed species. Examples of factors for determining a species’ critical habitat include where it occurs and how often, and the most important defined areas that support its biological needs such as feeding or resting.
For the knot, these elements may include sand dunes and wide, open beaches for roosting and habitat supporting prey like small clams. The Service expects to publish a separate rule proposing critical habitat this year.
Details on the kinds of information the Service is seeking are available in the comment period reopening notice published in the Federal Register today.
Comments and information can be provided at the hearings or submitted online at the Federal Rulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov. Anyone commenting should follow the instructions for submitting information on docket number FWS–R5–ES–2013–0097.
Comments may also be submitted by mail or hand-delivery by sending them to Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R5–ES–2013–0097; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222; Arlington, Va. 22203.
According to the service, the knot is one of the longest-distance migrants in the animal kingdom. While migrating between wintering grounds as far south as Tierra del Fuego and breeding grounds in the Canadian Arctic, the shorebird can be found in flocks of a few individuals to several thousand along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
The largest concentration of knots is found in May in Delaware Bay, where studies show knots nearly double their weight to prepare for the final leg of their long migration to the Arctic. One bird, called B95 from the numbered flag scientists have attached to his leg, has been nicknamed the Moonbird because he has flown the equivalent of a trip to the moon and at least halfway back in his 20 or more years of migrations.
International, state, and local governments, the conservation community, beachgoers and land managers are helping ensure knots have safe areas to winter, rest and feed during their long migrations. These partners help knots in a variety of ways, including managing disturbance in key habitats, improving management of hunting outside the U.S. and collecting data to better understand the knot.