Pacific Southwest Region
California, Nevada and Klamath Basin

Service Finding Concludes Coastal California Gnatcatcher Is a Valid Subspecies and Should Remain Listed as Threatened

Oct 25, 2011

For Immediate Release: October 25, 2011

Contact: Jane Hendron – 760/431-9440 ext. 205

Fish and Wildlife Service Finding Concludes Coastal California Gnatcatcher
Is a Valid Subspecies and Should Remain Listed as Threatened

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today its finding that a petition seeking to remove the coastal California gnatcatcher (Polioptila californica californica) from protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) does not contain substantial scientific information indicating the action is warranted. The Service confirmed the gnatcatcher is a valid subspecies and is no longer considering the gnatcatcher as a Distinct Population Segment.

The Service received a petition on April 12, 2010, from the Pacific Legal Foundation, seeking to remove the coastal California gnatcatcher from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife, based on the assertion it is not a valid subspecies. 

Today’s decision, commonly known as a 90-day finding, is based on scientific information about the gnatcatcher provided in the petition, and other scientific information in the agency’s files.

Under the Endangered Species Act, "species" is defined broadly to include species, subspecies, and also to include Distinct Population Segments (DPS) of vertebrate species (animals with backbones). A DPS is a portion of a vertebrate species or subspecies that is geographically discrete from the rest of its kind and also is significant to survival of the species as a whole.

The petition cited a research paper, along with an assertion that an improper statistical analysis and degraded museum specimens, contributed to misidentification of the coastal California gnatcacher as a subspecies.

In 2004, the Service published a proposed rule to revise critical habitat for the coastal California gnatcatcher, and to consider recognizing the coastal California gnatcatcher as a DPS. After release of the proposed rule, the Service convened a panel of avian experts to review the taxonomic information regarding the coastal California gnatcatcher.

The panelists included 5 Service biologists not involved with the gnatcatcher specifically, 1 Smithsonian Institute biologist, and a biologist from the National Park Service. These experts concluded there was insufficient evidence to conclude the current taxonomic classification is in error.

In light of the results of the panel, information provided by independent peer reviewers, and other available information, the Service reaffirms the existing taxonomy of the coastal California gnatcatcher as a subspecies.

Coastal California gnatcatchers are closely aligned with coastal scrub vegetation. This vegetation is typified by low growing shrub and sub-shrub species that are often drought deciduous. The coastal California gnatcatcher’s range extends from the southern coastal part of Ventura County down to coastal Baja California, Mexico.

Although threats to the gnatcatcher are being addressed through the development and implementation of several regional habitat conservation plans, a 5-year review of the species’ status completed in 2010 determined it should remain listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The recovery priority number for the gnatcatcher is 9C, indicating that this subspecies has a moderate degree of threat, a high potential for recovery, and is the subject of conflict.

A copy of the finding can be viewed online at the Federal Register today. The finding will officially publish on October 26, 2011. It will be available at, and can be found by typing in Docket Number FWS-R8-ES-2011-0066 in the search box.
Any new information about the coastal California gnatcatcher should be sent to Field Supervisor, Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office, 6010 Hidden Valley Road, Suite 101, Carlsbad, CA 92011.

- FWS -

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