Conserving the Nature of America

News Release

Service Announces Comment Period on Loon Conservation Agreement

March 14, 2006


Division of Public Affairs
External Affairs
Telephone: 703-358-2220

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published today in the Federal Register an announcement of the availability of a Draft Conservation Agreement for the Yellow-billed Loon (Gavia adamsii) for public review and comment.

This agreement represents a cooperative effort among local, state and federal resource agencies in northern and western Alaska to take measures necessary to conserve the species. These measures are designed to reduce or eliminate current, potential, or future threats to the loon and its habitat. The Service's partners in this undertaking include the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and Alaska Dept. of Natural Resources.

Copies of the conservation agreement are available for inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Fairbanks Fish and Wildlife Field Office, 101 12th Avenue, Fairbanks, AK 99701 (telephone: 907-456-0203). Requests for copies of the draft conservation agreement should be addressed to the Endangered Species Branch Chief at the above Service address. An electronic copy of the agreement can be found at:

There is little comprehensive scientific data on worldwide populations of yellow-billed loons. On the freshwater treeless tundra of Alaska, where studies have been conducted, the population is thought to be approximately 3,300 breeding birds. An admittedly rough estimate puts the world yellow-billed loon population at 16,000. It is the largest of the five loon species, and nests exclusively in coastal and low-lying arctic tundra between 62 and 74 degrees N latitude, always near permanent, fish-bearing lakes.

Yellow-billed loon populations are believed to be limited primarily by a shortage of appropriate breeding habitat, specifically nesting and brood-rearing lakes that meet this species? rather strict requirements. Lakes able to support breeding loons must be large (at least 13.4 hectares); have abundant fish; depths of more than two meters; always maintain water beneath winter ice; be surrounded with low-lying, convoluted and vegetated shorelines; and have clear water that remains at stable levels. It is thought that individual yellow-billed loons occupy the same breeding territory throughout their reproductive lives.

Because there are probably not enough such lakes to host all yellow-billed loons of breeding age, and because these are large-bodied birds with typically small clutches and low reproductive success, the loons likely depend upon high annual adult survival to maintain population levels. Simply put, individual loons must live many years before they can reliably replace themselves with offspring that survive long enough to breed. Because of this, any further limitation of habitat, or any factors that result in significant increases in adult mortality or decreases in reproductive success, could have serious implications for this already-rare species.

In northern Alaska, yellow-billed loons breed on lands within the National Petroleum Reserve"Alaska, and on State of Alaska lands between the Colville and the Canning rivers. In western Alaska, these birds are found breeding primarily along the coastal fringe of the Seward Peninsula on Selawik National Wildlife Refuge, Cape Krusenstern National Monument and Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, and on scattered small parcels of Bureau of Land Management and Alaska Native-owned lands. Small numbers of yellow-billed loons have also been found nesting on Alaska Native-owned lands on St. Lawrence Island.

The goal of this Agreement is to protect these birds and their breeding, brood-rearing, and migrating habitats in Alaska. In so doing, the partnering agencies hope that current or potential threats in these areas can be avoided, eliminated or reduced to the degree that the species will not become threatened or endangered as a result of such threats within the foreseeable future.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 542 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices, and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

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