[Federal Register: May 21, 1999 (Volume 64, Number 98)]
[Proposed Rules]               
[Page 27747-27749]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 90-Day Finding for 
a Petition To List the Baird's Sparrow as Threatened With Critical 

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of 90-day petition finding.


SUMMARY: We, the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce a 90-day 
finding for a petition to list the Baird's sparrow (Ammodramus bairdii) 
as threatened, and to designate critical habitat, under the Endangered 
Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). We find that the petition does 
not present substantial information indicating that listing of this 
species as threatened may be warranted.

DATES: The finding announced in this document was made on May 13, 1999.

ADDRESSES: Data, information, comments, or questions concerning this 
petition should be submitted to the Field Supervisor, North Dakota 
Ecological Services Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1500 
East Capitol Avenue, Bismarck, North Dakota 58501. The petition 
finding, supporting data, and comments are available for public 
inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours at the above 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Al Sapa, at the above address, or 
telephone (701) 250-4481.



    Section 4(b)(3)(A) of the Act, requires that we make a finding on 
whether a petition to list, delist, or reclassify a species presents 
substantial scientific or commercial information to demonstrate that 
the petitioned action may be warranted. This finding is to be based on 
all information available to us at the time the finding is made. To the 
maximum extent practicable, this finding is to be made within 90 days 
of the date the petition was received, and the finding is to be 
published promptly in the Federal Register. If the finding is that 
substantial information was presented, we are required to promptly 
initiate a review of the status of the species.
    We initiated a status review for the Baird's sparrow when it was 
categorized as a Category 2 species in the Animal Notice of Review 
published in the Federal Register on November 21, 1991 (56 FR 58804). 
At that time, a Category 2 species was one that was being considered 
for possible addition to the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened 
Wildlife, but for which conclusive data on biological vulnerability and 
threat were not available to support a proposed rule. Designation of 
Category 2 species was discontinued in the February 28, 1996, Notice of 
Review (61 FR 7596). We completed the Baird's Sparrow Status Assessment 
and Conservation Plan (Jones and Green 1998) in April 1998. Based on 
the results of the Assessment, we recommended no change in the status 
for this species and it remains on our list of Nongame Migratory Bird 

Species of Management Concern. This designation does not confer legal 
protection but is intended to stimulate a coordinated effort by 
Federal, State, and private agencies to develop and implement 
comprehensive and integrated approaches for management.
    On July 1, 1997, we received a petition dated June 26, 1997, from 
the Biodiversity Legal Foundation, to list the Baird's sparrow 
(Ammodramus bairdii) as threatened, and to designate critical habitat, 
pursuant to the Act. We acknowledged receipt of the petition on July 
23, 1997, and indicated to the petitioner that our Listing Priority 
Guidance for fiscal year 1997, published in the December 5, 1996, 
Federal Register (61 FR 64475), would preclude working on the 90-day 
finding at that time. The fiscal year 1997 Guidance designated the 
processing of listing

[[Page 27748]]

petitions as a Tier 3 activity, i.e., of lower priority than the 
completion of emergency listings (Tier 1) and the processing of pending 
proposed listings (Tier 2). We indicated that, as these higher-priority 
activities were accomplished we would proceed with a 90-day finding on 
the Baird's sparrow petition.
    The petitioner requested the current status of its petition in 
March 1998, and we responded that we were in a position to start 
responding to petitions, and that we intended to prepare a 90-day 
finding by June 29, 1998. Subsequently, higher priority listing issues 
prevented us from meeting that completion date.
    The petitioner asserted that historically the Baird's sparrow was 
abundant and widespread in the northern Great Plains, but that today 
the species is mainly restricted to small islands of remaining native 
prairie surrounded by an agricultural mosaic. Also, the petitioner 
stated that the small remnant breeding populations of the sparrow are 
threatened by the ongoing loss of suitable grassland habitat, extensive 
agricultural practices (such as livestock grazing, haying, irrigation, 
and the use of pesticides), collisions with communication towers, the 
invasion of exotic species, and fire suppression.
    The Baird's sparrow is a grassland specialist endemic to the 
northern North American prairie. Its behavior and ecology was shaped by 
the historical conditions of the Great Plains, and the health of its 
populations are dependent on the conditions of native prairie (Samson 
and Knopf 1996). The habitat of the Baird's sparrow consists of upland 
prairies of mixed-grass or tallgrass habitat types. The Baird's sparrow 
nests in North and South Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, Alberta, Manitoba, 
and Saskatchewan. Common grasses found in its habitat are Bouteloua 
gracilis (blue grama), Stipa comata (needle-and-thread), and Andropogon 
scoparius (little bluestem). In the breeding season Baird's sparrows 
prefer native grasslands, but they also nest in smaller numbers in 
hayfields, seeded pastures (Sutter et al. 1995), weedy stubble fields 
and retired croplands (Kantrud and Kologiski 1983, Stewart 1975, De 
Smet and Conrad 1989, Davis 1994), wheat fields (Land 1968), and in dry 
wetland basins (Goossen et al. 1993). The Baird's sparrow winters 
primarily in northern Mexico, although some individuals may be found in 
southwestern Texas, southeastern Arizona, and occasionally southern New 
Mexico (Jones and Green 1998).
    The petitioner asserted that mid-grass prairie habitat continues to 
be converted to cultivation and other uses at an alarming rate. 
However, there were no recent acreage figures provided to support that 
argument. The petition recognized that the Baird's sparrow's breeding 
range included large tracts of U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land 
Management, and other Federal lands on the northern plains, and this 
provides the potential for implementation of specific management 
measures to conserve the species.
    Estimates of the remaining mixed grass prairie are wide-ranging. 
Mixed grass prairie has declined 60-99 percent in acreage in the 
prairie provinces and North Dakota (Sampson and Knopf 1996), with over 
90 percent of the grasslands in Canada converted to agriculture. The 
most conservative estimates in North Dakota are that approximately 8 
million acres of the habitat remain (U.S. Geological Survey 1993). 
Others estimate that as many as 12-15 million acres of the northern 
mixed grass prairie type still exist in North Dakota (Klopatek et al. 
1979). Overall, we believe that current Baird's sparrow population 
estimates and trends indicate that native prairie acreage in the 
Northern Great Plains is sufficient to support a stable population. 
There are significant large tracts of this habitat on Federal land that 
are managed with light to moderate grazing pressure as a conservation 
measure for Baird's sparrow.
    Population data are unreliable from many parts of the Baird's 
sparrow range, and conflict in other areas. However, populations are 
likely to be greater than earlier believed, and remain high in many 
portions of the range (Jones and Green 1998). The population in North 
Dakota is estimated to be from 171,000 to 279,000 breeding pairs (Igl 
and Johnson 1997), based on the most recent North American Breeding 
Bird Survey (BBS) data. Our analysis indicates that historic population 
trends have been negative, but populations of the species currently 
appear to be stable. The BBS data indicate that this sparrow's 
population declines were persistent and steep (in mean annual percent 
change per year) in the continental population for the period of 1966-
1979 for all areas except Montana (Sauer et al. 1996). However, for the 
period 1980-1996, with a larger sample size of survey routes, the 
trends leveled out in most geographic areas. During this period, there 
was a nonsignificant increase for the entire survey area of 1.1 percent 
per year, and significant increases in the Glaciated Missouri Plateau 
region (mainly North Dakota). The average trend over the 30 years 
(1966-1996) of the BBS shows Baird's sparrow population trends to be 
stable (Sauer et al. 1996, Jones and Green 1998).
    Susceptibility to human disturbance is a factor in Baird's sparrow 
distribution. Disturbances caused by plowing, brushing, burning, 
movement of livestock, grazing, haying, and mowing can result in the 
abandonment of an area and lead to reproductive failure (Jones and 
Green 1998). However, the species can coexist with light to moderate 
grazing pressure on native prairie (Cartwright et al. 1937, Lane 1968, 
Sampson and Knopf 1996) and the currently stable population trend for 
Baird's sparrow implies that the survival of the species is not 
threatened by these habitat disturbances at this time.
    Predation can be a major cause of reproductive failure in Baird's 
sparrows (Davis and Sealy in press), as it is with most small birds. 
Predation frequencies ranged from 26-46 percent for nests in 
southwestern Manitoba to 50-71 percent in southern Saskatchewan (Davis 
1994). Davis and Sealy (in press) reported predation by the striped 
skunk (Mephitis mephitis) and the thirteen-lined ground squirrel 
(Spermophilus tridecemlineatus). Richardson's ground-squirrels (S. 
richardsoni) depredated eggs, nestlings, and fledglings at a site in 
Alberta (Mahon 1995). Other potential predators include American crow 
(Corvus brachyrhyncos), northern harrier (Circus cyaneus), and western 
plains garter snake (Thamnophis radix haydeni) (Davis and Sealy in 
    Baird's sparrow nests are commonly parasitized by brown-headed 
cowbirds (Molothrus ater). Davis and Sealy (in press) found that 36 
percent of 74 nests in southwestern Manitoba were parasitized with an 
average of two cowbirds eggs (range 1-4). Significantly fewer young 
were fledged from successful parasitized nests than from successful 
nonparasitized nests, resulting in an average cost of 1.1 Baird's 
sparrow fledglings per parasitized nest. Egg removal by cowbirds was 
likely the primary cause of lowered productivity in parasitized nests. 
These levels of predation and nest parasitism are comparable to other 
grassland passerine birds, and we find no evidence to indicate that the 
level of documented predation is a threat to the species based upon its 
stable population trend.
    The Baird's sparrow is protected from take under the Migratory Bird 
Treaty Act in the United States, the Migratory Bird Convention Act in 
Canada, and the Convention for the Protection of Migratory Bird and 
Game Mammals in Mexico. Additionally, the Baird's sparrow is on the 
Service's list of

[[Page 27749]]

Nongame Migratory Bird Species of Management Concern and is the subject 
of numerous research efforts and conservation actions across its range. 
We reviewed information during the processing of this petition to 
indicate that the level of concern generated by these designations has 
been sufficient to generate heightened research and management interest 
in the Baird's sparrow. The Service will continue to promote these 
efforts to improve the biological status of the Baird's sparrow. Our 
current programs that benefit the Baird's sparrow include grassland 
easements, technical assistance to ranchers grazing native prairie and 
research and monitoring of grassland species.


    We reviewed the petition, as well as other available information, 
published and unpublished studies and reports, and agency files. On the 
basis of the best scientific and commercial information available, we 
find the petition does not present substantial information that listing 
this species may be warranted. While the species has experienced major 
declines since European settlement of the prairies and the conversion 
of native prairie to agriculture, population trend data for this 
species over the last 16 years show their populations are stable. There 
are an estimated 171,000 to 279,000 pairs of Baird's sparrows in North 
Dakota (Igl and Johnson 1997). We have found no evidence to suggest 
that the millions of acres of breeding habitat for this species in 
North Dakota, Montana, and Canada face immediate threat of conversion 
from grassland to other agricultural uses. Canada removed the Baird's 
sparrow from its national list of threatened species in 1997 after a 
1994 survey estimated 500,000 to 2 million pairs of Baird's sparrow in 
Saskatchewan (Davis et al. 1996). The petition provided no evidence to 
indicate that conditions on the wintering grounds threaten the 
continued existence of Baird's sparrow. The Baird's sparrow remains a 
species of special concern and the BBS and other range-wide and local 
surveys will continue to monitor its status.

References Cited

    You may request a complete list of all references cited herein, as 
well as others, from the Service's North Dakota Field Office (See 
ADDRESSES section).


    Michael Olson (see ADDRESSES section) prepared this document.


    The authority for this action is the Endangered Species Act of 
1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.).

    Dated: May 13, 1999.
Jamie Rappaport Clark,
Director, Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 99-12844 Filed 5-20-99; 8:45 am]