[Federal Register: June 6, 2007 (Volume 72, Number 108)]
[Proposed Rules]               
[Page 31256-31264]
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 on 
a Petition To List the Yellow-Billed Loon as Threatened or Endangered

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of 90-day petition finding and initiation of status 


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce a 
90-day finding on a petition to list the yellow-billed loon (Gavia 
adamsii) as threatened or endangered, under the Endangered Species Act 
of 1973, as amended. We find that the petition presents substantial 
scientific information indicating that the petitioned action may be 
warranted. As a result of this action, the Service also announces the 
commencement of a thorough status review to determine if listing the 
yellow-billed loon may be warranted. We ask the public to submit to us 
any pertinent information concerning the status of or threats to this 
species. We will also be working with other agencies to gain additional 
data where gaps in our current information on this species exist. In 
addition, together with the Bureau of Land Management, the Alaska 
Departments of Fish and Game and Natural Resources, the U.S. Geological 
Survey, and the National Park Service, we have developed a Conservation 
Agreement for the yellow-billed loon, which addresses a subset of 
threats to the loon in a subset of the species' range. We invite 
comments on management strategies and research needs that should be 
considered in annual reviews of the Conservation Agreement.

DATES: The finding announced in this document was made on June 6, 2007. 
To be considered in the 12-month finding for this petition comments and 
information must be submitted to us by August 6, 2007.

ADDRESSES: Data, information, and comments concerning this finding may 
be submitted by any one of the following methods:
    1. You may mail or hand-deliver written comments and information 
to: Yellow-billed Loon Comments, Endangered Species Branch, Fairbanks 
Fish and Wildlife Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 101-
12th Ave., Room 110, Fairbanks, AK 99701.
    2. You may fax your comments to (907) 456-0208. Please clearly 
indicate that you are submitting comments for the Yellow-billed Loon 
finding on the cover sheet.
    3. You may send your comments by electronic mail (e-mail) to 
YBLoon@fws.gov. Please see the Public Information Solicited section of 

this document for information on submitting e-mail comments.
    4. You may submit comments via the Internet at the Federal 
eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions 

for submitting comments.
    The petition, findings, and supporting information are available 
for public inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours, at 
the Fairbanks Fish and Wildlife Field Office at the address listed 
above. The Yellow-billed Loon Conservation Agreement, which addresses a 
subset of threats to the loon in a subset of the species' range, is 
available at or can be requested from the address listed above.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mr. Ted Swem, Fairbanks Fish and 
Wildlife Field Office (see ADDRESSES) (telephone 907-456-0441; 
facsimile 907-456-0208).


Public Information Solicited

    When we make a finding that substantial information is presented to 
indicate that listing a species may be warranted, we are required to 
promptly commence a review of the status of the species. To ensure that 
the status review is complete and based on the best available 
scientific and commercial information, we are particularly seeking the 
following information on the yellow-billed loon:
    (1) Additional information on the life history, ecology, and 
distribution of the species;
    (2) The status of the species and any trend information from the 
United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia;
    (3) Potential threats to the species on its nesting grounds, 
wintering areas, or migration corridors;
    (4) Ongoing management measures that may be important with regard 
to the conservation of the yellow-billed loon throughout its range;
    (5) The extent and nature of the use of the species for subsistence 
    (6) The species' tolerance for human interaction and studies 
documenting flushing distances;
    (7) The incidence of mortality as a result of bycatch from fishing 
on lakes and at sea;
    (8) Conservation and management strategies that should be 
considered for inclusion in annual reviews of the Yellow-billed Loon 
Conservation Agreement; and
    (9) Whether the U.S. breeding population constitutes a distinct 
population segment.
    If you wish to comment, you may submit your comments and materials 
concerning this finding to the Endangered Species Branch Chief (see 
ADDRESSES). If you wish to comment by e-mail, please include ``Attn: 
Yellow-billed Loon'' in the beginning of your message. Please include 
your name and return address in your e-mail message (anonymous comments 
will not be considered). If you do not receive a confirmation from the 
system that we have received your e-mail message, or in the event that 
our Internet connection is not functional, please submit your comments 
in writing using one of the alternate methods described above.
    Before including your address, phone number, e-mail address, or 
other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be 
aware that your entire comment--including your personal identifying 
information--may be made publicly available at any time. While you can 
ask us in your comment to withhold your personal identifying 
information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be 
able to do so.


    Section 4(b)(3)(A) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as 
amended (Act) (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), requires that we make a finding 
on whether a petition to list, delist, or reclassify a species presents 
substantial scientific or commercial information to indicate that the 
petitioned action may be warranted. We are to base this finding on 
information provided in the petition, supporting information submitted 
with the petition, and information otherwise available in our files at 
the time we make the determination. To the maximum extent practicable, 
we are to make this finding within 90 days of our receipt of the 
petition and publish our notice of this finding promptly in the Federal 

[[Page 31257]]

    Our standard for substantial information within the Code of Federal 
Regulations (CFR) with regard to a 90-day petition finding is ``that 
amount of information that would lead a reasonable person to believe 
that the measure proposed in the petition may be warranted'' (50 CFR 
424.14(b)). If we find that substantial information was presented, we 
are required to promptly commence a review of the status of the 
    In making this finding, we relied on information provided by the 
petitioners and evaluated that information in accordance with 50 CFR 
424.14(b). Our process of coming to a 90-day finding under section 
4(b)(3)(A) of the Act and section 424.14(b) of our regulations is 
limited to a determination of whether the information in the petition 
meets the ``substantial information'' threshold. A substantial finding 
should be made when the Service deems that adequate and reliable 
information has been presented that would lead a reasonable person to 
believe that the petitioned action may be warranted.
    On April 5, 2004, we received a petition from the Center for 
Biological Diversity (CBD) (Sitka, AK), Natural Resources Defense 
Council (Washington, DC), Pacific Environment (San Francisco, CA), 
Trustees for Alaska (Anchorage, AK), Kaira Club (Chukotka, Anadyr, 
Russia), Kronotsky Nature Preserve (Kamchatka Region, Russia), Taiga 
Rangers (Khabarovsk Region, Russia), Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk Local Public 
Fund (Sakhalin Region, Russia), Interregional Public Charitable 
Organization of Far Eastern Resource Centers (Vladivostok, Russia), 
Kamchatka Branch of Pacific Institute of Geography (Petropavlovsk-
Kamchatsky, Russia), and Kamchatka League of Independent Experts 
(Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Russia) to list the yellow-billed loon 
(Gavia adamsii) as endangered or threatened throughout its range, or as 
a Distinct Population Segment, and to designate critical habitat once 
listed. The petition summarizes threats to the species based on CBD's 
review of Fair's (2002) report, prepared for the Natural Resources 
Defense Council and Trustees for Alaska, on the status and significance 
of the species in Alaska as well as CBD's review of the scientific 
literature. The 63-plus page petition describes multiple threats to the 
yellow-billed loon, including destruction or modification of habitats 
due to development and pollution, lack of regulatory protection, and 
other factors such as mortality from hunting and drowning in gill nets. 
The petition also emphasizes that additional factors, including limited 
and specific breeding habitats, a small global population, and low 
reproductive rate, make yellow-billed loon populations more susceptible 
to the above-mentioned threats and less likely to recover after 
population declines.

Development of a Conservation Agreement

    Yellow-billed loons may benefit greatly from a Conservation 
Agreement among agencies (the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the 
National Park Service, and the Service) with management and 
conservation responsibilities on public lands that include much of the 
loon's breeding range in the United States. At present, the Service and 
the Alaska Department of Fish and Game cooperatively promulgate 
migratory bird hunting and subsistence regulations, and the U.S. 
Geological Survey has ongoing yellow-billed loon studies. The BLM and 
the Service, with other agencies, have developed a Conservation 
Agreement (Agreement) dated September 30, 2006, for the yellow-billed 
loon that addresses a subset of threats (including fisheries bycatch, 
habitat loss from industrial development, and disturbance) for yellow-
billed loons breeding in northern and western Alaska. We will be 
conducting annual review of the Agreement and as such, we welcome 
suggestions for conservation and management strategies that should be 
considered. The strategies for conservation in the Agreement include: 
(1) Implement specific actions to protect yellow-billed loons and their 
breeding habitats in Alaska from potential impacts of land uses and 
management activities, including oil and gas exploration and 
development; (2) inventory and monitor yellow-billed loon breeding 
populations in Alaska; (3) determine and reduce, if significant, the 
impact of subsistence activities on yellow-billed loons (including 
subsistence fisheries and hunting) in Alaska; and (4) conduct 
biological research on yellow-billed loons, including response to 
management actions.

Biology and Distribution

    The following information regarding the description and natural 
history of the yellow-billed loon (American Ornithologist's Union (AOU) 
2003) has been condensed from these sources: Earnst et al. (2006, 
2005), Evers (2004), Mallek et al. (2004), Johnson et al. (1999, 1998, 
1997, 1996), Larned et al. (2003), Fair (2002), North (1994), Smith et 
al. (1994, 1993), Field et al. (1993), and North and Ryan (1989). These 
and other references are cited for data of particular relevance to this 
    The yellow-billed loon (Order Gaviiformes, Family Gaviidae) is one 
of the largest of the five loon species and similar in appearance to 
the common loon (Gavia immer). Yellow-billed loons are distinguished 
from common loons by their larger yellow or ivory bill. Adults weigh 
4,000 to 6,000 grams (8.8 to 13.2 pounds) and are 774 to 920 
millimeters (30 to 37 inches) in length. Presumably, as with common 
loons, average male body mass and size is greater than female mass and 
size. Breeding (alternate) plumage of adults of both sexes is black 
above with white spots on the wings and underside, and white stripes on 
the neck. Non-breeding (basic) plumage is gray-brown with fewer and 
less distinct white spots than breeding plumage, with paler undersides 
and head, and a blue-gray bill. Hatchlings have dark brown and gray 
down, and juveniles are gray with a paler head. There are no recognized 
subspecies or geographic variations. Yellow-billed loons are 
specialized for aquatic foraging and are unable to fly from land, with 
a streamlined shape and legs near the rear of the body.
    Yellow-billed loons nest exclusively in coastal and inland low-
lying tundra from 62 to 74[deg] N latitude, in association with 
permanent, fish-bearing lakes. Populations are thought to be limited 
primarily by breeding habitat, specifically nesting and brood-rearing 
lakes (North 1994, p. 16). Lakes that support breeding loons have 
abundant fish populations; depths greater than 2 meters (m) or 6.5 feet 
(ft) and water under the ice during winter; large areas (at least 13.4 
hectares [ha] or 33 acres [ac]) (North & Ryan 1989, p. 302); often 
connections to streams that may supply fish; highly convoluted, 
vegetated, and low-lying shorelines; clear water; and dependable water 
levels (Earnst et al. 2006, p. 227; North 1994, p. 6). Breeding lakes 
may be near major rivers, but are usually not connected to them, 
possibly because fluctuating water levels can flood nests or cause 
turbidity that compromises foraging success.
    Breeding territories (areas defended against conspecifics and other 
loon species, particularly Pacific loons [Gavia pacifica]), may include 
one or more lakes or parts of lakes. Territory size, dependent upon 
lake size and quality, ranged from 13.8 to greater than 100 ha (34 to 
greater than 247 ac) on the Colville River Delta, AK (North 1986, as 
cited in North 1994, p. 10). It is thought that loons occupy the same 
breeding territory throughout their reproductive life; certainly, 
breeding lakes are ``known to be reoccupied over long time

[[Page 31258]]

spans'' (North 1994, p. 10), most likely by the same monogamous pair 
(North 1994, p. 10), similar to common loons (Evers 2004, p. 13).
    Yellow-billed loons feed on fish and aquatic invertebrates. Marine 
prey species include sculpins (Leptocottus armatus, Myoxocephalus sp.); 
tomcod (Microgadus proximus) and rock cod (Sebastodes sp.); 
invertebrates such as amphipods, isopods, shrimps, hermit crabs 
(Pagarus sp.), and marine worms (Nereus sp.); and Pacific sand dabs 
(Citharichthys sordidus). During the breeding season, freshwater prey 
may include ninespine sticklebacks (Pungitius pungitius), Alaska 
blackfish (Dallia pectoralis), fourhorn sculpins (M. quadricornus), 
least cisco (Coregonus sardinella), and freshwater amphipods, isopods, 
insects, and spiders. Freshwater foraging habitats include lakes, 
rivers, and the nearshore marine environment for non-breeders; young 
are fed almost entirely from the brood-rearing lake (North 1994, p. 
    Nest sites are usually located on islands, hummocks, or peninsulas, 
along low shorelines, within 1 m (3 ft) of water. The nest location, 
which may be used in multiple years, usually provides a better view of 
the surrounding land and water than other available lakeshore 
locations. Nests are constructed of mud or peat, and are often lined 
with vegetation. One or two large, smooth, mottled brown eggs are laid 
in mid-to late June; hatching occurs after 27 to 28 days of incubation 
by both sexes. Although the actual age at which young are capable of 
flight is unknown, it is probably similar to common loons (8 to 9, 
possibly 11, weeks). The young leave the nest soon after hatching, and 
the family may move between natal and brood-rearing lakes. Both males 
and females participate in feeding and caring for young. In spite of 
the occasional replacement of eggs after nest predation, the short 
Arctic summer makes it impossible to raise more than one brood.
    There is no reliable scientific information on lifespan and 
survivorship, but as large-bodied birds with low clutch size, yellow-
billed loons are probably K-selected (long-lived and dependent upon 
high annual adult survival to maintain populations). Assuming 
demography similar to common loons (Evers 2004, p. 17-18), individuals 
on average reach sexual maturity at three years of age, but competition 
for breeding territories may delay successful reproduction until six or 
seven years of age.
    Reproductive success, although studied rarely and with differing 
methodologies, is low and highly variable. For example, on the Colville 
River Delta, the percent of territorial pairs that nested were 76, 79, 
42, and 71 in 1983, 1984, 1989, and 1993 respectively (Smith et al. 
1994, p. 18; Field et al. 1993, p. 329). Aerial surveys on the Colville 
River Delta from 1993 to 2003 documented annual variation in number of 
nests (16 to 26), number of broods (3 to 14), and total number of 
chicks (3 to 17) from 1993 to 2003 (Johnson 2004; Wildman 2004a; 
Johnson et al. 1999, p. 48). Specifically, in 2000 and 2001, there were 
only 3 young among 16 observed nests and 4 young among 20 observed 
nests, respectively, which is relatively low compared to other years, 
possibly due to late summer storms, severe spring flooding, or both 
(Wildman 2004b). In 1995 to 2000 on the Colville River Delta, Earnst 
(2004a, p. 1) also documented high annual variability in several 
reproductive parameters, including number of territorial pairs nesting, 
clutch size, hatch date, proportion of eggs hatching, and proportion of 
chicks surviving to six weeks of age.
    Yellow-billed loons breed in the freshwater treeless tundra of 
Alaska (sparsely in western Alaska and the foothills of the Brooks 
Range, more abundantly on the North Slope), in Canada east of the 
Mackenzie Delta and west of Hudson's Bay, in arctic Russia in the 
relatively narrow strip of coastal tundra from the Chukchi Peninsula in 
the east to the Taymyr Peninsula and the areas of the Novaya Zemlya and 
Pechora Rivers in the west, and rarely in far northern Norway and 
Finland. Because preferred breeding habitats are patchy and sparsely 
distributed across the yellow-billed loon's range, breeding birds are 
found in clumped and concentrated distributions. Based on aerial survey 
data (1998 to 2001 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Alaska Coastal Plain 
(ACP) and North Slope Eider (NSE) surveys), most of the population in 
Alaska occurred within 6 concentrations, which together covered only 15 
percent of the surveyed area yet contained 84 percent of yellow-billed 
loon sightings. The largest concentration area was between the Meade 
and Ikpikpuk Rivers. It covered only 5 percent of the survey area, but 
had 30 percent of yellow-billed loon sightings. Other notable 
concentration areas were on the Colville River Delta and west, 
southwest, and east of Teshukpuk Lake. In Canada, concentration areas 
include Banks Island; western Victoria Island; the mainland south of 
the Kent Peninsula, east of Bathhurst Inlet and west of Ellice River; 
the west side of Boothia Peninsula, and the lake district between Great 
Slave Lake and Baker Lake, including the Thelon Game Sanctuary (North 
1994, p. 3). In Russia, breeding concentrations have been identified 
east of Chaun Bay on the Chukchi Peninsula (Fair 2002, pp. 17 and 19), 
and along the Kolyma River Delta (Earnst 2004a, p. 1).
    The wintering range of the yellow-billed loon includes nearshore 
coastal waters from southcentral Alaska south to Puget Sound; from the 
Pacific coast of Siberia south to the Yellow Sea; and occasionally in 
northern Europe from Great Britain to Norway. Wintering habitats have 
less specific characteristics than breeding habitats but are primarily 
in protected nearshore marine waters. A small proportion of yellow-
billed loons breeding in interior North America may winter on large 
inland freshwater lakes (North 1994, p. 3).
    Yellow-billed loon migration routes are thought to be primarily 
marine, sometimes far offshore. Migration route and timing is possibly 
influenced by ocean ice conditions, although inland breeders may 
migrate along chains of inland lakes. In 2002 and 2003, 11 yellow-
billed loons along the North Slope of Alaska were outfitted with 
satellite transmitters. All 11 of these loons migrated to Asia, 
predominantly along the Russian coastline, and wintered in the Yellow 
Sea off China, North Korea, Russia, and Japan (near Hokkaido) (Schmutz 
2004, p. 1). Most of these yellow-billed loons departed breeding areas 
in late September, arrived in wintering locations in mid-November, 
started spring migration in April, and arrived on breeding grounds in 
the first half of June; these are similar to breeding ground arrival 
dates reported by North (1994, p. 5). Non-breeders or failed nesters 
may start fall migration in July; non-breeders and juveniles may forego 
spring migration altogether and spend the summer in wintering areas. 
Yellow-billed loons are thought to migrate singly or in pairs, although 
large groups are occasionally seen at staging (temporary resting or 
loafing) areas.
    The only known comprehensive population estimates of yellow-billed 
loons are derived from the two Arctic coastal plain waterfowl surveys 
conducted in Alaska annually in early June (NSE survey) and late June 
(ACP survey) by the Service's Migratory Bird Management program. The 
long-term (1986 to 2003) mean estimate of yellow-billed loons on the 
Arctic coastal plain is 2,919 (95 percent confidence interval = 2,450 
to 3,387) (ACP estimate; Mallek et al. 2004, p. 10); a 12-year mean 
(1992 to 2003) based on both surveys and a

[[Page 31259]]

visibility correction factor results in a similar estimate (Earnst et 
al. 2005, p. 289). A 1-year (1993) estimate of breeding yellow-billed 
loons on the Seward Peninsula was 680. There is anecdotal information 
of 50 yellow-billed loons on St. Lawrence Island and approximately the 
same number in the Selawik wetlands. When these are added to the 
coastal plain estimates, the estimated total number of yellow-billed 
loons on Alaska breeding grounds is approximately 3,500 to 4,000. (Not 
all are breeders; the ACP and NSE surveys include, but do not 
distinguish between, breeding and non-breeding yellow-billed loons. The 
3- to 5-year-old reproductively mature individuals are capable of 
breeding, yet due to limited availability of suitable breeding 
territories, only a portion of these individuals may be present and, 
therefore, visible on the breeding grounds. The 1- to 2-year-old 
juveniles likely stay at sea and are not counted.) The total Alaska 
yellow-billed loon population, including those birds not occupying 
breeding areas during summer, may be between 3,700 to 4,900, assuming 
yellow-billed loon demography (age-specific survival, productivity, and 
average age of first breeding) is similar to that of common loons 
(Evers 2004, p. 16-20).
    The Service is unaware of scientifically valid population estimates 
for other areas. Yellow-billed loons are not summarized in the North 
American Spring Waterfowl Surveys (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2003, 
p. 1-53), and Canadian population estimates do not exist (http://www.bsc-eoc.org/clls-bw1.html
, accessed January 17, 2006). However, 

Fair (2002, p. 29) speculated, based on anecdotal local density and 
habitat information, that 8,000 yellow-billed loons breed in Canada and 
5,000 breed in Russia. Combining these estimates, the worldwide 
breeding-ground yellow-billed loon population is estimated at 16,500.
    Given the lack of comprehensive scientific information relative to 
population estimates, there are few ways to assess population trends. 
In Alaska, the total number of yellow-billed loons counted in surveys 
is small (resulting in wide confidence intervals around annual 
estimates), but estimates over the last two decades do not suggest a 
change in the number of adults on Alaskan breeding grounds. Additional 
analysis of ACP and NSE survey data, using a multivariate model to 
account for the confounding factors of spring timing and observer 
experience, also indicates no discernible trend in population numbers. 
However, the statistical power (or ability to detect a significant 
change) is relatively low; a minimum of 10.4 years is required to 
detect a 50 percent decline in the surveyed population (based on NSE 
data; Larned et al. 2003, Fig. 8). Thus, in Alaska, the breeding ground 
population could decline to less than 2,000 individuals before current 
survey methods would detect a significant declining trend. The total 
Alaska population could decline by a larger percentage because breeding 
ground surveys do not include population components that remain at sea 
during the breeding season (pre-breeding and reproductively mature but 
non-breeding individuals). Thus, a significant decline in these 
population components in Alaska could not be readily detected with 
current surveys. Further, any decline in yellow-billed loons in Russia 
and Canada could not be detected because these are not currently 
surveyed. Finally, a decline in the breeding component may be masked by 
movement of previously uncounted individuals to vacated territories 
(resulting in sinks rather than productive breeding habitats); this 
decline would not be detected with current surveys.

Conservation Status

    Pursuant to section 4(a) of the Act, we may list a species or 
subspecies of fish or wildlife or plants, or distinct population 
segment (DPS) of a vertebrate taxa, on the basis of any of the 
following five factors: (A) present or threatened destruction, 
modification, or curtailment of a species' habitat or range; (B) 
overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or 
educational purposes; (C) disease or predation; (D) the inadequacy of 
existing regulatory mechanisms; and (E) other natural or manmade 
factors affecting its continued existence. The petition asserts that 
yellow-billed loons are subject to threats primarily under Factors A, 
C, D, and E, above. We used information provided by the petitioners and 
available in our files to address the relationship of these factors to 
the yellow-billed loon and its habitats.
    Certain intrinsic aspects of yellow-billed loon ecology and 
demography, including low and variable productivity, adult survival, 
and low population numbers, are important to consider when evaluating 
the species' status and its threats. Healthy populations of K-selected 
species, such as the yellow-billed loon, are characterized by low 
annual productivity rates balanced with high annual survival rates, 
meaning that individuals must live many years to replace themselves 
with offspring that survive to recruit into the breeding population. 
Low productivity means that depleted K-selected species have lower 
recovery potential and slower recovery rates following population 
declines than r-selected species, which are characterized by high 
annual productivity. Factors that reduce productivity, including loss 
of productive breeding habitats, reduction in prey populations, or 
increases in nest predators, may further constrain a K-selected 
species' recovery. Further, most arctic species are characterized by 
variable annual productivity, given the vagaries and severity of arctic 
weather, fluctuations in predator-prey relationships (e.g., 
reproductive success of many predators fluctuates with large annual 
variation in lemming abundance), and other aspects of arctic ecology. 
The population impact of threats that reduce productivity could be 
magnified if coincident with a rare year of otherwise high 
    Although factors that compromise productivity can cause populations 
to decline, adult survival may be the most important determinant of a 
K-selected species' population size and persistence (Smith and Smith 
2001, p. 235). If adults are removed from the population prior to 
replacing themselves (i.e., adult survival is decreased), the 
population will decline. Perhaps most pertinent to a discussion of 
extinction, rare species--those with low numbers--are intrinsically 
closer to a threshold below which recovery is not possible (i.e., 
minimum viable population) (Hunter 1996, p. 137). Species can be rare 
because of restriction to a rare type of habitat, limitation to a small 
geographic range, or occurrence at low densities (Hunter 1996, p. 129), 
all of which are true for yellow-billed loons. Because rare species are 
closer to extinction to begin with, potential threats become more 
urgent and imminent, even if we have not studied and therefore not 
documented their occurrence or effects.

A. Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment of a 
Species' Habitat or Range

    The petitioners assert that yellow-billed loon freshwater breeding 
habitats are threatened by oil, gas, and mineral development, and that 
marine wintering and migrating habitats are threatened by degradation 
of the marine environment. Disturbance from human presence and noise 
from construction and aerial traffic, changes in freshwater chemistry 
or pollutant loads, and changes in freshwater hydrology associated with 
oil and gas development are addressed by the petitioners under Factor 
E, but warrant discussion under Factor A because they are potential 

[[Page 31260]]

for rendering breeding habitats unsuitable. (Additional impacts 
associated with development on the breeding grounds, such as increased 
predation, are discussed under Factors C and E.)
    Discussion of disturbance, pollution, hydrologic alterations, and 
other impacts from development that may reduce the suitability of 
breeding habitats is relevant because much of the yellow-billed loon's 
limited, specific, and concentrated breeding habitat in Alaska is 
available for oil and gas leasing and development. Approximately three-
quarters of the yellow-billed loons that nest in Alaska, and over 90 
percent of those that nest on Alaska's North Slope, occur within the 
9.5-million-ha (23.5-million-ac) National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska Plan 
(NPR-A), and information available in our files indicates that some of 
the highest-density yellow-billed loon breeding areas overlap with 
areas of high economic oil potential. The petitioners cite National 
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) planning documents for oil and gas 
leasing and exploration in NPR-A to support their assertion that oil 
and gas exploration and development will occur. The BLM has conducted 
four lease sales in the NPR-A since 1999. In the Northeast Planning 
Area, sales held in May 1999 and June 2002 resulted in leases covering 
404,685 ha (1.45 million ac) (http://www.blm.gov/ak/ak940/fluids/boe_npra_index.html
, accessed March 30, 2007), on which 21 exploration 

wells were drilled from 2000 to 2007 (http://www.blm.gov/ak/ak940/fluids/boe_explrtn_actvty.html
, accessed March 30, 2007). In the 

Northwest Planning Area, sales held in June 2004 and September 2006 
resulted in leases covering 809,371 ha (2.34 million ac), on which 3 
exploration wells were drilled in 2006 and 2007 (http://www.blm.gov/ak/ak940/fluids/boe_explrtn_actvty.html
, accessed March 30, 2007). If 

exploration drilling results in discovery of a commercially viable 
field, ``* * * it typically takes an additional 4 to 10 years for 
further study, design, and installation of facilities before production 
can begin.'' (USDOI-BLM 2006, p. 2-6). Because most of yellow-billed 
loon breeding habitats are in NPR-A, and because approximately half of 
the high-density breeding areas overlap with leased areas that have 
high potential for economically recoverable oil, the likelihood of 
threats from oil and gas development to the species occurring within 
the next ten years is high.
    The petitioners assert that loons as a genus are extremely 
susceptible to disturbance, and information in our files suggests that 
yellow-billed loons may be very sensitive to human presence (North 
1994, p. 16). Disturbance can cause yellow-billed loons to abandon 
reproductive efforts or leave eggs or chicks unattended and exposed to 
predators or bad weather. A yellow-billed loon's normal behavior can be 
interrupted at a distance of up to 1.6 kilometers (1 mile) from humans, 
although these behavioral changes can vary by individual and 
circumstance (Earnst 2004b, p. 1). When undisturbed, yellow-billed 
loons rarely leave eggs or chicks, and they effectively defend both 
from aerial predators (Earnst 2004b, p. 1). Further, although 
information available in our files suggests displaced common loons may 
successfully breed in alternative sites (e.g., common loons not 
accustomed to human activity have relocated breeding activities in 
response to human presence) (numerous studies cited in Evers 2004, p. 
35), alternative suitable breeding sites are likely not available for 
yellow-billed loons, as evidenced by inter- and intra-specific 
competition for nesting and brood-rearing lakes of suitable size and 
depth, and the species' philopatric behavior (North 1994, p. 16).
    The petitioners assert that oil spills and other chemical 
contamination that would occur with oil and gas development will also 
impact loons, citing information on oil toxicity and prevalence of oil 
spills on Alaska's North Slope. Information in our files suggests that 
changes in freshwater chemistry or pollutant loads, including oil 
spills, associated with oil and gas development may render breeding 
habitats unsuitable, and both have been documented on Alaska's North 
Slope (NRC 2003, p. 6-7, 73-74). Yellow-billed loons, like other 
aquatic-dependent birds, are susceptible to oiling in the event of a 
spill. Severe effects are expected to result for birds contacted by oil 
spills in NPR-A (USDOI-BLM 2005, p. 4-105). Further, oil spills may 
have long-term effects on tundra waters by killing prey and vegetation 
(USDOI-BLM 2005, p. 4-78, 4-88), thereby reducing food availability and 
cover. Oil spills in arctic marine habitats may also affect juvenile 
and non-breeding yellow-billed loons (USDOI-BLM 2005, p. 4-105). The 
majority of spills that have occurred in association with oil and gas 
development on Alaska's North Slope are relatively small and cause 
minimal impacts to surrounding habitats or wildlife. The risks from 
larger and potentially more frequent spills need to be examined 
    The petitioners assert that water depletion or drawdown may affect 
connectedness, depth, or melt date of yellow-billed loon nesting or 
brood-rearing lakes and may render such areas unsuitable as breeding 
habitats. Information in our files indicates that industrial 
development on the North Slope has affected freshwater flow and 
drainage as a result of water withdrawals to build ice roads or 
drilling pads, and through permafrost decay consequent to 
infrastructure placement, vegetation damage, or fluid extraction and 
injection (NRC 2003, p. 1-11). North (1994, p. 16) and North and Ryan 
(1989, p. 303) suggested that permafrost decay consequent to 
infrastructure placement and disturbance of vegetation may cause 
breaching of rivers into yellow-billed loon breeding lakes, rendering 
them unsuitable due to fluctuating water levels (causing drowned nests) 
or increased turbidity (negatively affecting foraging success). 
Additionally, the petitioners assert and we concur that ice roads on 
breeding lakes may compact lake ice and delay melting (USDOI-BLM 1998, 
p. IV-3-b-1-b), thus delaying or discouraging yellow-billed loon 
    Water withdrawals used for ice roads and pads could have additional 
effects on habitat suitability by affecting fish populations that 
breeding yellow-billed loons depend upon to feed themselves and young. 
Although water withdrawal stipulations in oil and gas planning 
documents are designed to protect and monitor fish-bearing lakes, their 
adequacy for protecting fish that serve as yellow-billed loon prey is 
not currently known. The Service is working with the BLM and others to 
evaluate these and other accommodations that are either in place or are 
proposed for the protection of this species.
    Areas within the yellow-billed loon's arctic breeding range in 
Russia and Canada may face similar developmental pressures. The 
petitioners assert that mineral and oil development in Russia is either 
unregulated or regulations are not enforced, resulting in long-term 
environmental impacts. In Canada, oil and gas developments within the 
yellow-billed loon's breeding and staging areas have been proposed. If 
it occurs, overlap of development (particularly unregulated 
development) with the specific and limited breeding areas required by 
yellow-billed loons will result in destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of habitats or range in Russia and Canada. Further, the 
Service and the petitioners are unaware of assessment or monitoring 
data to

[[Page 31261]]

evaluate these effects on yellow-billed loons in Eurasia (including 
    There is little documentation of the degradation of marine habitats 
resulting in destruction or modification of yellow-billed loon habitat. 
However, the marine environment is clearly important for yellow-billed 
loons, as that is where they spend their first three years, and 
subsequently at least eight months per year. Particular examples of 
marine degradation listed by the petitioners include pollution 
(although oil and chemical spills are discussed under Factor E), and 
the effects of fishing practices such as drowning in fishing nets and 
depletion of the prey base through overfishing or other destructive 
fishing practices. The negative effects of these examples are likely to 
be on individual condition or survival; high survival rates, especially 
of breeding adults, are required for yellow-billed loon population 
    Information available in our files indicates that the Yellow Sea, 
where all 11 Alaska-breeding yellow-billed loons with satellite 
transmitters wintered (Schmutz 2004, p. 1), is being degraded. There 
are approximately six million humans in surrounding watersheds, and the 
Yellow Sea is impacted by loss of wetland habitat, depleted fisheries, 
and industrial, agricultural, and domestic pollution (http://www.gefonline.org/projectDetails.cfm?projID=790
), accessed January 17, 

2006). The Australian Government, in a summary of the Yellow Sea's 
importance to shorebirds, noted that declining river flows, pollution, 
and unsustainable harvesting of benthic fauna are leading to reduced 
benthic productivity and food declines for shorebirds (http://www.deh.gov.au/biodiversity/migratory/waterbirds/yellow-sea/
, accessed 

January 17, 2006). These impacts on the aquatic system would also 
affect wintering loon food availability, potentially reducing 
individual fitness prior to spring migration and breeding.
    We find the petition provided substantial information to support 
its assertions that the threat of past, current and probable future 
destruction, modification, or curtailment of yellow-billed loon habitat 
is sufficient to warrant additional review of the species' status. In 
freshwater breeding areas, factors associated with oil and gas 
exploration and development (i.e., disturbance, pollution, and 
hydrologic changes) can make breeding habitats unsuitable. Marine 
habitats, where yellow-billed loons spend much of the year, are being 
degraded through overfishing and pollution.

B. Overutilization for Commercial, Recreational, Scientific, or 
Educational Purposes

    The petitioners assert that overutilization for commercial, 
recreational, or educational purposes is unlikely. Although the 
petitioners list research-related nest disturbance under this Factor, 
they also state that it is likely to be a minor Factor affecting the 
species and that the benefits of such research outweigh any adverse 

C. Disease or Predation

    The petitioners assert that yellow-billed loons may be subjected to 
increased nest predation if infrastructure associated with resource 
development occurs in their breeding areas. Increasing numbers of 
ravens, gulls, and arctic foxes, some of which are documented predators 
of yellow-billed loon nests or young (North 1994, p. 11), have been 
associated with oil field infrastructure development and human-
generated food sources on the North Slope of Alaska (NRC 2003, p. 6). 
When combined with increased predation opportunities resulting from 
disturbance (discussed under Factor A), the effect of increased 
predator numbers could be amplified. The petitioners assert that 
disease does not appear to be a risk to yellow-billed loons. However, 
since receiving the petition the highly pathogenic avian influenza has 
been documented in Asia where yellow-billed loons winter.
    We find the petition provided substantial information to support 
its assertions that the threat of increased predation associated with 
resource development infrastructure is sufficient to warrant additional 
review of the species' status. Additionally, the potential impacts of 
avian influenza on the loon are not know at this time and may warrant 
further investigation.

D. Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms

    The petitioners assert that the yellow-billed loon is not protected 
or is inadequately protected by existing regulations, including 
international conventions or agreements against threats such as 
development and hunting. The yellow-billed loon is not currently listed 
under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of 
Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The species is listed under the United 
Nations Environment Program Convention on the Conservation of Migratory 
Species of Wild Animals (UNEP-CMS), yet the United States, Russia, 
Canada, and most Asian nations are not signatories (http://www.cms.int/,
 accessed January 17, 2006). Although it is listed in the Russian Red 

Data book, and the species and its habitat are nominally protected 
under the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty with the former Soviet Union (P.L. 
95-616), the petitioners assert that current economic and social 
conditions in Russia limit the implementation and enforcement of these 
regulations. In Canada, the yellow-billed loon is protected under the 
Migratory Birds Convention Act, but subsistence hunting is allowed and 
is not regulated or tracked. In Canada, the yellow-billed loon is not 
listed on Schedule 1 (i.e., specified as ``at risk'') of the Species at 
Risk Act of 2002, legislation similar to the Act. Currently, the 
species is not covered under Canadian Provincial laws or regulations 
and, thus, receives no protections or conservation considerations in 
    Within the United States, the yellow-billed loon has protection 
under several laws and regulations, but the petitioners assert that 
these are inadequate given the vulnerabilities of, and the specific 
threats facing, the species and its habitat. The Migratory Bird Treaty 
Act (MBTA) makes it unlawful to kill or take eggs or nests of yellow-
billed loons, but does not provide protection for habitats, a primary 
concern in relation to development in breeding areas. Yellow-billed 
loons are not open for subsistence hunting in Alaska under migratory 
bird spring subsistence harvest regulations (69 FR 17318-17329). The 
Service and State of Alaska have recognized the yellow-billed loon as a 
potentially vulnerable species under the Birds of Conservation Concern 
(68 FR 6179) and State Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy 
(http://www.sf.adfg.state.ak.us/statewide/ngplan/, accessed January 17, 

2006), respectively. These designations provide management and research 
funding prioritization.
    The BLM has adopted stipulations and required operating procedures 
for the NW and NE NPR-A (USDOI-BLM 2004, p. 2-22-23; USDOI-BLM 2005, p. 
2-2-45) in order to minimize potential impacts to yellow-billed loons, 
such as disturbance of nesting birds and broods. These include water 
withdrawal standards for deep fish-bearing lakes (discussed under 
Factor A) and setbacks for exploratory drilling and permanent 
facilities near fish-bearing and deep lakes (greater than 3.9 m (13 ft) 
deep). While exceptions may be authorized for all stipulations and 
required operating procedures, the stipulations and required operating 
procedures were proposed to minimize impacts, including disturbance, to 
yellow-billed loons within BLM-managed areas. At

[[Page 31262]]

this time, however, data are not available to determine how effective 
the stipulations and required operating procedures will be in 
minimizing or eliminating adverse impacts to the species. Further, the 
petitioners assert that some information is not provided or is 
erroneous and leads to unsupported conclusions about probability or 
magnitude of potential impacts. They note, for example, in the 1998 NE 
NPR-A Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), that vehicle travel was 
encouraged to occur more than 30 m (100 ft) from streams or lakes 
bearing overwintering fish, a stipulation not included in the 2005 NE 
NPR-A Final Amended EIS (USDOI-BLM 2005) or in the NW NPR-A Record of 
Decision (ROD)(USDOI-BLM 2004). While the rationale for removal of the 
stipulation was that travel on lakes is limited to specified areas 
(water pumping stations and ice roads), thus reducing ice and snow 
compaction, there are other reasons for restricting travel near fish-
bearing water bodies, including reducing contamination from spills or 
ice-road maintenance activities. The petitioners also claim that the 
Final EIS for the Minerals Management Service's (MMS) 1996 Beaufort Sea 
Planning Area Oil and Gas Lease Sale 144 fails to acknowledge 
documented use of marine foraging areas on the North Slope (USDOI-MMS 
1996, p. IV-B-21). The Service is working with BLM and others to 
thoroughly review the biological needs of the yellow-billed loon, 
evaluate the conservation measures proposed by BLM to conserve this 
species, and identify any other measures that would help to avoid and 
minimize impacts to the species in its range within NPR-A.
    We find the petition provided substantial information to support 
its assertions that the yellow-billed loon's habitat is not currently 
protected by existing regulatory mechanisms in the U.S. and Canada.

E. Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting the Species' Continued 

    The petitioners assert that other natural or manmade factors may 
threaten yellow-billed loons. These factors include small population 
size and low productivity; vulnerability to oil spills and other 
contaminants; water depletion associated with oil and gas development; 
incidental bycatch in commercial or subsistence fishing nets; and 
hunting. Increased predation, disturbance, and water withdrawals 
associated with oil and gas development, and marine pollution, were 
discussed under Factors A and C.
    As previously discussed, small population size, low and variable 
productivity, and dependence upon high adult survival are all 
ecological characteristics of yellow-billed loons, a K-selected 
species. These characteristics mean that the yellow-billed loon is 
inherently more vulnerable to perturbations that impact their survival 
and reproductive success because their population would take longer to 
recover from declines than a more common or fecund species. 
Additionally, many of the factors discussed under Factor E may affect 
adult survival, which may be more important to population maintenance 
in these long-lived birds than annual productivity (Smith and Smith 
2001, p. 235). K-selected species like the yellow-billed loon also tend 
to be specialists, efficiently using particular environments, but they 
are often at or near carrying capacity, resource-limited, poor 
colonizers, and generally do not do well in disturbed environments 
(Smith and Smith 2001, p. 235). They are also highly vulnerable to 
random environmental or anthropogenic events, such as the threats 
described below.
    Yellow-billed loons, like other loons, are potentially vulnerable 
to oil and chemical spills throughout their range. Of the 30,000 bird 
carcasses recovered after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, approximately 1.5 
percent (450) were loons (with an unknown percentage of yellow-billed 
loons; Piatt et al. 1990, p. 391). As recovered carcasses represent 
only a fraction of actual oil spill mortality (Wiens 1996, p. 596), 
yellow-billed loon loss may have been high relative to population size 
(Piatt et al. 1990, p. 395). Habitat alterations associated with oil, 
gas, and mineral development were addressed in Factor A, and although 
an oil spill may make habitats unsuitable, perhaps the effect of most 
concern is mortality. Because loons in general are so dependent upon 
the aquatic environment and spend so little time on land, they are 
particularly at risk for exposure during an oil spill. Oiled birds die 
primarily from hypothermia because oil coats their normally insulating 
and buoyant feathers, preventing efficient thermoregulation. They can 
also die from oil ingested during preening. Egg viability can be 
diminished through contact with even small amounts of oil on feathers 
of incubating adults (e.g., Harfenist et al. 1990, p. 902). Oil spills 
may also alter foraging habitats, acutely by killing large numbers of 
prey, or chronically by altering community structure via long-term 
exposure to oil or its components (e.g., Peterson et al. 1996, p. 
2637). In migrating and wintering areas of the Pacific, current and 
future oil and gas development will only increase, such as in the 
Yellow Sea (http://www.china.org.cn/english/7352.htm), accessed January 

17, 2006), or on Sakhalin Island, Russia.
    Anecdotal data indicate that loons, including yellow-billed loons, 
may die as incidental bycatch in commercial and subsistence gill nets, 
although more data are needed to accurately quantify this threat. 
Service law enforcement agents have been told that yellow-billed loons 
are routinely and unavoidably caught in subsistence fishing nets on the 
Ikpikpuk River (Roberts 2004), and this presumably occurs on other 
North Slope rivers with gillnetting. Additionally, intensive commercial 
fishing, a likely source of bycatch mortality, occurs in yellow-billed 
loon wintering areas in Asia, particularly the Yellow Sea (Elvidge et 
al. 2001, Fig. 2).
    Yellow-billed loons have also been hunted for subsistence purposes, 
especially for their feathers for use in traditional dance regalia. 
Hunting is not allowed under current spring subsistence hunting 
regulations in Alaska (i.e., they are not on the list of ``open'' 
species). Annual subsistence harvest surveys conducted in Alaska from 
1990 to 1999 indicate a total estimated harvest of 98 yellow-billed 
loons (Wentworth and Wong 2001, p. 107). In Russia and Canada, 
traditional or subsistence use of yellow-billed loons is not regulated. 
Specifically, many subsistence species may be taken at higher rates in 
Russia than in Alaska, because of the relative lack of paying jobs, and 
yellow-billed loons are included as customary and traditional 
subsistence-use species on the 1996 protocol amending the 1916 
Convention for the Protection of Migratory Birds between the United 
States and Canada (Letter of Submittal dated May 20, 1996, as cited in 
70 FR 55691-55699).
    We find the petition provided substantial information to support 
its assertions that the threats of other natural and manmade factors, 
including small population size, low productivity, vulnerability to 
spilled oil and other contaminants, water depletion associated with 
resource development, incidental bycatch, and hunting , are sufficient 
to warrant additional review of the species' status.


    We have reviewed the petition and supporting information. We have 
    (1) On April 5, 2004, we received a petition from the Center for 
Biological Diversity and others to list the yellow-billed loon as 
endangered or threatened

[[Page 31263]]

throughout its range or as a Distinct Population Segment and to 
designate critical habitat. The petition describes multiple threats to 
the yellow-billed loon, including destruction or modification of 
habitats due to development and pollution, lack of regulatory 
protection, and other factors such as mortality from drowning in 
fishing nets and hunting. The petition emphasized that certain other 
factors, including limited and specific breeding habitats, a small 
global population, and low reproductive rate, make yellow-billed loons 
more susceptible to the threats identified in the petition and less 
likely to recover after declines. The petitioners assert that yellow-
billed loon freshwater breeding habitats are threatened by oil, gas, 
and mineral development, and that marine wintering and migrating 
habitats are threatened by degradation of the marine environment.
    (2) Yellow-billed loons breed in remote circumpolar areas, 
generally above the Arctic Circle, with harsh climates and low human 
population densities. Yellow-billed loons nest exclusively in coastal 
and inland low-lying tundra from 62 to 74[deg] N latitude, in 
association with permanent, fish-bearing lakes in Alaska, Canada, 
Russia, and rarely in far northern Norway and Finland. Populations are 
thought to be limited primarily by availability of breeding habitat, 
specifically nesting and brood-rearing lakes.
    (3) Our knowledge of the status of the yellow-billed loon is far 
from complete, but the worldwide population is believed to be 
relatively small. The only known comprehensive yellow-billed loon 
population estimates are from Alaska. The total Alaska yellow-billed 
loon population may be 3,700 to 4,900. The Service is unaware of 
scientifically valid population estimates for other areas. However, 
anecdotal density and habitat information have caused at least one 
scientist to speculate that 8,000 yellow-billed loons breed in Canada 
and 5,000 breed in Russia. Combining these estimates, the worldwide 
breeding-ground yellow-billed loon population may be roughly 16,500.
    (4) Given the lack of comprehensive scientific information relative 
to yellow-billed loon population estimates, there are few means with 
which to assess population trends. In Alaska, the number of yellow-
billed loons counted in surveys is small (resulting in wide confidence 
intervals around annual estimates). Although estimates over the last 
two decades do not show a change in the number of adults on the 
breeding grounds, the ability to statistically detect a significant 
change is relatively low. Thus, the Alaska breeding ground population 
could decline significantly before current survey methods would detect 
a declining trend. Other breeding areas are not surveyed at all.
    (5) Yellow-billed loons have relatively low annual recruitment but 
relatively high annual adult survival, meaning that individuals must 
live many years to replace themselves with offspring that survive to 
recruit into the breeding population. Biologists identify species such 
as the yellow-billed loon as K-selected species, which are especially 
vulnerable to threats and are less likely to recover after declines.
    (6) While comprehensive information on the biology of the yellow-
billed loon is not complete, available scientific information and the 
professional judgment of knowledgeable biologists suggests that loons 
in general are relatively sensitive to human activity, and development 
and infrastructure located close to breeding lakes will affect the 
species and may cause reduced breeding success and declining 
populations. Flushing or other changes in normal nesting behavior can 
cause eggs or young to be vulnerable to cold and predation. Increased 
predation of eggs and chicks due to human disturbance has been 
documented in loons.
    (7) Approximately 75 percent of the yellow-billed loons that nest 
in Alaska are found within the NPR-A (25 percent in NE NPR-A and 50 
percent in NW NPR-A), which is managed by BLM. Of the 1.9 million ha 
(4.6 million ac) in NE NPR-A, a 1998 Record of Decision (ROD) made 87 
percent available for oil and gas leasing. In June 2004, the BLM 
released a draft amended EIS that may allow an increase in the area 
available for leasing to 95 percent of the unit. In the 3.6 million ha 
(8.8 million ac) of NW NPR-A, a January 2004 ROD made all BLM-
administered lands available for leasing. The EIS process for the 4.1 
million-ha (10.1 million-ac) S NPR-A has begun. In summary, much of the 
higher density loon breeding area lies within the area identified as 
having high potential for oil development and exploration and 
development has begun in certain areas and will likely begin in others 
soon (i.e., within the next ten years).
    (8) As exploration and development occurs in the NPR-A, the 
potential for disturbance, pollution, hydrologic alterations, and other 
impacts on the yellow-billed loon and its limited, specific, and 
concentrated breeding habitat will need to be addressed. Additionally, 
increased predator numbers are often associated with industrial 
development in Arctic areas and could adversely impact nesting success 
without careful planning and management.
    (9) Section 4(b)(3)(A) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as 
amended (Act) (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), requires that we make a finding 
on whether a petition to list, delist, or reclassify a species presents 
substantial scientific or commercial information to indicate that the 
petitioned action may be warranted. Our standard for substantial 
scientific information with regard to a 90-day petition finding is 
``that amount of information that would lead a reasonable person to 
believe that the measure proposed in the petition may be warranted'' 
(50 CFR 424.14(b)). When a substantial finding is made, we are required 
to promptly begin a thorough review of the status of the species, if 
one has not already been initiated.
    We have determined that the information in the petition would lead 
a reasonable person to believe that the measure proposed by the 
petition may be warranted. Therefore, we find that the petition 
presents substantial information indicating that listing the yellow-
billed loon may be warranted. While we note the lack of documented 
scientific information on the effects of threats to yellow-billed 
loons, the yellow-billed loon is restricted in its breeding habitat 
and, in Alaska, it breeds primarily within a geographic area that has 
significant development potential. Therefore, the responsible course of 
action is to review in detail the threats and vulnerabilities listed in 
the petition and to thoroughly review the scientific literature and 
other information to determine if listing the species is warranted. To 
do otherwise could subject the species to significant risks from which 
it may have difficulty recovering. We have also developed, together 
with the BLM and other agencies, a Conservation Agreement that 
addresses a subset of threats to the loon in a portion of the species' 
range. The strategies for conservation in the Agreement include: 
Implement specific actions to protect yellow-billed loons and their 
breeding habitats in Alaska from potential impacts of land uses and 
management activities, including oil and gas exploration and 
development; inventory and monitor yellow-billed loons breeding 
populations in Alaska; determine and reduce, if significant, the impact 
of subsistence activities on yellow-billed loons (including subsistence 
fisheries and hunting) in Alaska; and conduct biological research on 
yellow-billed loons, including response to management actions. We 
invite comments on management strategies and research needs that

[[Page 31264]]

should be considered during scheduled annual reviews of the 
Conservation Agreement.
    Following completion of the status review, we will evaluate whether 
the species or a Distinct Population Segment warrant listing as 
endangered or threatened. The petitioners also requested that critical 
habitat be designated for this species. We always consider the need for 
critical habitat designation when listing species. If we determine in 
our 12-month finding that listing the yellow-billed loon is warranted, 
we will address the designation of critical habitat at the time of the 
proposed rulemaking.

References Cited

    A complete list of all references cited herein is available upon 
request from the Fairbanks Fish and Wildlife Field Office, U.S. Fish 
and Wildlife Service (see ADDRESSES).


    The primary author of this document is Dr. Angela Matz, Fairbanks 
Fish and Wildlife Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 
Fairbanks, Alaska.

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

    Dated: May 11, 2007.
Kenneth Stansell,
Acting Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. E7-10823 Filed 6-5-07; 8:45 am]