NATIONAL NEWS

US wildlife managers agree to review the plight of a Western bird linked to piñon forests

Aug 16, 2023, 2:51 PM

FILE - In this undated image provided by Christina M. Selby, three pinyon jays sit in a piñon tree...

FILE - In this undated image provided by Christina M. Selby, three pinyon jays sit in a piñon tree in northern New Mexico. U.S. wildlife managers announced Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2023, that they will investigate whether a bird that is inextricably linked to the piñon and juniper forests that span the Western United States warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act. (Christina M. Selby via AP, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(Christina M. Selby via AP, File)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — U.S. wildlife managers announced Wednesday that they will investigate whether a bird that is inextricably linked to the piñon and juniper forests that span the Western United States warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The pinyon jay’s numbers have declined over the last half-century as persistent drought, more severe wildfires and other effects of climate change have intensified, leaving the birds with less food and fewer nesting options as more trees die or are removed.

Environmentalists also are concerned that without the pinyon jay — a social bird that essentially plants the next generation of trees by stashing away the seeds — it’s possible the piñon forests of New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and other Western states could face another reproductive hurdle.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to review the jay’s status comes in response to a petition filed more than a year ago that included research showing the species’ numbers have declined by an estimated 80% over the last five decades, a rate even faster than that of the greater sage grouse.

“This decision moves us one step closer to reversing the trend of one of the fastest declining birds in North America,” Peggy Darr of the group Defenders of Wildlife said in a statement. “Without pinyon jays, we stand to lose iconic Southwestern landscapes, cultures and cuisines intimately tied to piñon pine nuts.”

Piñon-juniper forests cover more than 75,000 square miles (190,000 square kilometers) in the United States, and wildlife managers in several Western states already have classified the bird as a species of greatest conservation need.

Nearly 60% of the jay’s remaining population can be found in New Mexico and Nevada, but its range also includes central Oregon and parts of California, Utah, Wyoming, Oklahoma and Mexico’s northern Baja California.

Defenders of Wildlife pointed Wednesday to research published this year that indicated one hypothesis for the birds’ decline was habitat loss and degradation due to climate change. Another was land management policies that call for the thinning or removal of piñon-juniper forests to reduce wildfire threats or improve habitat for other species. And development has resulted in the clearing of trees to make room for homes as Western cities expand.

Fewer trees mean less food for the birds, and previous research has shown that the jays will forgo breeding when piñons are scarce.

Pale blue with a white bib, the pinyon jay typically mates for life and can be choosey about where to build a nest. For example, taller and older trees aren’t high on the list as they typically have less foliage and can double as perches for potential predators.

While environmentalists say there still is much research to be done on pinyon jays, it was well known by the 1970s that the birds’ habits revolved around harvesting, stashing and later retrieving pine seeds. In one case, a researcher watched a bird carry 56 seeds in one trip.

Drought and high temperatures also have been shown to affect the production of piñon cones, forcing the birds to fan out over hundreds of miles when food is scarce.

Researchers have said that understanding the bird’s needs and effects on its habitats will be fundamental to managing Western environments to ensure pinyon jay colonies can be protected.

The Fish and Wildlife Service also agreed to review the status of the bleached sandhill skipper, a butterfly with golden-orange wings that has been the focus of a fight over a geothermal energy project near the Nevada-Oregon state line.

The proposed power plant would be outside the butterfly’s habitat, an alkali wetland that spans about 2 square miles (5 square kilometers). But environmentalists are concerned that tapping underground water sources likely would affect the flows that support plants where the butterflies lay eggs and get nectar.

National News

Melissa Shepard, left, directing attorney of Immigrant Defenders Law Center, explains the Biden adm...

Associated Press

Behind Biden’s asylum halt: Migrants must say if they fear deportation, not wait to be asked

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Posters inside a complex of giant, white tents tell migrants in English, Spanish, Mandarin and Hindi they should tell an officer if they fear being deported and “your claim will be heard.” On a side wall where migrants are seated in a processing area, a video conveys the same message on […]

5 minutes ago

FILE - People walk past the Fiserv Forum ahead of the 2024 Republican National Convention, Thursday...

Associated Press

With GOP convention over, Milwaukee weighs the benefits of hosting political rivals

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Downtown Milwaukee turned red last week as thousands of Republican National Convention delegates and other party stalwarts gathered in Wisconsin’s largest Democratic stronghold to formally rally behind Donald Trump as their candidate for president in the pivotal swing state. Outside the security zone where the convention took place, residents grumbled, ignored or […]

24 minutes ago

A second-floor balcony at the Hemingway Home & Museum in Key West, Florida, on Wednesday, July 17, ...

Associated Press

Ernest Hemingway fans celebrate the author’s 125th birthday in his beloved Key West

KEY WEST, Fla. (AP) — Ernest Hemingway spent the 1930s in Key West, Florida, and more than six decades after his death, fans, scholars and relatives continue to congregate on the island city to celebrate the author’s award-winning novels and adventure-filled life. Hemingway Days started in 1981 with a short-story competition and a look-alike contest. […]

39 minutes ago

Associated Press

Salt Lake City wildfire prompts mandatory evacuations as more than 100 firefighters fight blaze

Salt Lake City officials have ordered residents to evacuate some areas ahead of a wildfire as more than 100 firefighters work to contain the blaze. Helicopters and airplanes were dropping buckets over the flames Saturday as ground crews tried to contain the fire on Ensign Peak. The first fire crew was dispatched around 4:30 p.m. […]

56 minutes ago

Democratic Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi speaks at the North Carolina Democratic Unity Dinner fundra...

Associated Press

Pelosi delivers speech to NC Democrats with notable absence — Biden’s future as nominee

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — In a state expected to help decide the presidency, House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi did little to quell speculation on President Joe Biden’s path forward as the Democratic nominee to a room full of North Carolina Democrats on Saturday. Pelosi addressed more than 900 people at the North Carolina Democratic Party […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

89-year-old comedian recovering after she was randomly punched on New York street

NEW YORK (AP) — An 89-year-old comedian is recovering after being randomly punched and knocked to the ground while waiting to cross a street in New York earlier this month. D’yan Forest said she had just stopped at a coffee shop and was heading to a swimming pool when someone came up to her from […]

4 hours ago

US wildlife managers agree to review the plight of a Western bird linked to piñon forests