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Group seeks Endangered Species Act protection for puffins

The Natural Resources Defense Council wants the tufted puffin population in Oregon, Washington and California listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The NRDC filed a petition Wednesday, Feb. 12, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to seek protection for the small, penguin-like seabird, known for its distinctive facial coloring and plumage during the breeding season.

The NRDC estimates the West Coast population of tufted puffins has declined from more than 30,000 30 years ago to no more than 4,000 today.

The culprits? Climate change and increasing competition from fishing fleets.

“If you can’t find food to eat, your days are numbered, and that is where the tufted puffin in these states finds itself,” says Brad Sewell, NRDC senior attorney. “Climate change is doing a number on the iconic seabird’s populations by making fish scarce. This is on top of other harms from humans, like fishing and habitat destruction. We need to protect them before it’s too late.”

Tufted puffins, which stand about 15 inches tall, feed primarily on small fish, like sardines, anchovies, and herring, as well as some invertebrates, such as squid, octopus, and crab. They are expert swimmers, able to dive up to 60 meters to catch prey. When foraging to feed their chicks, tufted puffins can make as many as 350 dives per day. They can live more than 20 years and usually mate for life.

Climate change affects the temperature and circulation patterns of the Pacific Ocean, disrupting the food web and making it hard for puffins to forage for food. Puffins increasingly must compete with commercial fishing fleets for fish, and the birds may be trapped in fishing nets.

Tufted puffins are found in the open waters, islands and coastal cliffs of the North Pacific Ocean. Their habitat stretches from Northern California to Alaska. They also are found in Russia and two Japanese islands.

The NRDC petition seeks to protect these populations and their habitat by limiting fishing of certain fish populations that are critical to their diet.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has 90 days to provide a preliminary response to the petition. If it finds the petition warrants additional review, the agency has 12 months to make a final listing determination.

Steve Law can reached at 503-546-5139 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Twitter: @SteveLawTrib

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