Tricolor blackbird, Agelaius tricolor, Dave Menke, USFWS

VENTURA, Calif. April 20, 2018— The California Fish and Game Commission voted yesterday to protect tricolored blackbirds as a threatened species under the California Endangered Species Act, 14 years after the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned for the bird’s protection. The commission also voted to protect the rare Lassics lupine mountain wildflower as endangered.

“These protections are critical for these two remarkable species, which face growing threats from habitat destruction, pesticides and climate change,” said Lisa Belenky, a senior attorney at the Center. “The commission’s decision will help stabilize their populations and prevent the tricolored blackbird and lupine wildflower from going extinct.”

In 2016 the Center and Dave Imper, a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, filed a state petition to protect the Lassics lupine. Found only in two small areas on the the Six Rivers National Forest, the total population of the pink alpine wildflower is estimated at fewer than 500 plants. The flower is threatened with extinction because of the effects of global climate change, including decreased snowpack and drought, habitat changes and increased seed predation by small mammals.

Tricolored blackbirds once formed massive nesting colonies of millions of birds in California’s Central Valley. But they have declined dramatically because of the destruction of wetlands and native grasslands, shooting and pesticide use. Mowing and harvesting crops that tricolored blackbirds use for nesting has also devastated populations.

Tricolored blackbirds have declined by nearly 90 percent since the 1930s. Comprehensive statewide surveys found only 145,000 in 2014 — the smallest population ever recorded. The 2017 survey appears to show a small population rebound, with 177,656 blackbirds observed. The population increase came only after legal protections were put in place in 2016, and scientists caution that one year of data cannot be relied on to show population stability.

Today’s listing comes 14 years after the Center first petitioned to secure protections for the bird. The commission implemented emergency protections from nest destruction and shooting, which expired in June 2015. In December 2015 the commission designated the tricolored blackbird as a candidate under the California Endangered Species Act list, providing temporary protection for the birds.