MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — A national environmental group said Tuesday it had reached a settlement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over endangered species status for a rare songbird, giving the federal agency four years to decide whether Bicknell's thrush should be protected.
The Center for Biological Diversity says climate change threatens to destroy the habitat of the sparrow-sized bird, which nests on mountaintops in northern New England, the Adirondacks and eastern Canada. The group sued the Fish and Wildlife Service when it did not meet a legally mandated 2012 deadline to decide if it should be protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Mollie Matteson, the center's Northeast representative based in Richmond, Vt., called Monday's agreement a "ray of hope."
"Time is growing short for the thrush and its vulnerable habitat," she said.
Meagan Racey, a spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service's Northeast region in Hadley, Mass., said the agency hasn't seen a settlement agreement and therefore can't comment.
The center had petitioned the federal agency seeking protective status for bird, and maintained that the agency was required by law to issue a decision one year after finding that the bird was being considered for endangered species status.
The federal agency completed a 90-day review in August 2012 and found that the habitat of the Bicknell's thrush faces threats from climate change and forestry, energy, and recreational development such as ski areas.
The service then began a 60-day period when it invited more information on the bird and its habitat. Following that period, the service said it would issue a 12-month finding on the center's petition, but never did. The Bicknell's thrush also was not on the service's listing work plan for 2013 to 2018, released in February.
The settlement gives the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service until fiscal year 2017 to decide on protection status for the bird.
The group has been settling with the Fish and Wildlife Service on many species in the last couple of years, Matteson said.
"There's been a lot of species that have languished in this kind of limbo land for many years with the service not making decisions so actually even though it is four years it's a good thing because we know for sure that they will make a definitive decision," she said.