Bird’s extinction possibility lower than thought

The Associated Press
Monday October 02, 2000

LOS ANGELES — A study that contradicted earlier reports that the gnatcatcher was near extinction will not influence a decision to set aside nearly 800,000 acres in Southern California for the tiny songbird. 

The study, released last week, was funded by land and highway developers and the U.S. Navy. It concluded that the few thousand remaining California gnatcatchers have millions of close avian cousins in a Mexican songbird – some with similar DNA – and therefore are not in danger of extinction. 

Assistant field supervisor Jim Bartel of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said even if the study is correct, gnatcatchers would qualify for federal protection as a “distinct population segment” in the United States. 

“This study is really not related at all to the decision at hand,” Bartel said. 

Fish and Wildlife is required to protect coastal habitat for the gnatcatcher because of the bird’s threatened species status. The agency faced a court-ordered deadline Saturday to file its decision.  

It requested a two-week extension. 

The Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that sued the federal government to set aside habitat, agreed to the extension. 

However, it was unclear Saturday whether the extension was granted.