[Federal Register Volume 63, Number 174 (Wednesday, September 9, 1998)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 48162-48164]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 98-24122]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 90-Day Finding for 
a Petition To List the Henslow's Sparrow as Threatened

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of 90-day petition finding.


SUMMARY: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announces a 90-
day finding for a petition to list the Henslow's sparrow (Ammodramus 
henslowii) in the contiguous United States under the Endangered Species 
Act of 1973, as amended (Act). The Service finds that the petition does 
not present substantial information indicating that listing this 
species as threatened may be warranted.

DATES: The finding announced in this document was made on August 22, 

ADDRESSES: Questions, comments, or information concerning this petition 
should be sent to the Acting Field

[[Page 48163]]

Supervisor, Ecological Services Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service, 620 S. Walker Street, Bloomington, Indiana 47403-2121. The 
petition finding, supporting data, and comments are available for 
public inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours at the 
above address.

section or telephone 812-334-4261.



    Section 4(b)(3)(A) of the Act requires that the Service make a 
finding on whether a petition to list, delist, or reclassify a species 
presents substantial scientific or commercial information to 
demonstrate that the petitioned action may be warranted. This finding 
is to be based on all information available to the Service at the time 
the finding is made. To the maximum extent practicable, the finding 
shall be made within 90 days following receipt of the petition and 
promptly published in the Federal Register. Following a positive 
finding, section 4(b)(3)(B) of the Act requires the Service to promptly 
commence a status review of the species.
    The Service has made a 90-day finding on a petition to list the 
Henslow's sparrow (Ammodramus henslowii). The petition, dated March 31, 
1998, was submitted by Mr. D.C. Carlton, Director of the Biodiversity 
Legal Foundation, Boulder, Colorado, and was received on April 6, 1998. 
The petition requested that the Service list the Henslow's sparrow as 
threatened where it continues to exist in the contiguous United States 
and to designate critical habitat.
    The petition states that the Henslow's sparrow has experienced a 
steep and continuing downward population trend across its broad range. 
The petition maintains that this trend will continue due to ongoing 
loss of the tallgrass prairie habitat needed by the sparrow. It points 
to studies estimating rangewide native prairie loss as high as 99.9 
percent, as well as the loss of ``substitute prairie of pasture and 
hayfields'' in some parts of the sparrow's range. In addition to 
habitat loss and fragmentation, human disturbance, predation, and nest 
parasitism, the petition also identifies cats, pesticide hazards, and 
collisions with manmade structures as significant mortality factors for 
birds, in general, and which may be problems for the Henslow's sparrow, 
as well.
    The Service recently completed an exhaustive review of the 
literature and unpublished data on the species and summarized the 
results in a 1996 status assessment report (Pruitt 1996). That report 
evaluated the information available at that time across the entire 
range of the species. The data compiled in that report led the Service 
to conclude in 1997 that elevating the Henslow's sparrow to candidate 
status was not justified (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1997). Thus, 
the review of this petition was primarily an evaluation of whether new 
information, or other information not reviewed by the Service in the 
1996 status assessment, should cause the Service to reverse its 1997 
determination that there was insufficient information to justify 
proposing the species for threatened or endangered status.
    A careful review has shown that the petition does not cite, 
reference, or provide status, trend, or threat data that indicate any 
further deterioration in the status of the Henslow's sparrow since 
completion of the Service's 1996 status assessment of the Henslow's 
sparrow (Pruitt 1996). While the petition provides detailed discussion 
on the disappearance of the tallgrass prairie and on the biology and 
habitat needs of the species, the petition provides little data that 
support its contention that the steep decline of Henslow's sparrow is 
continuing and that the species has declined to the threshold of 
threatened status (likely to become an endangered species throughout 
all or a significant portion of its range).
    In contrast, the Service's review of available recent data in 
addition to those supplied with the petition indicates that the decline 
may have stopped, and may even be reversing, at several important areas 
across a significant portion of the species' range. Hints of this 
possible change in population trend in some areas were detected during 
the 1996 status assessment and were partially responsible for the 
Service's 1997 decision (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1997). From a 
range-wide perspective, these data indicate that the status of the 
Henslow's sparrow may have stabilized, and possibly may have improved, 
since completion of the 1996 status assessment. However, these data are 
primarily from short-term studies or are difficult to interpret with 
confidence for other reasons (e.g., normal annual variation in 
population numbers; changes in observation intensity; insufficient data 
on reproduction; uncertain future status of newly-colonized habitat). 
Thus, any conclusions drawn from them must be considered to be 
    The most important site-specific examples of these recent data are 
described as follows:
    Jefferson Proving Grounds (JPG), Indiana. As reported by Pruitt 
(1996), the population in 1995 was estimated conservatively at 400 
singing males; subsequent analysis of the data resulted in an estimate 
of 611 singing males (Miller, Pruitt, and Pruitt 1997). Estimates for 
1996 and 1997 were 970 and 683 singing males, respectively (Miller, 
Pruitt, and Pruitt 1997).
    Fort Riley Military Reservation, Kansas. The Henslow's sparrow 
population in 1994 was estimated at 2,000 singing males. Jeff Keating 
(Ft. Riley, pers. comm. 1998) estimated that over 3,000 singing males 
were present on the installation in 1997.
    Southwestern Missouri. As reported by Pruitt (1996), the population 
of Henslow's sparrow on southwestern Missouri prairies was estimated at 
5,000-6,000 pairs during the period 1992-95; the status of this 
population appears to be stable. Maiken Winter (University of Missouri, 
pers. comm. 1998) conducted research on Henslow's sparrow in these 
prairies from 1995-97. The prairies remain a stronghold for the 
species; it is the most abundant breeding bird in some of the prairies 
    Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, Oklahoma. The status of the Henslow's 
sparrow at The Nature Conservancy's Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, 
estimated at approximately 3,000 singing males, has not changed. It has 
been documented that the species is colonizing suitable habitat outside 
the preserve. During roadside point counts in surrounding northeastern 
Oklahoma counties in 1996, Henslow's sparrows were documented at 28 
sites in 6 counties (Reinking 1997).
    Reclaimed Mine Land, Indiana. Bajema et al. (1998) found a 
substantial, previously unknown, population of Henslow's sparrow in 
1997 on reclaimed mine lands in southwestern Indiana and estimated the 
population at over 1,600 singing males.
    Reclaimed Mine Land, Ohio. Koford (1997) reported that 444 singing 
male Henslow's sparrows were found in 12 counties in southeastern Ohio 
during 1997. These birds were found primarily on reclaimed strip mines.
    From state-by-state perspectives, since the conclusion of Pruitt's 
(1996) status assessment Henslow's sparrow populations appear to have 
increased at some locations in as many as 10 states. In addition to the 
large populations described above, the following improvements have been 

[[Page 48164]]

    Illinois. James Herkert (Illinois Endangered Species Protection 
Board, pers. comm. 1998) noted that both 1996 and 1997 were good years 
for the Henslow's sparrow in Illinois. Illinois Spring Bird Count trend 
analysis suggests that Henslow's sparrow populations have been 
generally increasing in the state for the past 4-5 years. The data also 
reflect a population surge in southern Illinois, primarily on land 
enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) (Herkert 1998). 
These areas had few, if any, Henslow's sparrows just a few years ago.
    Indiana. In addition to the population at JPG and on reclaimed mine 
lands in Indiana, Koford (1997) reported that over 100 singing males 
were detected on Atterbury State Fish and Wildlife Area and the 
adjacent Atterbury Reserve Forces Training Area. The status of this 
population was unknown when the 1996 status assessment (Pruitt 1996) 
was completed. Henslow's sparrows are also colonizing CRP fields in 
southern Indiana, but the extent of use has not been documented (Jeff 
Kiefer, USFWS, pers. comm. 1998).
    Kentucky. Habitat is actively managed for Henslow's sparrow at the 
Fort Knox Military Reserve. A 3-year rotational burning scheme was 
initiated in 1995. Approximately 12 singing males were heard in managed 
areas during the 1997 breeding season. There is also a breeding 
population of Henslow's sparrow on the West Kentucky Army National 
Guard Training Site; this population appears to be expanding (Sunni 
Lawless, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, pers. 
comm. 1998).
    Michigan. The species appears to be colonizing some CRP lands in 
Michigan, but this has not been quantitatively assessed (Thomas Weise, 
Michigan Department of Natural Resources, pers. comm. 1998).
    Missouri. James D. Wilson (Missouri Department of Conservation, 
pers. comm. 1998) noted that the number of sites on which Henslow's 
sparrows were reported on Breeding Bird Surveys and other surveys 
increased over the past 5 years. Most new sites were associated with 
CRP land in northern Missouri.
    New York. Currently, the largest concentration of breeding 
Henslow's sparrow in New York is a recently discovered population at 
Fort Drum. The number of birds at the site is estimated at 50 pairs 
(Steven Joule, Fort Drum, pers. comm. 1998). Smith and Smith (1992) 
found Henslow's sparrow in 5 of 33 pastures surveyed in the Finger 
Lakes National Forest during 1989. Charles Smith (Cornell University, 
pers. comm. 1998) resurveyed these pastures in 1997 and counted 30 
territorial male Henslow's sparrows in one pasture that had supported 
5-7 territorial males the previous summer. In contrast, Mazur and 
Underwood (1995) reported that Saratoga National Historic Park 
supported 11-15 territorial males in 1995; Jeff Wells (National Audubon 
Society, pers. comm. 1998) noted that no Henslow's sparrows were found 
at the Park in 1997.
    North Carolina. Wright (1997) reported on the status of Henslow's 
sparrows at the Voice of America site in North Carolina. The site has 
been surveyed since 1994; 100-200 singing males have been counted 
annually. In 1998, 198 singing males were found (John Wright, pers. 
comm. 1998).
    Pennsylvania. The State of Pennsylvania has indicated that there 
are hundreds of breeding pairs of Henslow's sparrow in numerous 
counties throughout the State, thus the species has no State status. 
When information was solicited for the status assessment in 1995, the 
species was considered a Special Concern species (Daniel Brauning, 
Pennsylvania Game Commission, pers. comm. 1995).
    Wisconsin. Buena Vista Prairie Chicken Management Area (Portage 
County), reported to support 15-40 pairs in recent years, had a larger 
population, potentially in excess of 100 pairs, in 1997 (D. Sample, 
pers. comm. 1995); additional monitoring is needed to document the size 
of this population.
    Research is ongoing on three large wintering populations of 
Henslow's sparrows in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Florida; these study 
areas represent the largest known winter concentrations of Henslow's 
sparrow. Data collection and/or analyses for these studies are ongoing. 
These efforts are expected to further increase our understanding of the 
needs of, and threats to, the species.
    Finally, although the petition identified predation by cats, 
hazards from pesticide usage, and collisions with manmade structures as 
significant mortality factors for birds, in general, the petitioner 
neither provided, nor referenced, any data that indicated these factors 
are significant threats to the Henslow's sparrow. Furthermore, the 
additional recent data obtained by the Service from Henslow's sparrow 
researchers did not identify these as significant past, present, or 
anticipated future threats to the species.
    Contrary to the petition's statement that the Henslow's sparrow 
``was left in a protectionless limbo'' by the Service's elimination of 
the category 2 candidate species list in early 1996 (a list that 
provided no legal protection to the species which appeared on it), the 
species retains Federal protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, 
remains on the Service's list of Nongame Migratory Bird Species of 
Management Concern, and is the subject of numerous research efforts and 
conservation actions across its range. Information reviewed by the 
Service during the processing of this petition indicate that the level 
of concern generated by these designations has been sufficient to 
generate heightened research and management interest in the Henslow's 
sparrow. The Service will continue to promote these efforts to improve 
the biological status of the Henslow's sparrow. The Service will also 
encourage the continuation of monitoring activities at all sites which 
recently have shown signs of increased species' numbers and range; such 
studies are necessary to determine if the recent improvement in status 
will be sustained.
    The Service has reviewed the petition, the literature cited in the 
petition, the relevant references in the bibliography that accompanied 
the petition, and additional information from biologists and 
researchers familiar with this species. The Service also solicited 
comments and data from States and Tribes within the area included in 
the petition and reviewed the information received from those sources. 
On the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available, the 
Service finds that the petition does not present substantial 
information that listing the Henslow's sparrow may be warranted.

References Cited

    A complete list of all references cited herein is available upon 
request from the Bloomington Field Office (see ADDRESSES section).
    Author: The primary author of this document is Ronald L. Refsnider 
of the Service's Regional Office (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 
Division of Endangered Species, Bishop Henry Whipple Federal Building, 
1 Federal Drive, Ft. Snelling, Minnesota 55111-4056; 612-713-5346).


    The authority for this action is the Endangered Species Act (16 
U.S.C. 1531 et seq.).

    Dated: August 22, 1998.
Jamie Rappaport Clark,
Director, Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 98-24122 Filed 9-8-98; 8:45 am]