Changes may be coming to Maine’s Endangered Species Act

The Maine Endangered Species Act, or MESA, has been instrumental in protecting imperiled species in Maine since 1975. The Act is implemented by the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (DIFW), and currently provides special protection to 26 endangered and 25 threatened birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, and amphibians. 

Species may be added to or removed from the list, or have their designation changed, after action from DIFW and the legislature. In late September 2022, DIFW released a notice that they were proposing significant changes to the MESA species list, including the removal of two species from the list and the addition of eight species. The Department will hold a public hearing on their proposal on Oct. 11, and is taking public comment through October 21.

Maine Audubon will be commenting on the proposed changes before DIFW, and will also be reaching out to our members and supporters again as updates to the list go before the legislature, likely in early 2023. Here is an update on what species are proposed to come off the list, and which ones may be coming on. 

Species Proposed for Removal from the Maine Endangered Species Act

The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is proposing to remove two species from the list. Removal from the list means that the species, if present, will no longert enjoy special protection under MESAns. Importantly, removal from the MESA list is different from “delisting” a species. If a species is formally “delisted,” it retains protection from a variety of threats including hunting, harassing, and feeding. The Bald Eagle is to date the only species formally “delisted” from MESA. Maine Audubon is discussing with DIFW whether delisting is a better conservation strategy for the following proposed species than removal. 

Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina)

These amazing reptiles are at the very northern extent of their range in Maine, and have likely always been rare in the state. No viable populations of Box Turtles have been found in Maine since they were listed in 1986, and it’s possible that even the few individuals that have been found wild in Maine were released as pets. 

Eastern Box Turtle by Brookhaven National Laboratory
Eastern Box Turtle by Brookhaven National Laboratory

Rapids Clubtail (Gomphus quadricolor)

This dragonfly is only known from a handful of records, all along the Saco River. Dedicated surveys along the river in 2009 were unable to find the insect, and state biologists believe that it might no longer be extant in the state. 

Rapids Clubtail by David Marvin
Rapids Clubtail by David Marvin


Species Proposed for Addition to the Maine Endangered Species Act

DIFW is proposing to add seven species to the list. If added to the list, DIFW may designate areas of ‘essential habitat’ for species under its purview. ‘Essential habitats’ are areas that currently or historically provide physical or biological features essential to the conservation of a species and which may require special management considerations.

Once an area is designated essential habitat, MESA requires that no state agency or municipal government shall permit, license, fund, or carry out projects that would significantly alter the habitat or violate protection guidelines adopted for the habitat. In Maine Audubon’s experience, this has never stopped a project. Instead, it has led to collaborative work to mitigate potential impacts to the species. This can often be accomplished by simply restricting dates when the work can occur—for example, not dumping sand from a new dredge on a beach during nesting season.

Saltmarsh Sparrow (Ammodramus caudacutus)
Proposed listing: Endangered

The coastal habitat of this secretive bird is being degraded by sea level rise and encroaching development across its range. Climate change fueled storms and tidal surges flood nests before the chicks can fly. Biologists have measured an annual 10.6% decline in the state Saltmarsh Sparrow breeding population since monitoring began in 1998. 

Saltmarsh Sparrow by Scott Heron
Saltmarsh Sparrow by Scott Heron

Ashton Cuckoo Bumble Bee (Bombus ashtoni)
Proposed listing: Endangered

Like the cuckoo bird, which lays its eggs in the nests of other bird species, the Ashton Cuckoo Bumble Bee infiltrates the colonies of other bee species and takes over, forcing the bees in the host colony to raise the Ashton young. Like many pollinators, the Ashton Cuckoo Bumble Bee is experiencing steep population declines around North America (up to 90% loss), and is currently known from only a single location in Maine.

Bombus ashtoni by USGS Bee Monitoring and Inventory Lab
Bombus ashtoni by USGS Bee Monitoring and Inventory Lab

Bicknell’s Thrush (Catharus bicknelli)
Proposed listing: Threatened

Bicknell’s Thrush has a very limited breeding range: stunted forests at the treeline of mountains in New England and northeastern Canada. This already-rare habitat is further threatened by climate change and industrial forestry. Biologists believe that about 20% of the world’s population of Bicknell’s Thrush breeds in Maine. 

Bicknell's Thrush by Alan Schmierer
Bicknell’s Thrush by Alan Schmierer

Blackpoll Warbler (Setophaga striata)
Proposed listing: Threatened

This understated warbler breeds in Maine’s boreal forests, and is undergoing a prolonged population decline. State biologists estimate that Blackpoll Warbler numbers are down by 99% since 1960, and by 59% since 2010. The Blackpoll Warbler is already at the southern edge of its range in Maine’s boreal forests, and also faces threats during migration and on its wintering grounds on islands in the Caribbean and in northern regions of South America. 

Blackpoll Warbler by Maine Audubon
Blackpoll Warbler by Maine Audubon

Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia) and Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota)
Proposed listing: Threatened

Like other aerial insectivores, populations of these two swallow species have declined sharply in recent years. Cliff Swallows have experienced an estimated 6.9% per year decline in Maine between 1966 and 2019, and Bank Swallows have had an estimated 10.9% annual decrease. There is some evidence that a lack of suitable nesting areas is impacting Bank Swallows, while Cliff Swallows may be particularly susceptible to impacts on their South American wintering grounds. 

Cliff Swallow by _Veit_
Cliff Swallow by _Veit_

 

Bank Swallows by Luiz Lapa
Bank Swallows by Luiz Lapa

Tricolored Bat (Perimyotis subflavus)
Proposed listing: Threatened

Like many North American bat species, the Tricolored Bat has been devastated by White-nose Syndrome. We featured the Tricolored Bat and other native Maine species as part of our Bat Week in May 2022 and during our Bats 101 webinar with Dr. Kristen Lear (watch here). Their historical low abundance in Maine and susceptibility to White-nose syndrome make conservation an urgent concern. 

Tricolored Bat by Cataloging Nature
Tricolored Bat by Cataloging Nature

Margined Tiger Beetle (Ellipsoptera marginata)
Proposed listing: Threatened

The Margined Tiger Beetle lives along intertidal zones, back beaches, saline flats, salt marshes, beaches, and tidal mud flats along the Atlantic coast. It is known from just 13 locations in seven Maine towns between York and Georgetown, and its low and fragmented populations are further threatened by sea-level rise and habitat degradation from adjacent development. 

Margined Tiger Beetle by Mike Ostrowski
Margined Tiger Beetle by Mike Ostrowski

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Maine Audubon is eager to support the listing process, and will be in touch soon with information on how you can help protect these species.