Looks like Christmas came early, again, for the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). Based on a petition submitted by CBD, the California Fish and Game Commission voted earlier this month to designate the tricolored blackbird as a candidate species under the California Endangered Species Act (ESA). The tricolored blackbird now enjoys the same legal protections, including the “take” prohibition, that apply to endangered or threatened species under the California ESA.
Within the next 12 months, the Department of Fish and Wildlife will prepare a status report with a listing recommendation. Based on staff comments at the candidacy hearing, it appears that report will take the full 12 months to prepare. Consequently, the Commission would likely make its final determination to list (or not to list) the tricolored blackbird as endangered at a public hearing in early 2017.
This decision hits close to home for this farm boy. While many industries may be affected (see more on that below), dairy farmers appear to bear the brunt of protecting this species. Tricolored blackbirds love to nest in silage crop fields — and unfortunately, harvest time for silage crops typically coincides closely with the late nestling/early fledging stage for tricolored blackbird offspring. So, dairy farmers have had two choices: harvest as planned but destroy nests; or delay harvesting to save nests, which often results in lower yield and nutritional quality (and, ultimately, higher feed bills later on to replace the lost silage). For now, the latter may be the only option unless you want to face a potential take violation under the California ESA.
But has all hope been lost? No, not just yet. At the candidacy hearing, the Commission pledged to consider terms and conditions to authorize the take of tricolored blackbird at its February 2016 meeting. Those terms and conditions will focus on take associated with agricultural operations during the candidacy period. Stay tuned as this part of the story further develops.
What about other industries? Solar, wind, mining, and, basically, any other large-scale development on a greenfield site (typically agricultural land) may also have impacts to tricolored blackbird. Chances are, though, your CEQA document already covers (or should cover) impacts to tricolored blackbird as a special status species. But beware — give a close reading to your impacts and mitigation measures. Your activities may now be considered a “take” under the California ESA.