Mispillion red knots, © Andrew Harper

Red Knots Added to New Jersey Endangered Species List

Hunkered down in their Southern Hemisphere wintering grounds, red knots may be out of sight. But the plight of the shorebird is certainly not out of mind. Just this week, the state of New Jersey added the red knot to its list of endangered species.

It’s been almost a year since the state initially proposed the uplisting from threatened to endangered. And in that time, population numbers for the shorebird have continued their downward spiral. It’s hard to believe that less than two decades ago, more than 100,000 red knots filled the skies of Delaware Bay. Today, only 13,000 remain.

Wildlife officials said that the new status does not add protections for the birds. However, it is formal recognition that despite years of efforts to help the bird–including a 2008 New Jersey state-instituted moratorium on horseshoe crab fishing–its numbers continue to decline.

With any luck, the listing will get the attention of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), who decided last July to speed up the initiation of the process to formally add the rufa subspecies of red knot to the list of threatened and endangered species. Since 2005, four formal requests to list the red knot under the Endangered Species Act have been submitted to the FWS. Citing a lack of resources and other priorities, the FWS failed to list the bird but placed it on the candidate list in 2006, where it has languished ever since.

Unlike the state listing, a listing under the federal Endangered Species Act would offer some real protections for the birds. It would initiate the development of a recovery plan and require federal agencies whose actions affect red knots to consult with the FWS. With the shorebird continuing its slide toward extinction, such actions may be the last hope for red knots.

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Watch Defenders join efforts on the ground to protect the imperiled red knot: