LOCAL NEWS

Wildlife managers to review plight of a Western bird linked to piñon forests, including in Utah

Aug 16, 2023, 3:51 PM | Updated: 4:18 pm

FILE - In this undated image provided by Christina M. Selby, three pinyon jays sit in a piñon tree...

FILE - In this undated image provided by Christina M. Selby, three pinyon jays sit in a piñon tree in northern New Mexico. U.S. wildlife managers announced Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2023, that they will investigate whether a bird that is inextricably linked to the piñon and juniper forests that span the Western United States warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act. (Christina M. Selby via AP, File)

(Christina M. Selby via AP, File)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — U.S. wildlife managers announced Wednesday that they will investigate whether a bird that is inextricably linked to the piñon and juniper forests that span the Western United States warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The pinyon jay’s numbers have declined over the last half-century as persistent drought, more severe wildfires and other effects of climate change have intensified, leaving the birds with less food and fewer nesting options as more trees die or are removed.

Environmentalists also are concerned that without the pinyon jay — a social bird that essentially plants the next generation of trees by stashing away the seeds — it’s possible the piñon forests of New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and other Western states could face another reproductive hurdle.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to review the jay’s status comes in response to a petition filed more than a year ago that included research showing the species’ numbers have declined by an estimated 80% over the last five decades, a rate even faster than that of the greater sage grouse.

“This decision moves us one step closer to reversing the trend of one of the fastest declining birds in North America,” Peggy Darr of the group Defenders of Wildlife said in a statement. “Without pinyon jays, we stand to lose iconic Southwestern landscapes, cultures and cuisines intimately tied to piñon pine nuts.”

Piñon-juniper forests cover more than 75,000 square miles (190,000 square kilometers) in the United States, and wildlife managers in several Western states already have classified the bird as a species of greatest conservation need.

Nearly 60% of the jay’s remaining population can be found in New Mexico and Nevada, but its range also includes central Oregon and parts of California, Utah, Wyoming, Oklahoma and Mexico’s northern Baja California.

Defenders of Wildlife pointed Wednesday to research published this year that indicated one hypothesis for the birds’ decline was habitat loss and degradation due to climate change. Another was land management policies that call for the thinning or removal of piñon-juniper forests to reduce wildfire threats or improve habitat for other species. And development has resulted in the clearing of trees to make room for homes as Western cities expand.

Fewer trees mean less food for the birds, and previous research has shown that the jays will forgo breeding when piñons are scarce.

Pale blue with a white bib, the pinyon jay typically mates for life and can be choosey about where to build a nest. For example, taller and older trees aren’t high on the list as they typically have less foliage and can double as perches for potential predators.

While environmentalists say there still is much research to be done on pinyon jays, it was well known by the 1970s that the birds’ habits revolved around harvesting, stashing and later retrieving pine seeds. In one case, a researcher watched a bird carry 56 seeds in one trip.

Drought and high temperatures also have been shown to affect the production of piñon cones, forcing the birds to fan out over hundreds of miles when food is scarce.

Researchers have said that understanding the bird’s needs and effects on its habitats will be fundamental to managing Western environments to ensure pinyon jay colonies can be protected.

The Fish and Wildlife Service also agreed to review the status of the bleached sandhill skipper, a butterfly with golden-orange wings that has been the focus of a fight over a geothermal energy project near the Nevada-Oregon state line.

The proposed power plant would be outside the butterfly’s habitat, an alkali wetland that spans about 2 square miles (5 square kilometers). But environmentalists are concerned that tapping underground water sources likely would affect the flows that support plants where the butterflies lay eggs and get nectar.

 

KSL 5 TV Live

Local News

Cpl. Derrick Luera, with the Saratoga Springs Police Department, designed a two-inch charity coin t...

Shelby Lofton

Utah police officer creates charity coin to honor Sgt. Bill Hooser

A Utah police officer found a unique way to pay his respects to Sgt. Bill Hooser. 

15 minutes ago

Utah Capitol where lawmakers passed a deal to possible raise a tax and quickly spend the money on d...

Lindsay Aerts

Lawmakers defend Sept. 1 contract deadline on downtown plans

The deal to raise Salt Lake City's sales tax to help house the new NHL team and revitalize downtown is moving fast and lawmakers are defending the deadline.

25 minutes ago

Some of the dozens of loaner life jackets that were donated to a Life Jacket Loaner Station at Jord...

Alex Cabrero

Over 900 loaner life jackets donated to Utah lakes and reservoirs

With Memorial Day weekend on the way, Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital is donating over 900 life jackets to loaner stations to help prevent drownings.

57 minutes ago

We're all guilty of slouching in our chairs. But did you know poor posture can cause serious health...

Emma Benson

Straightening up: How your posture affects your health

We're all guilty of slouching in our chairs. But did you know poor posture can cause serious health issues?

59 minutes ago

Three people suffered minor injuries following a small airplane crash Wednesday near Vernal. (Verna...

Mark Jones

3 people suffer minor injuries in small airplane crash near Vernal

Three people suffered minor injuries following a small plane crash Wednesday near Vernal.

1 hour ago

Ysabelle Cuevas a is a nurse at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital and also a also celebra...

Angie Denison and Michael Houck, KSL TV

Pop Star Nurse: Ysabelle Cueva pursues both of her passions

By day, Ysabelle Cuevas is a registered nurse at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital. But her other passion is inspiring others with her music.

2 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Electrician repairing ceiling fan with lamps indoors...

Lighting Design

Stay cool this summer with ceiling fans

When used correctly, ceiling fans help circulate cool and warm air. They can also help you save on utilities.

Side view at diverse group of children sitting in row at school classroom and using laptops...

PC Laptops

5 Internet Safety Tips for Kids

Read these tips about internet safety for kids so that your children can use this tool for learning and discovery in positive ways.

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why Printer Security Should Be Top of Mind for Your Business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Wildlife managers to review plight of a Western bird linked to piñon forests, including in Utah