Loons may be removed from Vermont endangered species list

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(Host) For years Vermonters have listened for the haunting call of the loon on the state’s lakes and ponds. Because of its small numbers, the bird has come to symbolize the fragile relationship between human activity and the natural world.

But state wildlife biologists say the number of loons in Vermont has increased in recent years and they’re recommending the bird be taken off the state’s list of endangered species.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) It almost seems that the common loon wants to be on the endangered species list. It takes as long as seven years to reach sexual maturity and, once there, only produces two or three offspring a year. It doesn’t like company: a nesting couple will defend an area as large as 200 acres from other loon interlopers, sometimes killing the chicks of a rival pair. Nearby human activity can cause it to abandon its nest.

The loon seems to live on the edge, figuratively and literally – nesting and raising chicks within a few feet of the water’s edge on Vermont’s lakes and ponds.

(Eric Hanson) “They are one of the few animals that really totally live where we like to recreate and live as well.”

(Zind) Eric Hanson is with the Vermont Loon Recovery Project, which is funded by the Fish and Wildlife Department and the Vermont Institute of Natural Science. For years the project has been putting up signs near loon nesting areas and educating boaters about the importance of steering clear of loons. Hydroelectric companies have agreed not to change water levels in lakes below dams during nesting season.

Hanson says as a result, the state’s loon population has gone from a low of seven nesting pairs in the 1980s, to about 40 nesting pairs today. He says that’s a good number given Vermont’s limited loon habitat and it’s above the goal wildlife officials set for the recovery project.

For that reason, this week an advisory group to the agency of Natural Resources recommended that loons be removed from the endangered species list. Hanson says the group’s decision is an important milestone.

(Hanson) “It’s extremely significant in the sense that we have brought a bird that was about extirpated from Vermont, where we had very few of them left, and be able to get them back into extremely healthy numbers.”

(Zind) Hanson stresses that this is just the beginning of a process that could take several years and could be reversed if there’s a drop in the loon population.

In recent years, the advisory group has recommended that the peregrine falcon and the osprey also be removed from the endangered list. The recommendations are still under consideration by the Agency of Natural Resources. Hanson says wildlife biologists are now wresting with an issue they haven’t had to confront before.

(Hanson) “We’ve now recovered a total of three species in Vermont. We’re sort of entering new ground. What do we do to make sure that these species don’t get into trouble again?”

(Zind) Hanson says he expects that much of the work that’s been done to build the bird populations will continue in order to maintain them.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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