[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 190 (Wednesday, October 1, 2014)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 59195-59204]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-23297]


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DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

[Docket No. FWS-R7-ES-2014-0043; 4500030113]


Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 12-Month Finding 
on a Petition To List the Yellow-Billed Loon as an Endangered or a 
Threatened Species

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of 12-month petition finding.

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SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce a 
12-month finding on a petition to list the yellow-billed loon (Gavia 
adamsii) as an endangered or threatened species under the Endangered 
Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). After reviewing the best 
scientific and commercial data available we find that listing the 
yellow-billed loon is not warranted. We invite the public to submit to 
us any new information that becomes available concerning the threats to 
the yellow-billed loon or its habitat.

DATES: The finding announced in this document was made on October 1, 
2014.

ADDRESSES: This finding and the Yellow-billed Loon Species Status 
Assessment Report (SSA Report; Service 2014, entire; see Status 
Assessment for the Yellow-billed Loon section, below) is available on 
the Internet at http://www.regulations.gov at Docket Number FWS-R7-ES-
2014-0043.
    Supporting documentation we used in preparing this finding is 
available for public inspection, by appointment, during normal business 
hours at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Fairbanks Fish and 
Wildlife Office, 101 12th Ave., Room 110, Fairbanks, AK 99701. Please 
submit any new information, materials, comments, or questions 
concerning this finding to the above street address.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Sarah Conn, Field Supervisor, 
Fairbanks Fish and Wildlife Office (see ADDRESSES); telephone at 907-
456-0499; or facsimile at 907-456-0208. If you use a telecommunications 
device for the deaf (TDD), please call the Federal Information Relay 
Service (FIRS) at 800-877-8339.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Background

    Section 4(b)(3)(B) of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) requires 
that, for any petition to revise the Federal Lists of Endangered and 
Threatened Wildlife and Plants that contains substantial scientific or 
commercial information that listing the species may be warranted, we 
make a finding within 12 months of the date of receipt of the petition. 
In the finding, we will determine that the petitioned action is: (1) 
Not warranted, (2) warranted, or (3) warranted, but the immediate 
proposal of a regulation implementing the petitioned action is 
precluded by other pending proposals to determine whether species are 
endangered or threatened, and expeditious progress is being made to add 
or remove qualified species from the Federal Lists of Endangered and 
Threatened Wildlife and Plants. Section 4(b)(3)(C) of the Act requires 
that we treat a petition for which the requested action is found to be 
warranted but precluded as though resubmitted on the date of such 
finding, that is, requiring a subsequent finding to be made within 12 
months. We must publish these 12-month findings in the Federal 
Register.

Previous Federal Actions

    On April 5, 2004, we received a petition from the Center for 
Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, Pacific 
Environment, Trustees for Alaska, Kaira Club, Kronotsky Nature 
Preserve, Taiga Rangers, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk Local Public Fund, 
Interregional Public Charitable Organization of Far Eastern Resource 
Centers, Kamchatka Branch of Pacific Institute of Geography 
(Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Russia), and Kamchatka League of Independent 
Experts to list the yellow-billed loon as an endangered or threatened 
species throughout its

[[Page 59196]]

range, or as a distinct population segment (DPS) in the United States, 
and to designate critical habitat once listed.
    In response to the petition, we published a 90-day finding on the 
yellow-billed loon in the Federal Register on June 6, 2007 (72 FR 
31256). In the 90-day finding, we determined that the petition 
presented substantial scientific or commercial information to indicate 
that a listing may be warranted and announced that a status review 
would be promptly commenced. In that document, we announced the opening 
of a 60-day information collection period and invited the public to 
submit to us any pertinent information concerning the status of or 
threats to this species. We received approximately 28,000 comments 
during the information collection period. We also consulted with 
recognized yellow-billed loon experts and other Federal and State 
agencies. We sent letters to national wildlife or natural resource 
agencies in Canada, China, Japan, North Korea, Norway, Republic of 
Korea (South Korea), and the Russian Federation, asking for information 
about ongoing management measures and any conservation and management 
strategies being developed to protect the species. We received a formal 
response from the government of Canada, and an informal response from a 
government biologist in the Russian Federation.
    On June 11, 2007, we received a 60-day notice of intent to sue from 
the Center for Biological Diversity alleging a violation of section 4 
of the Act for failure to complete a 12-month finding on the petition. 
We informed the plaintiffs by letter dated July 9, 2007, that further 
action on the petition was precluded by higher priority listing actions 
but that, pending the Fiscal Year 2008 allocation of funds, we hoped to 
complete the 12-month finding within that fiscal year. On December 19, 
2007, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a complaint alleging 
that the Service had failed to make a timely 12-month finding on the 
petition, as required under section 4 of the Act. Consistent with a 
settlement agreement reached between the Service and the Center for 
Biological Diversity, the Court ordered the Service to submit a 12-
month finding for publication to the Federal Register by February 15, 
2009. Because the Service later received substantial new information to 
be evaluated and considered in the 12-month finding, we subsequently 
sought and were granted a 1-month extension with a new deadline of 
March 16, 2009. On March 25, 2009, we published our 12-month finding 
(74 FR 12932), in which we stated the best scientific data available to 
us indicated that during migration, yellow-billed loons were subject to 
subsistence harvest that appeared to be at an unsustainable level for 
the species (74 FR 12962), and concluded that listing the yellow-billed 
loon as an endangered or threatened species under the Act was 
warranted, but precluded by higher listing priorities. With the 
publication of the finding the yellow-billed loon became a candidate 
for listing and was added to the list of species annually reviewed 
under the candidate notice of review (CNOR).
    As part of the multi-district litigation stipulated settlement 
agreements (WildEarth Guardians v. Salazar, No. 1:10-mc-00377-EGS 
(D.D.C.); Center for Biological Diversity v. Salazar, No. 1:10-mc-
00377-EGS (D.D.C.)), we are required to submit a proposed listing rule 
or not-warranted finding to the Federal Register for the yellow-billed 
loon in Fiscal Year 2014, which ends September 30, 2014. This document 
constitutes our 12-month finding as specified in the agreement.

Status Assessment for the Yellow-Billed Loon

Introduction

    In the SSA report we compiled biological data and a description of 
past, present, and likely future stressors (causes and effects) facing 
the yellow-billed loon. We consider this SSA report to represent a 
compilation of the best available scientific and commercial data 
regarding the biological condition of the yellow-billed loon, and it 
provides the scientific basis that has informed our regulatory decision 
as set forth in this document.

Summary of Life History, Biological Status and Threats

Life History

    Yellow-billed loon (Order Gaviiformes, Family Gaviidae) is one of 
five loon species (Gavia spp.), and is most closely related to common 
loon (G. immer) with similarities in size and appearance. There are no 
recognized subspecies or geographic variations (American 
Ornithologists' Union, http://checklist.aou.org/taxa/137, accessed 
August 4, 2014). Yellow-billed loons are large-bodied, fairly long-
lived birds with low annual reproductive output and therefore are 
dependent upon high annual adult survival to maintain populations. 
Based on common loon, individuals may reach sexual maturity at 3 years 
of age but not acquire breeding territories until later; the average 
age at first breeding for common loon is 6 years (Evers 2004, p. 18).
    Yellow-billed loons nest from June to September on shores of 
coastal and inland low-lying tundra lakes from latitude 62 degrees to 
74 degrees North. There are five separate breeding areas that are 
recognized, two each in Alaska and Canada and one in Russia. In Alaska, 
yellow-billed loons nest on the Arctic Coastal Plain (ACP) north of the 
Brooks Range and in the region surrounding Kotzebue Sound in western 
Alaska, primarily the northern Seward Peninsula (North 1993, pp. 38-42; 
Earnst 2004, pp. 3-4). In Canada, they nest on islands in the Arctic 
Ocean (hereafter ``Canadian arctic islands'') and on the mainland 
between the Mackenzie Delta and Hudson Bay. In Russia, they nest on a 
narrow strip of coastal tundra from the Chukotka Peninsula in the east 
and on the western Taymyr Peninsula in the west, with a break in 
distribution between these two areas (Il'ichev and Flint 1982, p. 277; 
North 1993, p. 42; Pearce et al. 1998, p. 369; Red Data Book of the 
Russian Federation 2001, p. 366; Ryabitsev 2001, p. 22; Earnst 2004, p. 
3).
    Yellow-billed loons typically nest on large, clear lakes with 
vegetated and convoluted shorelines. Females lay one or two eggs in 
mid- to late June (North 1994, pp. 11-12). Renesting after nest failure 
is limited by the short arctic summer and there appears to be 
significant inter-annual variation in reproductive success (ABR, Inc. 
2007, p. 16). Because this species eats small fish and other aquatic 
prey (North 1994, p. 6), these lakes must also support sufficient 
numbers of prey fish. In many areas, successfully breeding adults feed 
their young almost entirely from the brood-rearing lake (North 1994, p. 
14), although some may use additional lakes or the nearshore marine 
environment during brood rearing.
    Yellow-billed loons depart breeding areas in late September, 
although non-breeders or failed nesters may start fall migration in 
July, and arrive in wintering locations in mid-November. In April, they 
begin spring migration, arriving on breeding grounds in the first half 
of June. Juveniles likely spend their first several years on wintering 
areas.
    Yellow-billed loons that breed on Canadian arctic islands migrate 
along the arctic coast and through the Chukchi Sea to and from 
wintering areas in Asia, although at least some loons that nest inland 
in mainland Canada migrate overland to the coast of southern Alaska and 
British Columbia presumably via large lakes (Schmutz 2011, p. 1). Those 
breeding in Alaska predominantly winter in Asia, though some winter 
along the coast of southern Alaska and British Columbia. It is likely 
that some

[[Page 59197]]

or all yellow-billed loons that nest in eastern Russia migrate through 
the Bering Strait to Asian wintering areas, although there are no data 
to support this claim. The species winters in coastal waters of 
southern Alaska and British Columbia from the Aleutian Islands to Puget 
Sound; the Pacific coast of Asia from the Sea of Okhotsk south to the 
Yellow Sea; the Barents Sea and the coast of the Kola Peninsula; 
coastal waters of Norway; and possibly Great Britain and interior lakes 
or reservoirs in North America. See the SSA report section on Migratory 
Routes and Wintering Range for relevant details and citations (Service 
2014).

Summary of Biological Status

    We evaluated the biological status of the yellow-billed loon by 
collectively considering the species' geographic range, abundance 
estimates, and trend information from the Service's Migratory Bird 
Management annual aerial surveys of the Alaska-ACP breeding population. 
The global yellow-billed loon population is estimated to be 16,000 to 
32,000, spread among the five breeding areas of Alaska-ACP, western 
Alaska, Canadian arctic islands, Canadian mainland, and Russia (see SSA 
report, Service 2014, for population-specific estimates). The Alaska-
ACP breeding population is the only population for which standardized 
surveys over a sufficient number of years allow for estimation of a 
population trend. There, aerial surveys from 1986 to 2013 provide an 
index of abundance that was used to estimate a trend, using various 
subsets of observations that included or excluded exceptionally high 
and low counts, included all or just the most experienced observer, and 
included all years or just the most recent 10 years (Stehn et al. 2013, 
p. 23; Stehn et al. 2014, p. 3). Estimates varied slightly with 
analytical approach, but nearly all growth rates were estimated at 
about 1.01 (i.e., a 1 percent increase per year), although estimates 
based on only the last 10 years suggested growth rates of 6-7 percent 
per year. The most precise trend estimate, which included all years and 
all observations, estimated population growth to be 1.014, indicating 
an average annual increase of 1.4 percent (95 percent confidence 
interval: 1.001 to 1.027; Stehn et al. 2013, p. 23; Stehn et al. 2014, 
p. 3). From these results collectively, we conclude that the Alaska-ACP 
population is at minimum stable, but most likely increasing in 
abundance. This is a change from the situation we described in our 2009 
finding, as the best scientific and commercial data available at that 
time indicated the Alaska-ACP population was stable or slightly 
declining (74 FR 12961, March 25, 2009).

Stressors Affecting Yellow-Billed Loons

    Numerous stressors occur in the range of the yellow-billed loon and 
involve different stages of its life history. We evaluated the sources 
and potential effects of these stressors to yellow-billed loons at the 
individual level, and whenever supported by the best scientific and 
commercial data available considered the potential or known response at 
the population and species levels. We identified stressors as: Oil and 
gas exploration and development; collisions with structures; research; 
disease; predation; subsistence harvest; commercial fishing bycatch; 
pollution and degradation of marine habitats; and effects related to 
climate change. See the SSA report (Service 2014) for relevant details 
and citations for the information summarized below on various 
stressors.
    For most individual stressors, it is difficult to evaluate 
population-level effects, especially for four of five breeding 
populations of the yellow-billed loon. As stated earlier, the Alaska-
ACP population is the only breeding population for which we have 
sufficient data to estimate a population trend. Comparable data 
regarding population trend or stressors are not available for the other 
four breeding populations. Based on the best scientific and commercial 
data available, the Alaska-ACP population of yellow-billed loon is 
subject to all stressors identified for the species rangewide.
    Oil and Gas Exploration and Development: Oil and gas exploration 
and development activities are occurring and are likely to continue to 
occur in portions of the yellow-billed loon's range including both 
marine and freshwater habitats. However, these activities are mostly 
localized and although individual yellow-billed loons may be affected, 
only a small proportion of the species' habitat has been subject to 
development to date. While oil and gas activities are likely to 
continue and may increase in scale, we expect that most breeding 
habitat will remain undeveloped in the short term. The greatest number 
of yellow-billed loons in potential oil and gas development areas occur 
in a part of the Alaska-ACP population breeding range where protective 
measures are in place (described below), and the proportion of affected 
individuals in the population is likely low. The best scientific and 
commercial data available do not suggest that the proportion of yellow-
billed loon habitat occupied by oil and gas development will increase 
to the extent that population-level effects to this species will occur 
in the future.
    In Alaska, oil and gas activities could occur in yellow-billed loon 
habitat in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A) or offshore on 
the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS); however, some measures aimed to 
minimize impacts to loons and other wildlife species currently are in 
place. In NPR-A, several best management practices designed to protect 
yellow-billed loons, their prey, and habitats including coastlines, 
lakes, and rivers/streams ameliorate potential impacts to terrestrial-
based resources. On the OCS, permit requirements intended to minimize 
impacts to marine mammals, migratory birds, subsistence practices, and 
important marine wildlife habitat such as coastlines and spring-lead 
systems will also indirectly benefit yellow-billed loons. These 
measures are expected to significantly reduce potential impacts of oil 
and gas development-related activities occurring in these areas 
provided that they remain in place (see Conservation Measures in SSA 
report, Service 2014).
    Oil and gas development and projected increased shipping in arctic 
waters create potential for in-water oil spills. Spill response 
capability remains unproven in arctic waters, indicating potential for 
exposure to yellow-billed loons if spills occur. While large spills 
from exploration and development could occur, such spills are expected 
to be unlikely based on spill rates observed elsewhere. In the event of 
an oil spill, individual yellow-billed loons would be affected if they 
were present at the time of the spill and came into contact with oil. 
However, with the exception of occasionally staging in groups in fall 
migration, yellow-billed loons generally occur in low densities in 
marine waters (North 1994, pp. 3-5; Gibson and Byrd 2007, p. 68); 
accordingly, the risk of a spill large enough to encounter a sufficient 
number of yellow-billed loons to result in a population- or species-
level effect is low. Given the minimal development in offshore yellow-
billed loon habitat, the low density at which the species occurs in 
marine waters, and the low probability of large spills occurring, we 
conclude that the potential for in-water oil spills does not rise to 
the level of a threat to yellow-billed loons at the population or 
species level.
    Collisions with Structures: Some yellow-billed loons may be injured 
or die as a result of collisions with ships or other offshore or 
terrestrial structures. In an effort to reduce collision risks 
resulting from bird attraction to lighted

[[Page 59198]]

structures, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management requires that oil and gas 
vessels operating in the Alaska OCS minimize the use of high-intensity 
work lights, especially within the 20-meter (66-foot) bathymetric 
contour (USFWS 2012, p. 77). Although individual yellow-billed loons 
may occasionally collide with structures, we are aware of no actual 
reports of fatal collisions between yellow-billed loons and human-built 
structures. Of 214 bird-structure incidents at terrestrial or island 
facilities on Alaska's North Slope between 2000 and 2013, and 131 
incidents at offshore facilities in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in 
2012, none involved yellow-billed loons (Service unpubl. monitoring 
records; Schroeder 2013, pp. 1, 3). Therefore, the best available 
scientific and commercial data indicate that collisions with structures 
do not pose population- or species- level threats to the yellow-billed 
loon.
    Research, Disease, Predation: The best scientific and commercial 
data available do not indicate that yellow-billed loon populations or 
the species as a whole are subject to stressors from research 
activities, disease, or predation. Some individual yellow-billed loons 
have been injured (n=2) or killed (n=3) as a result of capture or 
satellite transmitter implantation, and nest survival rates decrease in 
response to researcher visits or adult capture efforts at nests (J. 
Schmutz, USGS, pers. comm.; Uher-Koch et al. 2014, pp. 13-16). However, 
only a very small proportion of yellow-billed loons and nests are 
subject to research activities, so the effects of these activities do 
not constitute a threat to the yellow-billed loon at the population or 
species level. No large disease-related mortality events have been 
documented for the yellow-billed loon, and the best scientific and 
commercial data available do not suggest that disease outbreaks will 
increase or will have more severe effects on individuals or populations 
of this species in the future. Nest predation is a natural occurrence, 
and therefore we assume that it occurs throughout the species' range, 
although it may be greater near areas of human settlement or presence 
if predator distribution is influenced by human activities. However, in 
Alaska, due to requirements implemented by Bureau of Land Management in 
the NPR-A, and State regulators and the oil industry elsewhere in 
Alaska's North Slope oilfields (see Conservation Measures in SSA 
report, Service 2014), we expect that anthropogenic influences on nest 
predation are unlikely to result in population-level effects to the 
yellow-billed loon in the future. In Canada and Russia, we are not 
aware of any management actions aimed to minimize nest predation of 
yellow-billed loons, and we possess no information as to whether nest 
predation is resulting in population-level effects to yellow-billed 
loons, or that it will in the future. Based on the best scientific and 
commercial data available, particularly the information that the 
Alaska-ACP population trend is stable or slightly increasing, we have 
no reason to assume these stressors are operating differently in other 
breeding populations, and we conclude that research, predation, or 
disease do not pose population- or species-level threats to the yellow-
billed loon now or in the future.
    Subsistence Harvest: In 2009, the Service published a warranted-
but-precluded 12-month finding for yellow-billed loon (74 FR 12932, 
March 25, 2009). At the time, available harvest survey data suggested 
that a substantial number of yellow-billed loons were being harvested 
by subsistence hunters, particularly on St. Lawrence Island in the 
Bering Straits, where large numbers of yellow-billed loons migrate 
during spring and fall. The Service concluded that the reported level 
of harvest was unsustainable, and this was the primary basis for our 
2009 finding (74 FR 12962, March 25, 2009).
    Subsequent to the 2009 finding, the Service and our partners 
expanded efforts to better understand yellow-billed loon harvest, 
abundance, and distribution in the Bering Strait-Norton Sound region 
with the goal of evaluating the reliability of reported harvest. Based 
on these efforts, our current review of the best available data on 
yellow-billed loon subsistence harvest from harvest surveys indicates 
these data are subject to unquantifiable errors and biases that make it 
impossible to estimate subsistence harvest levels accurately. Issues 
identified for Alaskan harvest data also likely pertain to data from 
Canada (Priest and Usher 2004, pp. 35-42), and possibly to those from 
Russia. Despite errors in the harvest data, however, when survey 
estimates, local and traditional ecological knowledge, and ethnographic 
information are considered collectively, the available information 
suggests that anywhere from 10 to possibly a few hundred yellow-billed 
loons from multiple breeding and migration areas may be harvested 
annually by subsistence hunters across the species' range in Alaska, 
Canada, and Russia; this estimate is a small proportion of the global 
population estimate of 16,000 to 32,000 loons. Also, the best available 
information suggests that few eggs or adults are taken during the 
breeding season. Therefore, most harvest probably occurs during spring 
and fall migrations, as yellow-billed loons, including those nesting in 
mainland Canada, move along the coast of Alaska and Chukchi and Bering 
seas. We find no evidence of changes in harvest practices or the use of 
loons in terms of magnitude and frequency for subsistence over time. 
Thus, although the rangewide population of yellow-billed loon is 
subject to harvest, we conclude that hunters probably take a small 
number of loons relative to population- or species-level abundance. 
This assertion is supported by recent studies that found fewer yellow-
billed loons appear to be harvested than previously thought in the 
Bering Strait-Norton Sound region (Naves and Zeller 2013, pp. 51-53). 
We note also that at the time of our 2009 finding the best scientific 
and commercial data available indicated the Alaska-ACP population trend 
was stable or slightly declining (74 FR 12961, March 25, 2009). In 
contrast, as described above and in the SSA report (Service 2014), new 
information indicates the Alaska-ACP population trend is stable or 
slightly increasing. Thus the subsistence harvest that is occurring is 
not resulting in a declining population.
    In summary, as described in more detail in the SSA report (Service 
2014), the best scientific and commercial data available indicate that: 
(1) Only a small proportion of the total rangewide population is 
harvested annually, and the effect is diffused across the species' 
range; (2) it is likely that the current stable or slightly increasing 
population trend on Alaska's ACP reflects population-level response to 
ongoing harvest levels; and (3) there is no evidence to suggest that 
increasing subsistence use of loons or changing harvest practices will 
result in the potential for population- or species-level impacts in the 
future. Therefore, based on our analysis of the best scientific and 
commercial data available, we conclude that the subsistence harvest is 
not a threat to the yellow-billed loon now or in the future.
    Fishing Bycatch: Accidental bycatch of yellow-billed loons in 
commercial fisheries has been documented in Washington State, Russia, 
and Norway, but the frequency and magnitude of bycatch are unknown. 
Yellow-billed loons are also occasionally killed in subsistence fishing 
nets; however, little information is available regarding the number of 
yellow-billed loons caught in subsistence nets for most of Alaska, with 
the exception of the North Slope where fishers are required to report 
their

[[Page 59199]]

catch. Similar to other harvest data, the reported information is also 
subject to unquantifiable biases (e.g., low response rate). The North 
Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management reported that 2 to 14 
yellow-billed loons were killed in subsistence nets in Barrow annually 
from 2005 to 2010 (NSB-DWM 2006, p. 1; 2007, p. 1; 2008, p. 1; 2009, p. 
1; 2010 p. 1; 2011, p. 1). An improved study design was developed and 
used in 2011 and 2012 in three villages (Barrow, Nuiqsut, and Atqasuk). 
The response rate for both years was high (approximately 97 percent), 
and the number of yellow-billed loons reportedly killed was 18 and 12, 
respectively (Sformo et al. 2012 p. 1; 2013, p. 1). However, data are 
lacking for other villages on the North Slope, elsewhere in Alaska, and 
across most of the species' range. Thus, we are unable to determine the 
level of bycatch for fisheries across the yellow-billed loon's range. 
Based on the stable or slightly increasing population on the Alaska-
ACP, however, bycatch from fisheries is at a level that is not 
resulting in a population decline. Therefore, we conclude that bycatch 
in commercial and subsistence fisheries does not pose a threat to the 
yellow-billed loon, but acknowledge the value of additional bycatch 
data and the need to continue population monitoring.
    Pollution and Degradation of Marine Habitat: Many yellow-billed 
loons, including the Alaska-ACP breeding population, winter in marine 
waters near Asia (Schmutz 2008, p. 1) that contain elevated 
concentrations of persistent environmental pollutants (Ma et al. 2001, 
pp. 133-134; Choi et al. 1999, p. 233). Asian sea sediments and biota, 
including fish and birds, have been documented with contamination, 
demonstrating potential exposure routes for wintering migratory birds 
such as yellow-billed loons (e.g., Guruge et al. 1997, pp. 186-193; 
Daoji and Daler 2004, pp. 107-113; Nie et al. 2005, pp. 537-546; Oh et 
al. 2005, pp. 217-222). Red-throated loons (G. stellata) that nest on 
the Alaska-ACP and winter near Alaska-ACP nesting yellow-billed loons 
in Asia showed polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) concentrations great 
enough, when compared to thresholds determined for other species, to 
cause abnormal development or other reproductive defects (Schmutz et 
al. 2009, p. 2392). However, despite indications of potential risk, 
preliminary sampling on the Alaska-ACP found the most toxic individual 
PCB congeners (PCBs 77 and 81) found in red-throated loon eggs were not 
present in yellow-billed loon eggs, and yellow-billed loon eggs 
contained lower total toxic equivalents (a combined measure of toxicity 
for all 209 PCBs) (Hoffman et al. 1996, p. 191).
    Recent sampling of yellow-billed loon tissues and comparison of 
historical with contemporary samples have been conducted to evaluate 
mercury exposure (Evers et al. 2014, entire document). Concentrations 
in blood during the breeding season, which were thought to reflect 
exposure in arctic breeding habitat, were below ``background levels'' 
(Evers et al. 2014, p. 153). However, concentrations in feathers and 
eggs, which presumably reflect exposure during winter in Asian marine 
waters, indicated that a small proportion (7 percent of individuals 
sampled) exceeded thresholds associated with reproductive effects in 
common loons (Evers et al. 2014, p. 155). Although mercury 
concentrations are predicted to increase (Evers et al. 2014, p. 155), 
and hence effects to yellow-billed loons may increase in future 
decades, in part due to thawing of permafrost (see discussion of 
climate change effects, below), we are not able to predict at this time 
the extent to which mercury concentrations will increase, the locations 
where the possible increased concentrations might occur, what level of 
exposure loons may experience, or whether increased exposure will 
impact loons to the point of contributing to a decline at the 
population or species level.
    Because yellow-billed loons nesting in Canada, and some proportion 
of those nesting in Russia, likely winter in Asian seas or on the 
Pacific coast of North America, we assume that PCB and other persistent 
contaminant concentrations in their eggs would be comparable to those 
from the Alaska-ACP. Contaminant loading for yellow-billed loons 
wintering in the North Sea is unknown, but those loons represent a 
small proportion of the total population. Future exposure to 
pollutants, including mercury, may significantly increase in arctic 
marine habitats by 2050 (Sunderland et al. 2009, p. 12) or Asian marine 
waters where some yellow-billed loons winter (Evers et al. 2014, p. 
155), possibly resulting in decreased productivity. However, at present 
we are unable to predict the rate or extent of increasing environmental 
contaminant loads or potential population- or species-level response of 
yellow-billed loons. Thus, the best scientific and commercial data 
available at this time do not indicate that pollution poses a threat to 
yellow-billed loons at the population or species level.
    Climate Change Effects: Changes in climate have occurred and are 
likely to continue to occur in the range of the yellow-billed loon 
(e.g., Stewart et al. 2013, pp. 10-22; IPCC 2013, pp. 1257-1258, 1268-
1271). Projections vary with season, geographic location, timeframe, 
and various assumptions related to future levels of greenhouse gases 
(GHGs) in the atmosphere (see IPCC 2013, pp. 19-29; Walsh et al. 2014, 
p. 897). Temperature, the most common measure of climate change, is 
projected to continue to increase in future decades in areas that 
encompass the range of the species (IPCC 2013, pp. 1278, 1282-1283; 
1323). For example, across the region of northern Alaska that 
encompasses the Alaska-ACP, in comparison to 1971-1999 average annual 
temperatures are projected to increase 3.5-5.5 degrees F (1.9-3.1 
degrees C) by 2021-2050, 5.5-7.5 degrees F (3.1-4.2 degrees C) by 2041-
2070, and 9.5-13.5 degrees F (5.3-7.5 degrees C) by 2070-2099 (as 
compared to 1971-1999, under a scenario (``A2'') that is based on a set 
of conditions that would result in relatively high emissions of GHGs in 
future decades (Stewart et al. 2013, p. 26). Because changes in climate 
over the near term are highly influenced by the level of GHGs already 
in the atmosphere, temperature projections over the next few decades 
are very similar for all models and scenarios used; after about mid-
Century, however, the magnitude and variance of projections vary 
increasingly over time due to differences in the underlying assumptions 
of different model scenarios about future conditions, i.e., uncertainty 
becomes greater over the longer term (e.g. see IPCC 2013, pp. 89, 1317-
1319; 1323).
    Although the mechanisms by which increasing temperatures may affect 
yellow-billed loons are becoming better understood as research, 
monitoring, and modeling associated with the effects of climate change 
in the arctic advance, there remains a great deal of imprecision and 
uncertainty around timing and magnitude of possible indirect and direct 
effects, either positive or negative, of increasing temperatures to 
yellow-billed loons. In terms of indirect effects, we expect increases 
in ship traffic in newly ice-free zones could result in increased 
hazards related to oil spills, disturbances, and collisions. We 
believe, however, that the widespread distribution and low density of 
yellow-billed loons on the marine seascape limit the potential for 
these stressors to affect yellow-billed loons at the population or 
species level. Further, although the effects of climate change may also 
influence stressors to yellow-

[[Page 59200]]

billed loons related to the type and distribution of diseases and 
predators, whether or how these stressors might be altered or impact 
loon populations is unknown and speculative at this time. Similarly, 
the thawing of permafrost linked to changing climate patterns could 
contribute to increased exposure of loons to mercury and possibly other 
contaminants (Evers et al. 2014, pp. 155-156), but this is another case 
in which the magnitude, rate, and location of thawing permafrost and 
impacts to loon populations are unclear and speculative at this time.
    More directly, climate-change-induced habitat changes which may 
have effects on nesting loons as well as their prey, are ongoing (e.g., 
Arp et al. 2010, p. 1630) and are predicted to continue (see also 
discussion of this topic in the SSA Report (Service 2014)). The loss of 
lakes, currently saturated lake habitats, or lake-habitat 
characteristics needed by yellow-billed loons (especially shallow, 
vegetated shorelines and access to prey) may negatively affect the 
quantity or quality of nesting habitat in some areas. It is important 
to note, however, that lake formation and subsequent drainage is a 
natural process that has characterized large portions of the arctic for 
almost 12,000 years, since the end of the Pleistocene (see Jones and 
Grosse 2013, pp. 3-4 and citations therein). Lakes are numerous and 
cover extensive parts of the Arctic landscape (e.g., Jones and Grosse 
2013, pp. 5-7). The effects of increasing temperatures on the 
distribution and abundance of lake habitat are likely to be quite 
variable because the vulnerability of an individual lake to drainage 
varies depending on the on ice content and ice distribution in the 
surrounding permafrost, various lake characteristics, the existence of 
a topographic gradient, and numerous external factors (e.g., presence 
or absence of nearby erosional features such as streams) (Jones and 
Grosse 2013, p. 3). Further, permafrost thawing due to warmer air 
temperatures could have varied results: Some lakes may expand and 
become suitable, continue to be suitable, or become more suitable for 
the loon; at some point in the future some expanding lakes could drain 
depending on conditions in the areas they eventually reach; and some 
currently suitable lakes may become become less suitable or even 
unsuitable. The timeframes over which changes may occur also are 
unclear and will vary to some extent based on local conditions. For 
example, projections of changes in permafrost due to changes in climate 
show some areas within the breeding range in Russia are expected to 
experience partial thawing, whereas other areas are projected to have 
relatively stable permafrost conditions over the 2020-2050 timeframe 
(Meleshko et al. 2008, p. 16).
    Other changes associated with warmer temperatures, such as longer 
ice-free seasons and increased productivity in running and standing 
arctic freshwater systems (Prowse et al. 2006, pp. 353-357), may 
positively affect nesting habitat in some areas. In regions with 
discontinuous and shallow permafrost, vegetative succession near 
margins of receding lakes may cause permafrost aggradation, which could 
slow lake contraction and affect surface/ground water flux (Briggs et 
al. 2014, entire document), further complicating predictions for 
yellow-billed loon habitat change. It is possible that the type, 
distribution, and abundance of prey fish will also change, possibly 
with some positive effects to yellow-billed loons. However, additional 
information regarding potential response of yellow-billed loons and 
their prey to the effects of climate change is necessary to evaluate or 
reliably predict future impacts.
    Based on the best scientific and commercial data available, the 
possible indirect and direct effects of climate change, including any 
effects associated with the increased temperatures observed over the 
past few decades, have not resulted in a declining trend of the Alaska-
ACP population, which is stable or slightly increasing. In light of the 
current estimated abundance and distribution of the species, the 
ability to respond to stressors to date as reflected by the population 
trend data, the extensive area over which habitat occurs, and the 
mixture of direct and indirect effects that likely will include 
positive as well as negative aspects for the loon, we do not expect 
that effects related to climate change will pose a threat to the 
species in the near term. Over the longer term, the best scientific and 
commercial data currently available do not permit reliable predictions 
regarding type, timing, magnitude, or direction (positive or negative) 
of future effects, or how they will influence the distribution, 
abundance, and trend of yellow-billed loons at the population or 
species level.
    Existing Regulatory Mechanisms: Russia is the only nation that 
includes the yellow-billed loon on an endangered or sensitive species 
list. The countries of Canada, Japan, Norway, Russia, and the United 
States have laws that prohibit the possession and hunting of migratory 
birds, such as the yellow-billed loon, unless specific regulations are 
issued, or unless the animals are harvested for subsistence. Lack of 
public knowledge of and compliance with regulations may limit their 
value in some regions or countries. For example, although the species 
is closed to subsistence hunting in Alaska, harvest surveys and 
anecdotal observations indicate some harvest continues to takes place, 
possibly resulting from misidentification or noncompliance with 
subsistence regulations. Additionally, bycatch from fishing activities 
also occurs (although at an unknown level), which is a violation of the 
Migratory Bird Treaty Act (16 U.S.C. 703-712), except in the North 
Slope region where possession for subsistence use of up to 20 yellow-
billed loons per year inadvertently caught in subsistence nets may be 
kept (50 CFR 92).
    The lack of knowledge of regulations in the United States by the 
subsistence community and the potential lack of regulation enforcement 
and knowledge in other countries may affect the yellow-billed loon at 
the individual level in some portions of its range. However, because we 
have not identified any stressor or combination of stressors that rises 
to the level of a threat to the yellow-billed loon, we do not consider 
the existing regulatory mechanisms to be inadequate either now or in 
the future.
    Summary of Stressors: We identified oil and gas exploration and 
development, collisions with structures, degradation of marine habitats 
in migration and wintering areas, research activities, disease, 
predation, oil spills, subsistence activities, commercial fishing by-
catch, pollution, and various possible effects related to changes in 
climate as stressors that may be, or are, affecting individual yellow-
billed loons. The Alaska-ACP breeding population, for which we have the 
most information, is subject to all of these identified stressors. 
Since 1986, the Alaska-ACP breeding population has been characterized 
by a stable or increasing trend, and this trend reflects population-
level response to all stressors to which the population is exposed. 
Therefore, we conclude that the identified stressors, acting 
individually and collectively, are not currently resulting in 
population-level effects that are causing a decline in the Alaska-ACP 
population, as the population trend is stable or slightly increasing. 
Although the best available information generally lacks the specificity 
needed to evaluate how exposure or response to stressors may vary 
across the species' broad range, we found no evidence to suggest that 
any stressor varies geographically in severity

[[Page 59201]]

or magnitude to such extent that differential response should be 
expected in other breeding populations.

Finding

    Section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1533) and implementing regulations 
(50 CFR 424) set forth procedures for adding species to, removing 
species from, or reclassifying species on the Federal Lists of 
Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. Under section 4(a)(1) of 
the Act, a species may be determined to be endangered or threatened 
based on any of the following five factors:
    (A) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of its habitat or range;
    (B) Overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or 
educational purposes;
    (C) Disease or predation;
    (D) The inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or
    (E) Other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued 
existence.
    The Act defines an endangered species as any species which is in 
danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its 
range, and a threatened species as any species which is likely to 
become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout 
all or a significant portion of its range.
    As outlined above, we considered the five factors in assessing 
whether the yellow-billed loon meets the definition of an endangered or 
threatened species. We examined the best scientific and commercial data 
available regarding the past, present, and future threats faced by the 
yellow-billed loon. We reviewed the petition, information available in 
our files, other available published and unpublished information, and 
we consulted with recognized yellow-billed loon experts and other 
Federal, State, and tribal agencies. The Service and its partners 
worked specifically in the Bering Strait-Norton Sound region to 
understand subsistence hunting practices and harvest levels to 
elucidate previous concerns and inform interpretation of harvest survey 
reports. We also requested comments and information from all interested 
parties in each of our CNORs from 2010 to 2012, and in preparation for 
this finding. Additionally, we convened a 1-day meeting to coordinate 
with yellow-billed loon experts, exchange information, and discuss 
availability of new data since the 2009 finding.
    To evaluate the status of the yellow-billed loon, we compiled and 
evaluated information regarding stressors faced by yellow-billed loons 
throughout their range and considered these stressors within the 
context of the five factors outlined in the Act. Below, we provide a 
summary of our evaluation for each factor, but refer the reader to the 
SSA report (Service 2014) for additional details on our analysis.
    A key consideration in our evaluation is the time period over which 
we believe the best scientific and commercial data available provide a 
basis for reaching reasonable conclusions regarding the type, 
magnitude, and extent of stressors and the likely effects of stressors, 
considered individually and in combination, on populations and the 
species as a whole. Our ability to evaluate and reach conclusions 
regarding the likely response of the species to various stressors was 
influenced by consideration of climate change effects. Although we 
consider it essentially certain that temperatures will continue to 
increase in the face of a changing climate, the best scientific and 
commercial data available do not provide a basis for drawing long-term 
conclusions regarding whether or how increasing temperatures will alter 
various conditions in terms of direct and indirect effects on the 
yellow-billed loon, and whether or how any such altered conditions will 
result in positive or negative effects, how the effects may change over 
time, or population- or species-level responses.
    Generally, projected increases in global average temperature are 
relatively similar across model scenarios for the near term (roughly 
the next 25-40 years), largely because GHGs already in the atmosphere 
have a substantial influence on changes in the next few decades. After 
about mid-century, however, the magnitude and rate of projected warming 
begins to depend more strongly on the scenario used for modeling and 
projections become increasingly different and have greater variance in 
out-years (IPCC 2013, p. 89), reflecting different assumptions 
regarding the future size of human populations, economic conditions, 
policy choices regarding sources and uses of energy, and other factors 
that influence the future level of GHGs in the atmosphere (e.g., see 
IPCC 2013, p. 89; Stewart et al. 2013, p. 7). This situation is made 
even more challenging due to uncertainty about the degree of exposure 
the yellow-bill loon will experience to various stressors, or how it 
will respond at a population or species level. Over the longer term, 
the best scientific and commercial data available do not permit 
reliable predictions on how future effects may manifest, or the timing, 
magnitude, or direction of these effects, or the likely response in 
terms of the distribution, abundance, and trend of yellow-billed loons 
at the population or species levels. Therefore, we conclude that the 
near term (roughly 25 to 40 years) is the appropriate timeframe to use 
as the foreseeable future for this particular finding.
    Under Factor A (present or threatened destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of its habitat or range), our assessment showed that while 
some stressors may be impacting yellow-billed loon habitat now and in 
the foreseeable future, the impacts generally are expected to be 
localized and therefore affect loons at the individual level only. In 
general, yellow-billed loons occur throughout the year at low densities 
in remote terrestrial areas or marine waters where at most a small 
proportion of the landscape or seascape has been developed or is 
projected to be developed in the future. For example, although oil and 
gas development may render some habitat less suitable through various 
mechanisms, to date there has been minimal oil and gas development 
within the range of the yellow-billed loon, including Canada, Alaska, 
and Russia (Service 2014, p. 32). Thus, any potential effects of oil 
and gas exploration and development upon yellow-billed loon habitat 
have been minimal and are expected to continue to be so into the 
foreseeable future.
    Many yellow-billed loons, including the Alaska-ACP population, 
winter in Asian marine waters with elevated concentrations of 
persistent environmental pollutants. Sampling of yellow-billed loons 
nesting on the Alaska-ACP, which presumably reflects exposure to 
environmental contaminants in Asian marine waters during winter, 
indicated minimal exposure to PCB congeners (Hoffman et al. 1996, p. 
191). Sampling for mercury, also on the Alaska-ACP, found 
concentrations in blood at ``background levels,'' although 
concentrations in feathers and eggs indicated exposure commensurate 
with possible reproductive impairment for a small proportion of 
individuals (Evers et al. 2014, pp. 153-155). Contaminant 
concentrations, including mercury, are projected to increase in arctic 
(Sunderland et al. 2009, p. 12) and Asian (Evers et al. 2014, p. 155) 
marine waters in the future, which may result in decreased productivity 
of yellow-billed loons. Based on these projections, we are mindful of 
the need to monitor contaminant exposure and response of loons in the 
future and acknowledge that future changes in climate also could 
influence contaminants. However, we

[[Page 59202]]

currently are unable to predict the rate, magnitude, or extent of 
increasing environmental contaminant loads that might occur, or 
potential population- or species-level response. The best scientific 
and commercial data available do not indicate that pollution poses a 
threat to yellow-billed loons at the population or species level now or 
in the foreseeable future.
    Similarly, while increasing temperatures and other climate changes 
are occurring and are expected to continue, predictive capabilities 
regarding the timing, magnitude, geographic scale, and possible effects 
of various impacts to habitat of the yellow-billed loon are quite 
limited, particularly over the long-term. The mechanisms through which 
climate changes will affect yellow-billed loon habitat (e.g., changes 
in suitability of lakes, including prey, for nesting and for rearing 
young), the timing of the changes, the proportion of habitat affected 
and whether or where effects will be positive or negative or changing 
between those, and the likely responses (positive, negative, or none) 
of the loon populations are unclear at this time. Given projections for 
impacts of climate change to arctic ecosystems, we acknowledge the need 
to improve predictive capabilities and apply them as appropriate to 
yellow-billed loon management over the longer term. We do know, 
however, that there are thousands of lakes within the breeding range of 
the species, and many that are suitable are likely to remain so in 
areas where permafrost thawing is not expected, or is expected to be 
limited in the foreseeable future. Further, although some currently 
suitable lakes will drain or otherwise become unsuitable as permafrost 
thaws in some locations it is likely that some lakes currently 
unsuitable for the loon will become suitable, and that some new lakes 
will form. In addition, the fact that the Alaska-ACP population trend 
has been stable to increasing since 1986 despite any climate-related 
effects in their habitat indicates the species has some capacity to 
respond and withstand such stressors. Thus, at this time, the best 
available information does not indicate that habitat effects related to 
climate changes in arctic or marine systems pose a threat to yellow-
billed loon populations or the species rangewide now or in the 
foreseeable future.
    Under Factor B (overutilization for commercial, recreational, 
scientific, or educational purposes), we are aware of limited use of 
yellow-billed loons (except use by subsistence hunters and incidental 
bycatch in subsistence and commercial fisheries, which are addressed 
under Factor E). The best available scientific and commercial 
information suggests few individual yellow-billed loons may be affected 
by research projects specifically studying yellow-billed loons, 
primarily in Alaska, but the limited scale of research projects 
indicates that population- or species-level impacts are implausible.
    Similarly, we found that disease and predation under Factor C have 
limited potential for effecting yellow-billed loons at the population 
or species level, although certainly some individuals are impacted. It 
is hypothesized that predator abundance has increased near human 
settlements or industrial development sites such as oil and gas 
facilities, but we find no evidence that anthropogenic factors have 
elevated predation rates above natural rates, and we therefore conclude 
that potential for population- or species level effects is negligible. 
We have no basis for determining whether or how increasing air or water 
temperatures or other effects of climate change might alter disease or 
predation in a way that will result in negative impacts to loons at the 
population or species levels. We conclude disease or predation does not 
rise to the level of a threat to the yellow-billed loon now or in the 
foreseeable future.
    Under Factor D (the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms), 
we find that the existence of regulatory mechanisms, public awareness 
and compliance, and enforcement likely vary significantly across the 
species' broad range. Countless regulations exist that directly or 
indirectly provide benefit to yellow-billed loons, including those to 
protect terrestrial and marine habitat, reduce spills of oil and other 
contaminants, regulate harvest and fishing practices, minimize 
disturbance of wildlife, and others. We do not have evidence of 
population- or species-level response of yellow-billed loon to 
unmanaged or unregulated threats or anthropogenic impacts. Thus, we 
conclude that the existing regulations are adequate for this species 
now and in the foreseeable future.
    Under Factor E (other natural or manmade factors affecting its 
continuing existence), we considered the effects of oil spills, 
collisions with human-built structures, subsistence hunting, and 
incidental bycatch in subsistence and commercial fishing. Large marine 
spills from oil exploration and development potentially could occur, 
but such spills are expected to be unlikely based on observed spill 
rates in Alaska and elsewhere and the scarcity of offshore development 
within the yellow-billed loon's range. Individual yellow-billed loons 
would be affected if they were present at the time of a spill and came 
into contact with oil, but yellow-billed loons generally occur in low 
densities in marine waters, so the risk of spills large enough or 
frequent enough to result in population- or species-level effects is 
very low. Although birds, particularly those migrating over water, 
occasionally collide with human-built structures such as offshore oil 
and gas facilities, we are aware of no records of yellow-billed loons 
doing so and conclude that collisions may pose an individual-level risk 
but do not threaten populations or the species rangewide, now or in the 
foreseeable future.
    In 2009, the Service published a warranted-but-precluded 12-month 
finding for the yellow-billed loon (74 FR 12932, March 25, 2009), after 
concluding that subsistence harvest survey data indicated that hunting 
posed a threat to the species. Subsequently, the Service and its 
partners expanded efforts to improve understanding of harvest, 
particularly in the Bering Strait-Norton Sound region where high 
harvest was reported. Based on this new information, which includes 
local and traditional ecological knowledge and ethnographic 
information, we now conclude that only a small proportion of the total 
rangewide population is harvested annually; that harvest practices or 
use of loons have not changed or increased significantly, nor are they 
likely to do so in the foreseeable future; and that the current 
population trend of stable or increasing on the Alaska-ACP likely 
reflects population-level response to ongoing harvest levels. In 
contrast to interpretation in our 2009 finding, we now conclude, based 
on the best available scientific and commercial data, that subsistence 
harvest is not a threat to the yellow-billed loon at the population or 
species level, nor is it likely to become so in the foreseeable future.
    We also evaluated bycatch in subsistence and commercial fisheries. 
In both cases, information is incomplete and subject to immeasurable 
bias, and, therefore, the overall magnitude of impact to yellow-billed 
loons from bycatch is unknown at this time. However, we find no 
evidence of extreme mortality levels, and the best scientific and 
commercial information does not suggest a population- or species-level 
effect, as evidenced by the stable to slightly increasing population 
trend on the Alaska-ACP.
    In summary, our evaluation identified and evaluated a number of 
known and hypothetical stressors to yellow-billed

[[Page 59203]]

loons. In general, information on the stressors and potential or known 
response by yellow-billed loons is limited to the Alaska-ACP 
population. Because this species is broadly distributed within and 
across seasons, we expect that exposure and response of yellow-billed 
loons to identified stressors varies in time and space. However, for 
the other four breeding populations, we found little information on the 
occurrence, magnitude, and frequency of identified stressors, or on 
biological status or population trend. Despite the incomplete 
information, we have no information to suggest that status or trends in 
these populations differ from those in the Alaska-ACP population or 
should be expected to do so. Identified stressors to this species are 
not concentrated in any particular location, and the available 
information suggests that stressors to the species elsewhere are likely 
to be similar to those experienced by the species on the Alaska-ACP. 
Thus, for the purposes of this evaluation, we conclude that the Alaska-
ACP population is representative of the other breeding populations of 
yellow-billed loon over the foreseeable future. As stated earlier, 
despite being exposed to numerous stressors, the Alaska-ACP breeding 
population has not declined in abundance over the past 28 years and is 
estimated to have had an average annual population increase of 1.4 
percent per year since 1986. Therefore, we deduce, having no basis to 
conclude differently, that the other four breeding populations have 
stable or slightly increasing population trends as well. We also have 
no information indicating that status in any of the five breeding 
populations is likely to change within the foreseeable future.
    Our review of the information pertaining to the five factors does 
not support the assertion that there are threats acting on the species 
or its habitat that rise to the level of causing the yellow-billed loon 
to be in danger of extinction (i.e., endangered) or likely to become so 
in the foreseeable future (i.e., threatened), throughout all or a 
significant portion of its range. Therefore, based on our review of the 
best available scientific and commercial data, we find that the yellow-
billed loon does not meet the definition of an endangered or a 
threatened species under the Act, and listing is not warranted at this 
time.

Distinct Vertebrate Population Segment

    Because we determined that the yellow-billed loon does not warrant 
listing throughout its range as an endangered or a threatened species, 
we next assess whether a distinct population segment (DPS) of the 
yellow-billed loon exists, and if so, whether it meets the definition 
of an endangered or a threatened species. Under the Service's Policy 
Regarding the Recognition of Distinct Vertebrate Population Segments 
under the Endangered Species Act (61 FR 4722, February 7, 1996), three 
elements are considered in the decision concerning the establishment 
and classification of a possible DPS. These elements are discreteness 
of the population segment in relation to the remainder of the species 
to which it belongs; the significance of the population segment to the 
species to which it belongs; and the population segment's conservation 
status in relation to the Act's standards for listing (i.e., is the 
population segment, when treated as if it were a species, endangered or 
threatened?). This policy then allows vertebrate species to be 
subdivided into populations that can have different classifications 
under the Act so long as they meet the criteria for distinct population 
segments (i.e., they are discrete and significant). Subdividing a 
species into distinct population segments would be pointless, however, 
if all segments have the same status. Further, ascertaining 
heterogeneity in status requires adequate spatial resolution in the 
available information regarding the species' status and/or threats it 
faces.
    In the case of the yellow-billed loon, we have found that the 
species does not meet the definition of an endangered or a threatened 
species across its range. Our analysis of the best scientific and 
commercial data available does not indicate that the species' 
populations trends, or threats that may affect populations, are 
substantially different in the five breeding populations or localized 
areas elsewhere within the species' range. Because we have not 
identified separate populations of yellow-billed loons that are likely 
to have different status under the Act, we have not, therefore, applied 
criteria for discreteness and significance to determine if the 
populations qualify as DPSs.

Significant Portion of the Range

    Under the Act and our implementing regulations, a species may 
warrant listing if it is an endangered or a threatened species 
throughout all or a significant portion of its range. The Act defines 
``endangered species'' as any species which is ``in danger of 
extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range,'' and 
``threatened species'' as any species which is ``likely to become an 
endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a 
significant portion of its range.'' The term ``species'' includes ``any 
subspecies of fish or wildlife or plants, and any distinct population 
segment [DPS] of any species of vertebrate fish or wildlife which 
interbreeds when mature.'' We published a final policy interpreting the 
phrase ``significant portion of its range'' (SPR) (79 FR 37578, July 1, 
2014). The final policy states that (1) if a species is found to be an 
endangered or a threatened species throughout a significant portion of 
its range, the entire species is listed as an endangered or a 
threatened species, respectively, and the Act's protections apply to 
all individuals of the species wherever found; (2) a portion of the 
range of a species is ``significant'' if the species is not currently 
an endangered or a threatened species throughout all of its range, but 
the portion's contribution to the viability of the species is so 
important that, without the members in that portion, the species would 
be in danger of extinction, or likely to become so in the foreseeable 
future, throughout all of its range; (3) the range of a species is 
considered to be the general geographical area within which that 
species can be found at the time the Service or the National Marine 
Fisheries Service makes any particular status determination; and (4) if 
a vertebrate species is an endangered or a threatened species 
throughout an SPR, and the population in that significant portion is a 
valid DPS, we will list the DPS rather than the entire taxonomic 
species or subspecies.
    The SPR policy is applied to all status determinations, including 
analyses for the purposes of making listing, delisting, and 
reclassification determinations. The procedure for analyzing whether 
any portion is an SPR is similar, regardless of the type of status 
determination we are making. The first step in our analysis of the 
status of a species is to determine its status throughout all of its 
range. If we determine that the species is in danger of extinction, or 
likely to become so in the foreseeable future, throughout all of its 
range, we list the species as an endangered (or threatened) species and 
no SPR analysis will be required. If the species is neither an 
endangered nor a threatened species throughout all of its range, we 
determine whether the species is an endangered or a threatened species 
throughout a significant portion of its range. If it is, we list the 
species as an endangered or a threatened species, respectively; if it 
is not, we conclude that listing the species is not warranted.

[[Page 59204]]

    When we conduct an SPR analysis, we first identify any portions of 
the species' range that warrant further consideration. The range of a 
species can theoretically be divided into portions in an infinite 
number of ways. However, there is no purpose to analyzing portions of 
the range that are not reasonably likely to be significant and either 
an endangered or a threatened species. To identify only those portions 
that warrant further consideration, we determine whether there is 
substantial information indicating that (1) the portions may be 
significant and (2) the species may be in danger of extinction in those 
portions or likely to become so within the foreseeable future. We 
emphasize that answering these questions in the affirmative is not a 
determination that the species is an endangered or a threatened species 
throughout a significant portion of its range--rather, it is a step in 
determining whether a more detailed analysis of the issue is required. 
In practice, a key part of this analysis is whether the threats are 
geographically concentrated in some way. If the threats to the species 
are affecting it uniformly throughout its range, no portion is likely 
to warrant further consideration. Moreover, if any concentration of 
threats applies only to portions of the range that clearly do not meet 
the biologically based definition of ``significant'' (i.e. the loss of 
that portion clearly would not be expected to increase the 
vulnerability to extinction of the entire species), those portions will 
not warrant further consideration.
    If we identify any portions that may be both (1) significant and 
(2) endangered or threatened, we engage in a more detailed analysis to 
determine whether these standards are indeed met. The identification of 
a SPR does not create a presumption, prejudgment, or other 
determination as to whether the species in that identified SPR is an 
endangered or a threatened species. We must go through a separate 
analysis to determine whether the species is an endangered or a 
threatened species in the SPR. To determine whether a species is an 
endangered or a threatened species throughout an SPR, we will use the 
same standards and methodology that we use to determine if a species is 
an endangered or a threatened species throughout its range.
    Depending on the biology of the species, its range, and the threats 
it faces, it may be more efficient to address the ``significant'' 
question first, or the status question first. Thus, if we determine 
that a portion of the range is not ``significant,'' we do not need to 
determine whether the species is an endangered or a threatened species 
there; if we determine that the species is not an endangered or a 
threatened species in a portion of its range, we do not need to 
determine if that portion is ``significant.''
    We examined the potential threats from the effects of oil and gas 
exploration and development, research, disease, predation, collisions 
with structures, subsistence harvest, commercial fishing bycatch, 
pollution and degradation of marine habitats, and effects from climate 
change. These stressors affect individual yellow-billed loons 
throughout their range. Our analysis of the best scientific and 
commercial data available does not suggest threats are concentrated or 
substantially greater in a specific area as compared to other areas of 
the species' range. Therefore, we find that factors affecting the 
yellow-billed loon are essentially uniform throughout its range, 
indicating no portion of the range warrants further consideration of 
possible endangered or threatened species status under the Act.

Conclusion of 12-Month Finding

    Our review of the best scientific and commercial data available 
indicates that the yellow-billed loon is not in danger of extinction 
(an endangered species) nor likely to become endangered within the 
foreseeable future (a threatened species), throughout all or a 
significant portion of its range. Therefore, we find that listing the 
yellow-billed loon as an endangered or threatened species under the Act 
is not warranted at this time.
    We request that you submit any new information concerning the 
status of, or threats to, the yellow-billed loon to our Fairbanks Fish 
and Wildlife Office (see ADDRESSES) whenever it becomes available. New 
information will help us monitor the status of yellow-billed loon and 
encourage its conservation. In the event that threats or the species' 
status changes, we could consider again whether it is appropriate to 
list the species as an endangered or a threatened species under the 
Act. We will continue to provide technical assistance to Federal, 
State, and other entities and encourage them to address the 
conservation needs of yellow-billed loon through collecting additional 
biological information, monitoring the status of the species, and 
monitoring the progress and efficacy of conservation efforts.

References Cited

    A complete list of references cited is available on the Internet at 
http://www.regulations.gov and upon request from the Fairbanks Fish and 
Wildlife Office (see ADDRESSES).

Authors

    The primary authors of this notice are staff members of the 
Fairbanks Fish and Wildlife Office.

Authority

    The authority for this section is section 4 of the Endangered 
Species Act of 1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.).

    Dated: September 22, 2014.
Stephen Guertin,
Acting Director, Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 2014-23297 Filed 9-30-14; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4310-55-P