Fish & Wildlife | Ecotrope

Endangered Species Protection Proposed For Airport-Dwelling Larks

Ecotrope | Oct. 12, 2012 9:54 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:29 p.m.

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A proposal from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would turn six airports in the Northwest into protected habitat for a threatened species of lark.

The agency has proposed adding the streaked horned lark to the endangered species list and protecting more than 12,000 acres of its habitat in western Oregon and Washington.

And believe it or not, airports are some of the last places these larks can find the flat, prairie-like habitat they need to survive.

Rollie White, deputy state supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Oregon, said the larks have lost a lot of their natural habitat to development of the Columbia and Willamette river flood plains. The next best places are the flat spaces on dredge spoils, agricultural land and at airports.

“Larks need flat, wide-open spaces and there aren’t a lot of those in the tree-filled Pacific Northwest,” he said. “So, that’s why airports are magnets for streaked horned larks. Airfields are flat, treeless, wide open and they’re managed to maintain really low vegetation. That’s just perfect habitat for larks.”

Streaked horned larks used to find nesting space on floodplains with very little vegetation. But a lot of that habitat been taken over by development and agriculture. So, they\'ve turned to airports, dredge spoils and farm land for their living quarters.

Streaked horned larks used to find nesting space on floodplains with very little vegetation. But a lot of that habitat been taken over by development and agriculture. So, they've turned to airports, dredge spoils and farm land for their living quarters.

The critical habitat designation proposed wouldn’t stop the airports from operating or change their operations very much, White said, but the Fish and Wildlife Service would extend a special exemption to allow the airports to continue mowing the vegetation on lands the larks are using because that’s what creates the kid of habitat the birds need.

The agency has also proposed protection for the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly on more than 6,000 acres in the Northwest. You can check out the Oregon Field Guide video about the butterfly below. The Fish and Wildlife Service has determined the butterfly to be near extinction in some parts of the Northwest and has proposed to list the species as endangered.

Both the streaked horned lark and the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly listing proposals are open for public comment until Dec. 10.

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