The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday denied Endangered Species Act protections for the tufted puffin, a whimsical, wobbly seabird found up and down the northern Pacific Coast of North America and Asia.
Tufted puffins’ colorful plumage and wry antics have long attracted onlookers at Cannon Beach on the Oregon Coast. Haystack Rock boasts the largest tufted puffin breeding colony in Oregon.
John Underwood helped start the Protect Our Puffins campaign with the Friends of Haystack Rock. He’s been visiting the beach to watch the birds for nearly 60 years.
“They’re so iconic for Cannon Beach,” Underwood said.
The population of tufted puffins has declined over the years primarily in the southern reaches of the birds’ range — from British Columbia down to Northern California.
A study of the entire Oregon coastline in 1988 turned up nearly 5,000 breeding tufted puffins. That number was down to just 142 in 2008.
Puffins’ plummeting population prompted the Fish and Wildlife Service to consider the bird for Endangered Species Act protection. The agency determined that, despite glaring losses in some areas, the large majority of the range-wide population of 3 million is either stable or increasing.
Underwood has watched puffins slowly disappear from Cannon Beach over the years.
“We need to do something about that,” he said. “We can’t just let them disappear.”
Underwood and his wife have helped Friends of Haystack Rock sell puffin-themed sweatshirts to raise money for further study of the seabirds. Now you can even buy puffin merch online.
The Protect Our Puffins campaign today is helping fund research to determine if puffins in the Pacific Northwest are genetically distinct from those closer to Alaska. If so, puffins of the southern variety may warrant federal protection.
The bird has protected status in Oregon, Washington and California. Japan listed the bird as endangered in 1993.
The Fish and Wildlife Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment.