The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to delist the interior least tern from federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, saying numbers are healthy, stable and increasing, and the species no longer faces the threat of extinction.

When the interior least tern was listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1985, there were fewer than 2,000 birds and only a few dozen nesting sites scattered across a once-expansive range that covered America’s Great Plains and Lower Mississippi Valley.

Today, there are more than 18,000 interior least terns at more than 480 nesting sites in 18 states, as the result of decades of conservation efforts and diverse partnerships among local, state and federal stakeholders.

“The recovery of the interior least tern is truly an American conservation success story,” said Margaret Everson, principal deputy director of the Service. “Dozens of states, federal agencies, tribes, businesses and conservation groups all pitched in to prevent the tern’s extinction and put it on the path to recovery, thanks to the strength of these partnerships.”

States where tern colonies now occur are Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

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Everson pointed to the partnership between the Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a reason for the tern’s recovery.

“For more than three decades, the Corps has implemented a variety of conservation measures that have improved habitat for interior least terns along some of America’s largest rivers, such as the Missouri and the Mississippi,” she said. “These actions have been central to the tern’s recovery.”

Least terns are the smallest members of the tern family and primarily feed on small fish. They are generally considered seabirds, but several species are also found along rivers, lakes or other wetlands. They nest along more than 2,800 miles of river channel habitat across the Great Plains and the Lower Mississippi Valley and winter in the Caribbean and South America.

The proposed rule and supporting documents, including a draft post-delisting monitoring plan, are available at, Docket Number FWS–R4–ES–2018-0082. The Service will seek public review and comments on the proposed rule and draft monitoring plan.

Comments are requested within 60 days or by Monday, Dec. 23, and will be accepted by mail or electronically at In the Search box, enter the docket number, and then click on the “Comment Now!” button. Submissions merely supporting or opposing a potential delisting, without supporting documentation, will not be considered in making a determination.

Should the interior least tern be delisted from federal protection under the Endangered Species Act?

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  • Yes


  • No