Missouri Removes Three Species from State Endangered List

By Jim Low, Missouri Dept. of Conservation

First posted on 10-06-2008

Conservation efforts brought the bald eagle back from the brink of extirpation.

The Missouri Conservation Commission has removed two birds and a snake from the state endangered species list, recognizing that the future of all three now seems secure.

At its meeting Sept. 26 in Poplar Bluff the Commission voted to declassify the bald eagle, the barn owl and the western fox snake. The action will become effective after a 30-day comment period following publication in the state register.

Conservation Department Endangered Species Coordinator Peggy Horner said the bald eagle’s declassification comes on the heels of a change in the bird’s national status.

The bald eagle’s decline in Missouri had several causes. The primary problem was habitat loss due to clearing of forests. Unregulated shooting and poisoning by the insecticide DDT played roles, too. From 1962 through 1981, the Show-Me State did not have a single known successful bald eagle nest.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned DDT in 1972, and aggressive enforcement of laws protecting bald eagles enabled restoration efforts to succeed. Between 1981 and 1991, the Conservation Department worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Dickerson Park Zoo of Springfield to bring 74 wild-hatched eaglets from states with thriving populations. These birds were placed in artificial nests, called hack boxes, where they matured and took their first flights. The goal was to establish a foundation of eagles with strong ties to their fledging sites.

The strategy worked so well that Missouri now has more than 150 active bald eagle nests, and that number is doubling every five years or so. The Conservation Department keeps records of all known nests, but with the rapid increase in nest locations, it relies largely on citizen reports to catalog them all.

“The bald eagle definitely meets the requirements for delisting,” said Horner. “We need to know that a listed species is not likely to become extirpated and that the population is stable or increasing, with limited threats. That is true of the bald eagle in Missouri. We intend to keep a close eye on our eagles and ensure that they continue to thrive.”

The barn owl also meets these requirements, but its story is slightly different. These handsome birds inhabit open grasslands prairies, marshes and agricultural areas. From 1986 to 1992 the Conservation Department had only been able to gather 11 reports of barn owl nests. By this year, however, 90 nests had been identified.

“Barn owls probably always have been rare as permanent residents here,” said Horner. “We have been finding a surprising number in the Mississippi Lowlands, where clearing of dense forests for agriculture actually has created new habitat for them. They don’t do well in dense forests. Their populations fluctuate widely, but the only part of the state where you almost never find them is the Ozarks.”

In addition to finding more barn owl nest sites, Horner said the Conservation Department is seeing more nest sites in new areas and large broods.

The barn owl continues to be protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The bald eagle’s protection continues under the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Act.

The western fox snake was proposed for listing as a state endangered species in 1990 and listed in 1999. This species inhabits wet prairies and marshes, and originally was known only from a handful of sites in extreme northwestern and northeastern Missouri. Threats initially identified included habitat loss and illegal collecting.

Horner said the listing was a precautionary measure to make sure the fox snake was not lost before Missouri could develop a recovery plan.

“Subsequent surveys revealed populations on public and private land in 10 Missouri counties,” she said. “Several of those were previously unknown populations. Missouri is at the southwestern edge of the fox snake’s North American Range, and we have concluded that the species probably never was common here.”

The Conservation Department decided to delist the fox snake because populations in Missouri seem stable and secure. It is found in eight other states and is locally abundant around the Great Lakes.

To prevent collection of fox snakes as pets, the Conservation Commission added them to the list of species whose taking is prohibited. The Commission also added the dusty hog-nosed snake and the Kirtland’s snake to the list.

For more information about endangered species in Missouri, visit http://www.mdc.mo.gov/145 or http://www.mdc.mo.gov/nathis/endangered/