On January 13, 2021, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) published a final rule to remove the inland population of the Interior least tern (Sterna (now Sternula) antillarum) from the list of endangered and threatened wildlife under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Originally listed as an endangered species under the ESA in 1985, the Interior least tern is a small, fish-eating bird occurring along the Arkansas, Ohio, Mississippi, Missouri, Red, and Rio Grande rivers.
Prior to listing, the Interior least tern’s population had fallen below 2,000 as a result of habitat changes due to river water diversions, the spread of invasive plant species, and disruptive recreational activities. Since then, the Service has concluded that the species has fully recovered, its population expanding nearly ten-fold over the past three decades to approximately 18,000 birds.
The Service credits the Interior least tern’s recovery to the improved river management practices and conservation efforts by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, as well as state and private partnerships, which helped create suitable habitat for the species. Additionally, the Service concluded that the species’ adaptability to factors including predation and climate change indicates a high likelihood of future viability for the species.
As such, the Service determined that the threats to the Interior least tern have been eliminated or reduced to the point that the species no longer meets the definition of an endangered or threatened species under the ESA. The final rule will take effect on February 12, 2021.