Today, in response to a petition to list (pdf) filed by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) in October 2014, the California Fish and Game Commission (Commission) extended protection to the tricolored blackbird (agelaius tricolor) on an emergency basis under the California Endangered Species Act. The Commission previously — in 2005 — denied a petition from CBD to list the species.

While the tricolored backbird is endemic to California, it is distributed through much of the State. Census data on the species has been collected periodically over the past 20 years. The data suggests a substantial, recent decline as described in the petition and reported this past summer. One such report was published in Scientific American by John Platt. The cause of the recent decline is not well estabished, and it is possible that the drought is playing a role.

The basis for an emergency listing under California Fish and Game Code section 2076.5 is an “emegency posing a significant threat to the continued existence of the species.” This heightened standard, as compared to the standard listing process under the Act, is intended to empower the Commission to protect species at immediate risk of extinction. It is infrequently invoked because at the time the Commission must make its decision neither the Commission nor the public has the benefit of a written evaluation of the petition from the Department of Fish and Wildlife.