Three animals to be removed from Mo. endangered list

Monday, October 6, 2008 | 12:34 p.m. CDT; updated 1:21 p.m. CDT, Monday, October 6, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — The bald eagle, barn owl and western fox snake are to be removed from Missouri's endangered species list, though all three will still have state or federal protections.

Peggy Horner, the endangered species coordinator for the state Conservation Department, said Monday the decision to remove the three animals came after an internal review of the state endangered species list. More than 60 animals and plants are on the list.

Federally declared endangered species are protected from collection and from having their habitats disturbed. But for animals included only on the state list, the Conservation Department has authority just to bar the collections of the species. The department advises how to minimize habitat disruption for endangered species but it cannot restrict it.

The state Conservation Commission voted in September to remove the bald eagle, barn owl and western fox snake from the state endangered list. That decision takes effect after a 30-day public comment period.

The western fox snake lives in marshes and wet prairies in the northwest and northeast portions of the state, especially along large rivers. It grows to 4.5 feet and eats mice, chipmunks, birds and eggs — killing its prey through strangulation. The snake has been on the endangered species list since 1999 because of habitat loss.

Even after it's removed from Missouri's list, state regulations still will bar people from taking the snake. It lives in eight other states and is abundant around the Great Lakes.

The barn owl has become increasingly common Missouri as tree-clearing has opened more land. The owl, added to the list in 1976, had scattered in the state while generally avoiding the forests of the Ozarks.

But deforestation, especially in the lowlands along the Mississippi River, created a much better habitat for the owl. From 1986 to 1992, just 11 nests were reported in Missouri, and this year, there have been 90. The owls will still be protected by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

"For some species that clearing is bad, but this species prefers open fields," Horner said. "They hunt in open fields and frequently nest in barns, and the change in landscape in that part of the country actually has been good for barn owls."

Bald eagles were listed as a federally threatened or endangered species from 1973 until 2007. The U.S. Interior Department ended that protection for an estimated 11,000 breeding pairs in the contiguous 48 states. But they are still protected by the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

In Missouri, bald eagles had nested throughout the state before the 20th century but stopped by 1962 because of habitat loss, shooting and pesticides such as DDT. More than 20 years later after a state reintroduction effort, bald eagles started nesting again in 1985.

Now, an estimated 150 active nests are in Missouri, and that number doubles about every five years.

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