Category: Status Reports
Published: February 2019
Author(s): Thor Hanson, S.F. Pearson, P. Hodum, and D.W. Stinson
The Tufted Puffin (Fratercula cirrhata) is an iconic seabird found throughout the upper latitudes of the North Pacific Ocean. It spends the winter at sea, and nests during spring and summer in coastal colonies from California north to Alaska, and from Siberia south to Japan. Steep population declines throughout the southern part of its range suggest that the species may be undergoing a significant range contraction. Formerly common in Washington along the outer coast and in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and San Juan Islands, puffins have suffered the reduction and disappearance of many breeding colonies in the state, accompanied by a dramatic population decline. Reasons for the decline are uncertain, but may include reduced prey availability, predation at nesting colonies, human disturbance (mainly historical), or factors related to climate change. A comprehensive examination of puffin natural history, population trends, and habitat status, as well as threats to their continued existence, can be found in the Washington State Status Report for the Tufted Puffin (Hanson and Wiles 2015). Based on the findings and recommendation of the status report, the Tufted Puffin was listed as endangered by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission in April 2015.
This document is the state recovery plan and first periodic status review for the Tufted Puffin; it is intended to guide conservation and recovery efforts, and also provide a status update. It identifies a recovery goal, specifies population targets for reclassification, and outlines recovery strategies and tasks. It also provides a brief update to the status information in the 2015 status report, and new research and monitoring information relevant to Tufted Puffins in Washington.
Monitoring data since publication of the status report in 2015 indicate populations remain well below thresholds recommended for long-term viability, justifying classification of the species as endangered. The recovery goal for Tufted Puffins in Washington, as defined in this plan, is to rebuild and maintain a viable population across a substantial portion of the species' historical range in the state. Objectives for reaching that goal, with criteria for accompanying reclassifications, are based on the same measurement tools used to establish population trends for the status report: boat-based surveys, breeding colony occupancy records, and breeding colony attendance counts. The Tufted Puffin will be considered for down-listing to threatened when the following conditions are achieved:
- Monitoring data from breeding colony attendance surveys indicate a minimum of 8 occupied colonies distributed along at least 100 km of the coast between Point Grenville and Cape Flattery.
- In at least three of the five years prior to the down-listing decision, data from boat-based monitoring indicate a mean on-the-water population of at least 4,500 individuals,
breeding colony attendance counts indicate a mean breeding population of at least 6,500 individuals;
- Spring/summer boat-based monitoring data show a positive trend in on-the-water density for the ten-year period prior to the down-listing decision. Objectives for down-listing to sensitive and de-listing are included in the recovery section of the document.
Specific strategies and tasks are described in the Recovery section to help guide recovery efforts in Washington, including priorities for research, monitoring, invasive species management, habitat conservation, and public outreach and education. Among these, the continuation of boat-based surveys for population monitoring stands out as a high priority for tracking the status of the population, and the removal of rabbits from Destruction Island offers an immediate, tangible opportunity for improving nesting habitat. High priority research areas include gaining a better understanding of puffin diet and foraging areas in Washington, and how those needs might influence the management of forage fish stocks. Other strategies and tasks are ranked in an implementation plan that highlights numerous opportunities for partnering with tribes, government agencies, and other stakeholders invested in Tufted Puffin recovery efforts.