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For Immediate Release, January 7, 2009

Contact: Jeff Miller, (510) 499-9185

One of Darwin's Finches and Four Other Rare Latin American
Bird Species Proposed for U.S. Endangered Status

Fish and Wildlife Service Dragging Feet on
Protection for 25 More Imperiled Birds

SAN FRANCISCO— In response to decades-old listing petitions and a series of lawsuits by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently proposed to protect five critically imperiled Latin American bird species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Under court order, the Service published proposals in December 2008 to list the Andean flamingo, Chilean woodstar, St. Lucia forest thrush, black-breasted puffleg, and the medium tree finch, one of the famous species of Galápagos finches studied by Charles Darwin, as endangered.

“These long-overdue Endangered Species Act listings can make an important difference in the struggle to save these vanishing bird species,” said Jeff Miller with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Unfortunately the Fish and Wildlife Service has illegally delayed protection for 25 more of the world’s rarest and most threatened bird species for over a quarter century.”

Listing international species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act restricts buying and selling of imperiled wildlife, increases conservation funding and attention, and can add scrutiny to development projects proposed by U.S. government and multilateral lending agencies such as the World Bank that would destroy or alter habitat for listed species.

The sad saga of the Service’s refusal to protect scores of the world’s most imperiled bird species dates back to 1980 and 1991, when worried ornithologists began submitting Endangered Species Act petitions to protect more than 70 international bird species. Although the Service determined most of the petitioned species warranted listing in 1994, it illegally delayed responding to the petitions. The Center filed a lawsuit in 2004, forcing the agency to issue a long-overdue finding that 51 of the bird species warranted protection. However, the Service claimed listing was “precluded” by higher-priority listing actions for all the birds except six species.

Another Center lawsuit in 2006 was necessary in order to jumpstart the Service’s foreign listing program – in January of 2008, a federal court ruled that the Service was failing to make expeditious progress in listing foreign species in violation of the Endangered Species Act. Consequently, in July 2008, the Service made an updated determination that 30 of the petitioned international bird species still warrant listing and promised to “promptly” issue proposed listing rules for these species, which they have failed to do except for the five Latin American birds proposed for listing in December 2008. The Center filed a notice of intent to sue in September of 2008 for illegal delay of proposed rules for the remaining 25 bird species.

The Center’s 2006 lawsuit also forced the Service to finally list six bird species as endangered in January of 2008: the black stilt (New Zealand), caerulean paradise-flycatcher (Indonesia), giant ibis (Laos, Cambodia), Gurney's pitta (Burma, Thailand), long-legged thicketbird (Fiji), and Socorro mockingbird (Mexico).

In December 2007 the Service proposed protecting six imperiled South Pacific seabirds as endangered species. However, 24 years after first determining they warrant protection, the Service has yet to finalize listing rules for the Chatham and magenta petrels (New Zealand), Fiji petrel, Cook’s petrel (New Zealand), Galápagos petrel, and Heinroth’s shearwater (Papua New Guinea). The final rules were due in December of 2008 and the Center has issued a 60-day notice of intent to sue unless the proposed rules are finalized by February of 2009.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national nonprofit conservation organization with more than 200,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

About the five bird species proposed for listing:

The Andean flamingo (Phoenicoparrus andinus) is a colonial water bird that inhabits shallow wetlands in the Andean regions of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, and Peru. They are the largest flamingos in South America, reaching a height of three and a half feet. The species has declined severely due to habitat alteration from urbanization and mining, collection for food, increased risk of disease and predation, human disturbance of nesting sites, and drought.

The Chilean woodstar (Eulidia yarrellii) is a small hummingbird endemic to Chile and Peru, measuring only three inches in length. The species is found only in two river valleys and has only one known breeding site. The woodstar’s primary habitat has been degraded by agricultural activities. The species is threatened by pesticide spraying and competition from a more aggressive hummingbird species.

The St. Lucia forest thrush (Cichlherminia lherminieri sanctaeluciae) is native to moist forests on St. Lucia Island in the West Indies. Forest habitat for the thrush has been degraded by logging, agriculture, construction, and road development. The population is so small that the species may not be able to survive hurricanes or volcanic eruptions.

The medium tree finch (Camarhynchus pauper) is endemic to the island of Floreana in the Galápagos Islands, Ecuador, where it inhabits moist highland forests. It is one of the 14 species of Darwin's finches, collectively named in recognition of Charles Darwin's work on the theory of evolution. The species is threatened by habitat loss and degradation due to agriculture and ranching, and habitat alteration and predation by introduced species.

The black-breasted puffleg (Eriocnemis nigrivestis) is a hummingbird endemic to Ecuador which inhabits humid temperate and elfin forests. Black-breasted pufflegs are named for their distinctive white leg plumage. Only a single declining population of fewer than 250 pufflegs is known to remain. The species is threatened by habitat loss due to deforestation for agriculture and grazing, habitat destruction and pollution due to oil development, and increased access and habitat destruction from road development.

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