FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Nov. 16, 2006
Center Seeks Protection for 56 Vanishing Birds and
Lawsuit Challenges Unreasonable Delays in Endangered Species Protection
SAN FRANCISCO – The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a lawsuit in federal court against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for failing to provide protection for scores of the world’s most imperiled bird species, in violation of the Endangered Species Act.
The species include the rare Okinawa Woodpecker in Japan and 55 other vanishing birds from around the globe. Also at issue is protection for five of the world’s rarest and most beautiful butterfly species.
At least 11 additional bird species not included in the lawsuit have already gone extinct due to long delays in protecting them, according to Peter Galvin, Conservation Director with the Center.
Other bird species in the suit include the Giant Ibis (Laos/Cambodia), Blue-throated Macaw (Bolivia), Black Stilt (New Zealand), Caerulean Paradise-flycatcher (Indonesia) and Slender-billed Curlew (Russia, Europe and North Africa). The butterflies include the Harris’ Mimic Swallowtail (Brazil) and Kaiser-I-Hind butterfly (Nepal/China).
The USFWS first determined that protection is warranted under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) more than two decades ago for many of these species. Two dozen of the bird species have been waiting for final action since 1984, and 27 have been waiting since 1994. It has been more than a decade since the USFWS received a petition to list the foreign butterflies. Despite clear evidence that these species are imperiled – and despite 11 bird species going extinct while waiting to be added to the threatened or endangered list – the agency has unconscionably continued to delay federal protection for the remaining species, illegally designating them as “warranted but precluded” from protection under the Act.
“The U.S. has a responsibility to help protect these magnificent birds for future generations,” says Galvin. “We can limit trade in these vanishing species, and better assist with conservation and recovery efforts if they are listed under the Endangered Species Act.”
ESA listing for foreign endangered species further restricts buying and selling imperiled wildlife, can increase conservation funding and attention, and brings a higher level of scrutiny to projects proposed by the U.S. government and multilateral lending agencies such as the World Bank.
Endangered Species Act protection is particularly relevant for the Okinawa Woodpecker (Sapheopipo noguchii), due to ongoing destruction of its forest habitat. A small number of woodpeckers remain in undisturbed subtropical forests in the northern mountainous region of the island of Okinawa, Japan. A major threat to woodpecker habitat is a joint U.S. and Japanese military proposal to construct additional helicopter training landing areas, including roads and infrastructure.
“The Okinawa Woodpecker is an international treasure as well as an ecological and cultural icon for Okinawans,” says Galvin.
The USFWS has delayed publishing proposed listing rules for six of the birds, although it determined in May 2004 that they warrant listing. The species are the Giant Ibis (Laos, Cambodia), Black Stilt (New Zealand), Gurney’s Pitta (Myanmar/Burma, Thailand), Socorro Mockingbird (Mexico), Caerulean Paradise-flycatcher (Sulawesi, Indonesia), and Long-legged Thicketbird (Fiji).
The Center for Biological Diversity filed suit in 2003 against the USFWS for unreasonable delays in responding to Endangered Species Act listing petitions submitted in 1980 and 1991 for 73 foreign birds. That case forced the agency to issue a long-overdue finding in 2004 that 51 of the birds warrant ESA listing, but the agency now claims listing is “precluded” by higher-priority listing actions – promising to list only six of the most endangered bird species. The USFWS also determined in 2004 that the five butterfly species are “warranted but precluded.”
Under the Endangered Species Act, the USFWS may issue a “warranted but precluded” finding on a species that would otherwise merit protection, as long as the agency demonstrates that it is making expeditious progress to list other species. In this case, it has not. The Bush administration has listed fewer species under the ESA than any other administration since the law was enacted in 1973, to date only listing 56 species compared to 512 under Clinton and 234 under Bush Sr.
While awaiting ESA protection, several of the bird species are suffering harm from trapping and trade (primarily for sale as pets), such as the Uvea Parakeet (New Caledonia), Salmon-crested Cockatoo (Indonesia) and Blue-throated Macaw (Bolivia). The macaw likely only numbers between 75 and 150 individual birds in the wild. The cockatoo and macaw are supposed to be protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), but this treaty has weaker enforcement provisions than the ESA.
The Okinawa Woodpecker lives only in Yanbaru, a small ecologically unique area of forested woodlands in northern Okinawa. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources and Japan’s Ministry of Environment have designated the woodpecker a “critically endangered” species because it is a single, tiny and declining population. The woodpecker is the prefectural bird of Okinawa and designated a “national natural monument.”
The Slender-billed Curlew (Numenius tenuirostris) is one of the most critically imperiled bird species in the world. Once commonly sighted along its migration route from Europe to Africa, only two curlews have been seen since 1997 and it has been more than 85 years since a human last saw a curlew nest. The curlew’s wintering marsh habitat in the Persian Gulf, Mediterranean Sea and North Africa is being rapidly destroyed, and the current world population may be a mere 50-270 birds.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national non-profit conservation organization with more than 25,000 members dedicated to protecting endangered species and their habitat.