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Some of the Newly Protected Species May Already be Extinct
Honolulu, HI-April 13. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has finally published a rule in the Federal Register indicating that it will protect 48 Kauai species under the Endangered Species Act. Protection (listing) for the 45 plants, 2 birds, and picture-wing fly comes none too soon: some of the species are feared extinct and the majority have been awaiting federal listing for over a decade. The rule is effective May 13, 2010.
WildEarth Guardians sued the Service this January over its delay in granting protection - all 48 species were supposed to have been listed by October 21, 2009. Today’s decision is therefore nearly 6 months overdue. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, charged with enforcing the Endangered Species Act, is facing increasing criticism over his failure to list obviously endangered species such as the 48 Kauai species he is finally acting on.
"By finally taking endangered species action, Secretary Salazar has brought the Endangered Species Act back from the dead. We only hope that it isn't too late to bring these species back," stated Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians. “Long-delayed protection makes the road to recovery that much harder,” continued Rosmarino.
The 48 species were proposed for listing on October 21, 2008, under the previous administration. They include 45 plants, 2 birds (akekee and akikiki, both Hawaiian honeycreepers), and a picture-wing fly.
For many of the 48 species, only a few individuals survive. Several may be extinct, including a shrub called the “Haha” (Cyanea dolichopoda), last seen in 1992; a shrub called the “Oha” (Cyanea eleelensis), last seen in 2000; and another shrub called Lysimachia venosa, a broken branch of which was last seen in 1991. Others among the 48 species were once thought extinct but have been rediscovered, showing that even species feared extinct should be given federal protection. Examples include: the plant “Alani” (Melicope degeneri), thought extinct until rediscovered in 1993; and the fern Diellia mannii, for which a single individual has been rediscovered. Despite the extreme imperilment of these species, most have been languishing on the Endangered Species Act waiting list for more than a decade.
The Service has recognized climate change as a threat to every one of the 48 species due to stress and changes in habitat. It will also increase the risk of avian malaria to the two birds involved, the akekee and the akikiki. Additional risks include increased frequency and severity of hurricanes, which can eliminate the last remaining populations of island endangered species. For all of the 48 species, non-native species pose a threat: exotic plants displace endangered native plants; non-native goats, pigs, and deer eat or destroy endangered native plants; non-native cats and owls prey on endangered birds; and non-native insects compete with the endangered picture-wing fly.
Prior to today’s announced action, Salazar had listed only 2 new U.S. species in nearly 15 months, one of the lowest listing rates of any Interior Secretary since the Endangered Species was passed in 1973. Today’s announcement for the 48 species addresses less than 15 percent of the species that are candidates awaiting federal protection and does nothing to protect endangered species awaiting protection in the other 49 U.S. states. Hundreds of additional species in the U.S. are imperiled but not yet even in the queue for protection.
In an Associated Press interview on New Year’s Eve, Secretary Salazar dismissed concerns about his low listing rate, stating that he doesn’t consider important “‘the number counting of how many species have we listed and how many have we not.’” But Salazar’s failure to list species is a concern from the perspective of endangered species that have been long languishing in the waiting line for federal protection, many of which cannot afford a single day of delay.
WildEarth Guardians concluded its 8-week “BioBlitz,” in mid-February, a project that entailed 36 consecutive days of action for over 100 species (including these 48 Kauai species) to escalate pressure on the Obama administration to protect endangered plants and animals under the Endangered Species Act. The group is a formal partner in the United Nation’s Year of Biodiversity (see here), in which “The world is invited to take action in 2010 to safeguard the variety of life on earth: biodiversity.”