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Group Takes Feds to Court Over Failure to Protect Endangered Species on Kauai
HONOLULU, HI-Jan. 4. WildEarth Guardians took the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) to court today over the agency’s failure to list 48 endangered animals and plants on Kauai under the Endangered Species Act. The species were supposed to have been granted protection on October 21, 2009, but the deadline came and went with no word from the government. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is the federal official charged with enforcing the Endangered Species Act, and he is facing increasing criticism over his failure to list needy species under the law.
“Secretary Salazar won’t even protect endangered species in the President’s home state, despite the dire straits of all of these species, with some even feared extinct. Salazar’s inaction is part of his dangerous pattern of failing to step up for our nation’s wildlife and plants,” stated Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians.
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.
The majority of the 48 species are endangered by very low numbers. Several may be extinct, including a shrub called the “Haha” (Cyanea dolichopoda), last since 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.
In its listing proposal, the Service 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.
Today’s lawsuit is against Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. By listing only 2 new U.S. species in 2009, Salazar’s listing program has reached the all-time lows set under the Bush administration. 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 means those species cannot benefit from legal safeguards and many - including the species named in today’s lawsuit - simply cannot afford a single day of delay.
WildEarth Guardians is in the second week of its “BioBlitz,” a project that entails 36 consecutive days of action 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.”