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Court Settlement Requires Final Recovery Plan by June 2013
Tucson, AZ-Dec 16. To settle a lawsuit brought by WildEarth Guardians, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has agreed to prepare a recovery plan for the thick-billed parrot, in keeping with the legal requirements of the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”), by June 30, 2013. Secretary Salazar must issue a draft recovery plan, building on a parrot recovery plan promulgated by Mexico earlier this year, for public comment by June 30, 2012.
The thick-billed parrot is one of only two parrot species originally found in the United States. The other, the Carolina parakeet, was driven to extinction over 70 years ago. Thick-billed parrots once filled the skies of Arizona and New Mexico in flocks of thousands, until the destruction of their old growth pine forest habitat and hunting extirpated them from this country. Today, the thick-billed parrot survives only in the Sierra Madre Occidental in Mexico, about 60 miles south of the Arizona border. However, in the recovery plan required by the Settlement Agreement, Secretary Salazar must consider recovery of this species in the United States.
The United States has listed the thick-billed parrot as an endangered species since the inception of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, but until today’s Agreement, the Secretary had never considered writing an ESA recovery plan for the species as required by the Act.
“Our view is better late than never. We are delighted that the thick-billed parrot will finally receive one of the most basic protections of the ESA – a plan to recover it from the edge of extinction,” said Jay Tutchton, attorney for WildEarth Guardians in the suit. “Our hope is that the Secretary’s Plan will lead to the return of this beautiful bird and our only remaining native parrot.”
Approximately 2,000 to 2,800 adult thick-billed parrots remain in the wild in Mexico where loggers have destroyed 99.5% of the bird’s best habitat and the pet trade continues to threaten the species. An attempt at reintroducing the Parrot into southeastern Arizona in the 1980s and 1990s - conducted outside of the Endangered Species Act process – failed. About a fourth of the 88 reintroduced birds were captive-bred and thus were never taught by their parents how to effectively flock, forage, or avoid predators. The remainder of the reintroduced flock, wild-caught birds liberated from the pet trade, fared better but suffered setbacks from drought and fire. Though scientists believe reintroduction could be successful if this highly social bird could be released in large enough numbers, the attempt was terminated in 1993 and the reintroduced flock was not seen after 1995.
“Bringing the Parrot back will require more than writing a recovery plan and throwing it in a drawer. Secretary Salazar must first write a good plan and then begin, a consistent, dedicated effort, in collaboration with Mexico, to protect pine forest habitat and enforce restrictions on the pet trade if we are going to save this species,” concluded Tutchton. “Today’s settlement agreement is a step in the right direction. After 37 years of delay we have forced the Secretary to take up his legal pen and begin an effort to restore this irreplaceable piece of our national heritage.”