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Important Step Forward in Protecting Imperiled Wildlife on Guam and Rota

In April 2002, the Marianas Audubon Society and Center for Biological Diversity, represented by Earthjustice, formally settled a lawsuit against the Secretary of the Interior and United States Fish and Wildlife Service over the agency's refusal to designate critical habitat for six endangered species from Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands: the Mariana crow (Corvus kubaryi), Guam Micronesian kingfisher (Halcyon cinnamomina cinnamomina), Guam broadbill (Myiagra freycineti), Guam bridled white-eye (Zosterops conspicillata conspicillata), Mariana fruit bat (Pteropus mariannus), and little Mariana fruit bat (Pteropus tokudae). In the settlement agreement, the service acknowledged that its actions violated the federal Endangered Species Act and agreed to finalize new critical habitat decisions for these species no later than June 1, 2003. To meet that deadline, on October 15, 2002, the Service issued a proposal to designate more than 24,000 acres of critical habitat on Guam for the Mariana crow, Guam Micronesian kingfisher, and Mariana fruit bat, with another more than 6,000 acres on the island of Rota also proposed as critical habitat for the crow.

The Service listed all six species as endangered in 1984, and their continued survival remains in doubt, due largely to predation by the introduced brown tree snake and continued fragmentation and destruction of their native habitat. While all six species were once common throughout Guam, only two -- the Mariana crow ("åga" in Chamoru) and Mariana fruit bat (fanihi) -- are now known to occur naturally in the wild on Guam and are restricted to a few distinct forested areas. Both species are also currently found on Rota. Captive breeding programs have allowed the Guam Micronesian kingfisher (sihek) to avoid extinction, and there are plans eventually to reintroduce it to native forest habitat in the northern part of Guam.

"Critical habitat" consists of those areas that must be managed to permit an endangered species to recover to the level where it is safe, in the foreseeable future, from the danger of extinction. Under the ESA, federal agencies may not carry out, fund, or approve any actions that result in destroying or adversely modifying critical habitat. Since the restrictions associated with critical habitat designation are directed solely at federal agency actions, designation generally has little direct effect on private landowners and serves primarily an educational role, informing the public as well as local government officials about areas essential to the conservation of imperiled plants and animals. Moreover, since critical habitat does not depend on who owns the land, designation would not prevent the Navy or Air Force from returning "excess" military lands to the Government of Guam or to local families.

The species face threats from a variety of federal actions on Guam and Rota, including military training; the clearing and fragmentation of forest habitat for roads, warehouses or other construction projects; the construction of resorts, golf courses, and other recreational facilities where federal permits are required; and the release or exchange of excess military property without adequate assurances for habitat protection.