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Citizens Seek Habitat Protection for Endangered Pacific Island Bird

Rota bridled white-eye losing struggle for survival
May 20, 2004

Rota bridled white-eye bird
Photo by US Fish & Wildlife Service
Honolulu, HI — 
Earthjustice, representing the Center for Biological Diversity, filed suit in federal district court today against the Bush administration for violating the federal Endangered Species Act by refusing to establish protected "critical habitat" areas for the endangered Rota bridled white-eye, a forest bird found only on the western Pacific island of Rota in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

"The Rota bridled white-eye is a stunning example of the Department of Interior's systematic failure to comply with the Endangered Species Act," said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. "The white-eye declined by 90% while the government twiddled its thumbs and worried about politics for 24 years. Now the white-eye is at death's door and the Bush administration is refusing to protect its habitat."

Conservation groups petitioned the Department of Interior to put the white-eye on the endangered list in 1980. The Department of Interior agreed that the species was declining and, in 1982, with 10,763 birds left in the wild, identified the white-eye as a candidate for listing. The species continued to decline unprotected for over two decades until Earthjustice and the Center for Biological Diversity secured a series of court orders forcing the Bush administration finally to list it as an endangered species.

By the time the white-eye was listed as endangered in January 2004, its numbers had declined 90%, to just 1,092 birds. In the final listing rule, the Bush administration identified habitat loss and degradation as primary causes of the species' dramatic decline. Nonetheless, it refused to map out and protect "critical habitat" areas as required by the Endangered Species Act.

"Without critical habitat in place, there is no way to ensure that the federal government won't destroy the forest habitat the Rota bridled white-eye needs to avoid extinction," explained Earthjustice attorney David Henkin. "That's why Congress insisted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designate critical habitat at the same time a species is listed as endangered. The Service's refusal to protect the Rota bridled white-eye's critical habitat illegally undermines a fundamental goal of the Endangered Species Act: to protect the ecosystems on which endangered species depend for their continued survival and eventual recovery."

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Contact:
David Henkin, Earthjustice, (808) 599-2436
Kieran Suckling, CBD, (520) 623-5252 x305