Citizens Sue to Save Endangered Hawaiian Plants
Conservation Council for Hawai'i, represented by Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, filed suit in federal district court today, against Bruce Babbitt, Secretary of the Interior, and Jamie Rappaport Clark, Director of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, to finalize a proposed rule to list ten Hawaiian plants as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. All ten plants are found naturally only in the Maui Nui group of islands, which consists of the islands of Maui, Moloka`i, Läna`i and Kaho`olawe.
The Service published a proposed rule to list the ten plant taxa on May 15, 1997. Despite the ESA's strict deadlines for adding to the endangered species list, the Service is nearly a year late in listing the Maui Nui plants. These plants include a relative of the fragrant Kaua`i mokihana and a new plant, palupalu o Kanaloa, discovered on Kaho`olawe in 1992.
"Plants are the foundation of the Hawaiian ecosystem. Everything about them is unique and they are a resource that we must preserve. In general, the government has been neglecting plants. We believe that Hawaiian plants deserve the attention that the law requires and we are pursuing that," said Steve Montgomery, Board Member of Conservation Council for Hawai'i, the Hawai'i affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation.
Finalizing the proposed rule is necessary to provide the Maui Nui plants with the federal protection they desperately require. The ten plants are currently threatened by habitat degradation and/or predation by alien species including pigs, goats, deer, rats and slugs; competition for space, light, water and nutrients by alien plants; and substrate loss. Several species have been reduced to less than ten individuals. For example, only two individuals of the palupalu o Kanaloa remained in the wild when the proposed rule was published.
"Currently, 40% of all plants listed as threatened or endangered species are from the Hawaiian Islands. The Maui Nui plants, like our other Hawaiian plants and animals, are an essential part of our cultural heritage. They are found nowhere else in the world, and once these plants disappear from Hawai'i, they are gone forever. We must save them before it's too late," explained Legal Defense Fund attorney Kapua Sproat.
"Placing plants on the endangered species list and identifying critical habitat is the first step to recovery. Learning how to grow and maintain a plant in a botanical garden is not enough. We have to protect our wild Hawaiian heritage," said William Sager, Chair of the Conservation Council.