Today, the Center for Biological Diversity, represented by Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, and the Secretary of the Interior and Director of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (“Service”), reached a settlement that moves four rare Hawaiian invertebrates — Blackburn’s sphinx moth, Newcomb’s snail, the Kaua`i cave wolf spider and the Kaua`i cave amphipod — a crucial step closer to protection under the federal Endangered Species Act (“ESA”).
On August 31, 1999, Earthjustice brought suit on the Center’s behalf to compel the Service to take final action on proposed rules to add the four Hawaiian invertebrates to the threatened and endangered species lists. Flouting the ESA’s strict deadlines, the Service had allowed the proposals to languish for years, depriving these unique creatures of vital protection that only final listing under the ESA confers. Today’s settlement requires the Service to take final action on the proposed listing rules no later than January 26, 2000.
“This settlement is a victory for Hawai’i’s mini-wildlife. Although insects and snails are easily overlooked, they are integral to Hawai’i’s native ecosystems, and the Center is committed to championing these less-charismatic species,” said Peter Galvin, Conservation Biologist for the Center for Biological Diversity.
Finalizing the proposed listing rules is necessary to provide these imperiled species with federal protection from imminent threats that include the destruction and modification of their habitat and predation by, and competition with, introduced species. The two Kaua`i cave species are currently limited to four square miles of habitat. Most of their historic habitat has already been highly modified by development projects, with an estimated 75% of the area rendered uninhabitable. The Newcomb’s snail is restricted to six streams on Kaua`i, with each stream supporting a single snail population. The number of populations of Newcomb’s snail have declined severely since 1925, perhaps by as much as 60%. The Blackburn’s sphinx moth – Hawai’i’s largest native insect – was actually believed to be extinct until a single population was discovered on Maui in 1984. Habitat degradation by goats and Hawai’i National Guard training fires severely threaten that population.
“We’re pleased the Service has finally agreed to take action on the proposals to list these rare Hawaiian invertebrates. We will carefully monitor the process to ensure that the Service complies with its legal duty to list these species and to protect their habitat through critical habitat designation. If the Service stumbles again, we will take whatever legal action is necessary to preserve our scientific and cultural heritage,” said Legal Defense Fund attorney Kapua Sproat.
“Critical habitat” consists of those areas that must be managed to permit an imperiled species to recover to a level where it is safe, for the foreseeable future, from the danger of extinction. Critical habitat designation has little impact on private land owners since it is directed solely at actions carried out, funded or approved by federal agencies. Nonetheless, designating critical habitat confers significant benefits on Hawai’i’s listed species by protecting them from federal agency actions — such as federal funding of road improvements and federal infrastructure projects — that can adversely modify or destroy the habitat on which these species depend for their survival and recovery. Also, designating critical habitat performs an important educational role, informing the public as well as state and local governments about areas essential to the conservation of Hawai’i’s native species.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a science-based environmental advocacy organization founded in 1989 with more than 5,000 members nationwide. It is currently working to protect wildlife and the environment in the Western United States and Northern Mexico.
Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund (formerly Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund) is a non-profit, public interest, environmental law firm. The Mid-Pacific office, which opened in Honolulu in 1988, has represented dozens of environmental, native Hawaiian, and community organizations in litigation and administrative proceedings.
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