Today, Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund filed suit in federal district court on behalf of Conservation Council for Hawai’i (CCH) seeking to compel Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt and United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Director Jamie Clark to take action on CCH’s 1992 petition to designate critical habitat for 17 species of severely imperiled Hawaiian forest birds. The following forest birds on the islands of Kaua`i, Maui, Moloka`i and Hawai’i were listed as endangered between 1967 and 1975:
`O`o `a`a or Kaua`i `O`o,
Kaua`i Nuku Pu`u,
Kama`o or Large Kaua`i Thrush,
Puaiohi or Small Kaua`i Thrush,
`O`ü (Kaua`i or Hawai’i),
Maui Nuku Pu`u,
`Akohekohe or Crested Honeycreeper,
Oloma`o or Moloka`i Thrush,
Kakawahie or Moloka`i Creeper,
`Alala or Hawaiian Crow.
Tragically, some of these species may have already gone extinct in recent decades and all of them remain in peril from low population numbers and dramatic loss or degradation of their habitat.
“We are dismayed that these birds continue to be lost, contributing to Hawai’i’s dubious distinction of being the extinction capital of the world,” said Karen Blue, Executive Director of CCH, the Hawai’i affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation. “The FWS warned in 1982 that ‘immediate and heroic’ efforts to save these species were needed. While for some it may already be too late, for those that remain, critical habitat designation is a vital legal protection to which these species are entitled.”
Critical habitat designation under the Endangered Species Act protects areas essential to a species’ conservation and recovery from being destroyed or adversely modified by federal agency actions, including actions taken by private parties which require federal permits. FWS is required under its own regulations to “promptly” take action on petitions to designate critical habitat. Yet, FWS has failed to take action on CCH’s petition for over eight years, having already identified the “essential” or “critical” habitat for each of the species in four different recovery plans developed between 1982 and 1984.
Since all the work necessary to identify critical habitat was done years ago, all FWS now needs to do is publish a proposed rule in the Federal Register formally proposing as critical habitat those areas previously determined to be essential to the survival and recovery of these forest birds. Then the public, including biologists and other experts, will be able to provide input which FWS could use to finalize the designation.
“There is no excuse for FWS’s refusal to take the simple, but vital, step of immediately issuing a proposed rule to designate critical habitat for these forest birds, and allow the public the opportunity to comment,” said Earthjustice attorney John Fritschie. “If FWS delays an answer on the petition much longer, the only possible response for most of the species soon will be that it is too late because none are left.”
Photos and a copy of the complaint available upon request.