Suit Seeks Protections for 17 Hawaiian Forest Birds
By Cat Lazaroff
HONOLULU, Hawaii, January 9, 2001 (ENS) - The Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund has filed suit in on behalf of Conservation Council for Hawaii (CCH) seeking the designation of critical habitat for 17 species of imperiled Hawaiian forest birds. Some of the brightly colored birds have been declining since the first humans landed in the Hawaiian islands.
The suit, filed last week in federal court, seeks to compel Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Director Jamie Rappaport Clark to take action on CCH's 1992 petition to designate critical habitat for the birds.
"We are dismayed that these birds continue to be lost, contributing to Hawaii's dubious distinction of being the extinction capital of the world," said Karen Blue, executive director of CCH, the Hawaii affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation. "The USFWS 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."
CCH wants the agency to formally propose as critical habitat those areas determined to be essential to the survival and recovery of the birds.
Habitat for the forest birds has been changing since the first Polynesians arrived on the Hawaiian islands. These early settlers cleared land to grow crops such as bananas, sweet potatoes and taro root, none of which are native to the islands.
Later arrivals, including Europeans and Asians, brought other problems, such as malaria carrying mosquitoes and predatory snakes. Hundreds of Hawaiian birds have already gone extinct due to human colonization of the islands, and many others hover on the brink.
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. The USFWS is required under its own regulations to "promptly" take action on petitions to designate critical habitat.
Between 1982 and 1984, the USFWS developed four recovery plans covering these 17 species of endangered Hawaiian forest birds, describing the status, conservation needs and "essential" or "critical" habitat for these species.
Since all the work necessary to identify critical habitat is already done, the lawsuit seeks to compel the agency to publish a proposed rule in the Federal Register formally proposing critical habitat areas. A formal proposal would be subject to public input before being finalized.
The 17 birds covered by the suit include: