Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.

Notice Given of Lawsuit over Unreasonable Delays in Protecting Imperiled International Species, Including Okinawa Woodpecker, One of World’s Rarest Birds


Contact: Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 499-9185
Peter Galvin, Center for Biological Diversity, (707) 986-7805

San Francisco, Calif. - The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) today filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in federal court for violating the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by failing to provide protection for scores of the world’s most imperiled bird species, including the Okinawa woodpecker in Japan and 55 other birds ranging from New Zealand to South America, and from Taiwan to the Galapagos, including the giant ibis of Laos and Cambodia, blue throated macaw of Bolivia, black stilt of New Zealand, Caerulean paradise-flycatcher of Indonesia and slender-billed curlew of Russia, Europe and North Africa. Also at issue are five of the world’s rarest butterfly species including Harris’ mimic swallowtail of Brazil and Kaiser-I-Hind butterfly of Nepal and China.

Although FWS first determined that protection is warranted under the ESA well over 20 years ago for the majority of the birds and it has been over a decade since FWS received a petition to list the foreign swallowtails, the agency illegally delayed protection of these species, designating them as “warranted but precluded” under the ESA. At least 11 additional bird species that were petitioned for ESA listing in 1980 and 1991 have gone extinct, with at least six disappearing while awaiting protection. Without prompt ESA protection and intensive conservation efforts, the same tragic fate awaits the remaining birds and butterflies as threats to their habitats increase and population numbers are alarmingly low.

“Placing these disappearing birds on the warranted but precluded list is like handing a dying gunshot victim a stack of paperwork to fill out before admitting them to the hospital emergency room,” stated Jeff Miller, spokesman for CBD. “Specific conservation and recovery efforts can be implemented if these species are listed under the Endangered Species Act and U.S. development projects overseas deserve scrutiny under the Act to ensure they are not driving these species toward extinction.”

Listing of foreign species under the ESA restricts buying and selling of endangered species and increases conservation funding and attention. Projects proposed by U.S. government agencies, the World Bank and other multilateral lending agencies that would impact endangered species receive a higher level of scrutiny. ESA protection is particularly relevant for the rare Okinawa woodpecker (Sapheopipo noguchii), one of the world’s most imperiled bird species, due to ongoing destruction of its forest habitat. The woodpecker is on the brink of extinction, with only an estimated 100-500 birds remaining in undisturbed subtropical forests in the northern mountainous region of the island of Okinawa, Japan. A significant amount of prime remaining woodpecker habitat is threatened by a U.S. military proposal to construct new roads, helicopter landing pads and associated infrastructure.

“The Okinawa woodpecker is an international treasure as well as an ecological and cultural icon. The FWS has left it to languish in bureaucratic purgatory for far too long. We must act now to protect this and other gems of nature from extinction,” stated Peter Galvin, Conservation Director for CBD.

Responding to a 2003 lawsuit by CBD over unreasonable delay in responding to the 1980 and 1991 ESA listing petitions for 73 foreign birds, FWS issued a long-overdue finding in May 2004 that 51 bird species continue to warrant listing under the ESA but are “precluded” by higher-priority listing actions and that 17 species no longer warrant listing; FWS also proposed five birds species for listing. In December 2004 FWS determined that five of seven petitioned foreign butterfly species are “warranted but precluded” and that two species do not warrant listing.

FWS has not demonstrated that issuing proposed rules to list the 51 foreign birds is precluded by other pending listing proposals or that it has made expeditious progress to list species, as required under the ESA to place species on the “warranted but precluded” list. In fact, FWS has made little to no progress on the listing program in recent years, especially with respect to foreign species. FWS also incorrectly determined that threats to many of the bird species are “moderate in magnitude” or “non-imminent,” but these conclusions are unsupported, refuted by the facts, and omit significant information about known severe threats facing these species. The FWS findings arbitrarily assign low-priority listing rankings to many species on the brink of extinction, such as the Okinawa woodpecker and slender-billed curlew, or for which there are documented severe threats to remaining populations, such as the Gurney’s pitta of Thailand and Myanmar, Andean flamingo, Brazilian merganser, and Caerulean paradise-flycatcher.

The Okinawa woodpecker lives only in Yanburu, a small area of forested woodlands in northern Okinawa, a unique ecological area that supports a number of specialized native animals and plants. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) and Japan’s Ministry of Environment have both designated the woodpecker as a “critically endangered” species because of its single, tiny and declining population. The woodpecker is the prefectural bird of Okinawa and is designated as a national natural monument. The International Council for Bird Preservation sought protection for the woodpecker in 1980 by petitioning FWS to list the species under the ESA. While FWS determined that listing the woodpecker “may be warranted,” it subsequently determined in 1984 that listing was “precluded” by higher priority listing actions.

The slender-billed curlew (Numenius tenuirostris) is without a doubt one of the most critically imperiled bird species in the world. Once commonly sighted along its migration route from Europe to Africa, only two curlews have been seen since 1997 and it has been 85 years since a human last saw a curlew nest. The curlew’s wintering marsh habitat in the Persian Gulf, Mediterranean Sea and North Africa is being destroyed at a rapid rate and the current world population may be a mere 50-270 birds.


The Center for Biological Diversity is a science-based environmental advocacy organization that works to protect endangered species and wild places throughout the world through science, policy, education, citizen activism and environmental law. A list of the international bird species, copies of the notice letter, and CBD comments on the species are available on request. Photos and information regarding the Okinawa woodpecker are available at:


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