SUIT TO PROTECT HABITAT FOR GUAM ENDANGERED SPECIES
April 3, 2000
The Marianas Audubon Society and Center for Biological Diversity, 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 (Service), for failing to designate critical habitat, as required by the federal Endangered Species Act ("ESA"), for seven endangered species from Guam. The seven Guam species are the Mariana crow (Corvus kubaryi), Guam rail (Rallus owstoni), Guam Micronesian kingfisher (Halcyon cinnamomina cinnamomina), Guam broadbill (Myiagra freycineti), Guam bridled white-eye (Zosterops conspicillata conspicillata), Mariana fruit bat (Pteropus mariannus), and little Mariana fruit bat (Pteropus tokudae).
The Service listed all seven Guam species as endangered in 1984, and their continued survival remains in doubt, due largely to predation by the introduced brown tree snake and continued fragmentation and destruction of their native habitat. While all seven species were once common throughout Guam, only two the Mariana crow ("åga" in Chamoru) and Mariana fruit bat (fanihi) are now known to occur naturally in the wild on Guam and are restricted to a few distinct forested areas. Captive breeding programs have allowed the Guam rail (koko) and the Guam Micronesian kingfisher (sihek) to avoid extinction. As part of these efforts, the Guam rail has recently been reintroduced to native forest habitat in the northern part of Guam.
"Now that we are starting to get a handle on how to control the brown tree snake, protecting native habitat becomes all the more important," said Gretchen Grimm, president of the Marianas Audubon Society. "If we do not protect essential areas through critical habitat designation, wild and reintroduced populations of Guams endangered animals will not have any place to live, and the only place we will be able to see these unique parts of Guams natural heritage is in the zoo."
"Critical habitat" consists of those areas that must be managed to permit an endangered species to recover to the level where it is safe, in the foreseeable future, from the danger of extinction. Under the ESA, federal agencies may not carry out, fund, or approve any actions that result in destroying or adversely modifying critical habitat. Since the restrictions associated with critical habitat designation are directed solely at federal agency actions, designation generally has little direct effect on private landowners. However, designating critical habitat also performs an important educational role, informing the public as well as local governments about areas essential to the conservation of imperiled plants and animals.
"Some on Guam have raised concerns that designating critical habitat would prevent the Navy or Air Force from returning "excess" military lands to the Government of Guam or to local families, but thats simply not true," said David Henkin, attorney with Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund. "Designating critical habitat has nothing to do with who owns the land. It simply ensures that any federal action whether it involves a land transfer, road construction, or military training will not result in adverse modification or destruction of habitat that Guams endangered species need to survive and, eventually, to recover."
The Guam species face threats from a variety of federal actions, including military training exercises; the clearing and fragmentation of forest habitat for roads, warehouses or other construction projects; the construction of resorts, golf courses, and other recreational facilities where federal permits are required; and the release or exchange of excess military property without adequate assurances for habitat protection.
"Without critical habitat, we risk losing these magnificent species forever," said Peter Galvin, conservation biologist for the Center for Biological Diversity. "We have an obligation to protect this essential habitat, so that future generations will have the chance to study and enjoy these unique animals in the wild, not just in picture books."
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The Marianas Audubon Society is a chartered chapter of the National Audubon Society organized in 1983 and is dedicated to preserving the Mariana Islands unique wildlife, plants, and culture.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a science-based environmental advocacy organization founded in 1989 with more than 5000 members nationwide. It is currently working to protect biological diversity and habitat in the western United States, northern Mexico, and the Pacific.
Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund (formerly Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund) is a non-profit, public interest, environmental law firm. Earthjustices Mid-Pacific office opened in Honolulu, Hawai`i in 1988 and has represented dozens of environmental, native Hawaiian, and community organizations in litigation and administrative proceedings.
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