For Immediate Release, December 18, 2007
Contact: Jeff Miller, (510) 499-9185
Endangered Species Act Listings Proposed for Six South Pacific Seabirds:
Fish and Wildlife Service Illegally Delayed Listing for 23 Years
SAN FRANCISCO— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service yesterday proposed protecting six imperiled seabirds from New Zealand, Fiji, New Guinea, and the Galapagos Islands under the Endangered Species Act. Twenty-three years after first determining these species warranted protection, the Service finally responded to a series of lawsuits by the Center for Biological Diversity and proposed listing the Chatham and magenta petrels (New Zealand) and the Fiji petrel (Fiji) as endangered; and the Cook’s petrel (New Zealand), Galapagos petrel (Galapagos), and Heinroth’s shearwater (Papua New Guinea) as threatened.
“We are pleased that Endangered Species Act protection is finally proposed for these endangered seabirds,” said Jeff Miller with the Center for Biological Diversity. “However, 45 more of the world’s rarest birds have been illegally denied protection for over two decades, and it has required two lawsuits so far to get the Fish and Wildlife Service to take any action toward protecting these birds.”
The sad saga of the Service’s refusal to protect scores of the world’s most imperiled bird species dates from 1980, when ornithologists began submitting petitions to protect foreign birds under the Endangered Species Act. The Service illegally delayed responding to the petitions; the Center filed suit in 2004, forcing the agency to issue a long-overdue finding that 51 of those birds warranted protection. At least six petitioned bird species went extinct during the long delay in protecting them.
In 2004, the Service claimed listing was “precluded” by higher-priority listing actions for all but six of the birds: the giant ibis (Laos, Cambodia), black stilt (New Zealand), Gurney’s pitta (Burma, Thailand), Socorro mockingbird (Mexico), Caerulean paradise-flycatcher (Indonesia), and long-legged thicketbird (Fiji). But despite finding that the six birds warranted listing, the Service refused to issue a proposed listing rule until 2006, when the Center sued again. The Service has failed to publish a final listing rule for those six birds, and the Center is now preparing to file suit once more. In April, the Service found that six of the remaining 45 birds warrant listing, but did not publish a proposed listing rule until December 17.
“The Bush administration has not listed a single endangered species except under court order or threat of court order, and has the worst record in the history of the Endangered Species Act,” said Miller.
In fact, the Fish and Wildlife Service has listed no species under the Act in 587 days, nor any during Dirk Kempthorne’s tenure as Secretary of the Interior — a new record surpassing even that of the Reagan administration’s 382 days of no species listed. The Bush administration has listed just 58 species compared to 522 by the Clinton administration and 234 by Bush Senior.
The Bush administration continues to illegally delay protection for species on the Endangered Species Act “candidate” list — the official federal list of the most imperiled but unprotected U.S. species. Between 1973 and 1994, 85 species went extinct due to delays in granting federal protection, and 24 of these were on the candidate list. The Endangered Species Act stipulates that protection can only be delayed via the candidate list if the Service is making “expeditious progress” in placing “higher priority” species on the threatened and endangered lists — which does not appear to be happening. Earlier this month, the Service’s annual publication of the candidate list showed it contained 280 species.
All six of the South Pacific seabird species proposed for listing yesterday are pelagic, spending most of the year feeding on the open sea, returning to land only to nest on islands. All are threatened by predation and nesting habitat destruction by introduced species, and several are also threatened by incidental take at sea from industrial longline fisheries. Formal listing could increase conservation funding and habitat restoration projects for these species and possibly require changes in longline fishing practices.
The Chatham petrel (Pterodroma axillaris) now breeds on only two islands in the Chatham Islands of New Zealand and is down to 800 to 1,000 birds, with only 200 pairs breeding each year. The Magenta petrel (Pterodroma magentae) is restricted to Chatham Island and its estimated population is only 120 birds. The critically endangered Fiji petrel (Pterodroma macgillivrayi), sighted only on and near Fiji’s Gau Island, has been reduced to less than 50 birds. Heinroth’s shearwater (Puffinus heinrothi), which breeds in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, is estimated at 250 to 999 birds. Cook’s petrel (Pterodroma cookii) is near extirpation on Great Barrier Island, but breeds on two other islands, and the Galapagos petrel (Pterodroma phaeopygia), endemic to Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, breeds on five small islands and is declining. More information is available on the Center’s Web site at www.biologicaldiversity.org.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with more than 35,000 members dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.