Lawsuit Seeks Protected Habitat for 49 Endangered Hawaiian Species
USCoC: Sue and Settle: Regulating Behind Closed Doors
News Release from Center for Biological Diversity, August 12, 2022
HONOLULU— The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for failing to protect critical habitat for 49 endangered Hawaiian Islands species.
The Service listed the species as endangered on Sept. 30, 2016. But nearly six years later the agency has failed to designate critical habitat as required by the Endangered Species Act. This unlawful delay puts these endangered plants and animals at greater risk of going extinct.
Despite this clear legal requirement, the Service has failed to designate critical habitat for a majority of endangered and threatened species — not just in Hawai‘i, but nationwide.
“After six years of dragging its feet, it’s clear the Fish and Wildlife Service had no intention of protecting habitat for these severely endangered species, just like it’s failed to do for so many others,” said Maxx Phillips, Hawai‘i director and staff attorney at the Center. “Hawai‘i remains the extinction capital of the world. If the Service doesn’t act, and act quickly, these 49 irreplaceable species could disappear forever.”
Forty-eight of the listed species, like the Nalo Meli Maoli — also called the Hawaiian yellow-faced bee — are found nowhere else in the world outside of Hawai‘i. The ‘Akē‘akē, also known as the band-rumped storm-petrel, is a distinct population segment found solely within the Hawaiian Islands. This isolated and genetically unique population is one of Hawai‘i’s rarest, most elusive seabird species.
The Service recognized in 2016 that these species were threatened by habitat loss and degradation resulting from urbanization, nonnative and invasive species, wildfire and water extraction. Yet the agency has failed to designate critical habitat. These threats are only made worse by the increasing effects of climate change through sea-level rise and coastal inundation.
Listing a species as endangered is only the first step in ensuring its survival and recovery. Critical habitat protections would prohibit federal actions that destroy or harm such habitat, and they would help preserve what remains of these species’ limited native range.
Species with designated critical habitat are more than twice as likely to be in recovery as those without it, making it imperative to protect the places where these rare Hawaiian species live. In 2021 nine other Hawaiian species were declared extinct, highlighting the need for swift action.
‘Akē‘akē: This distinct population of ‘akē‘akē, or band-rumped storm petrel, in Hawaiʻi returns to land from its life at sea to mate and breed. Hawaiian mountains provide the perfect habitat for these small, oceanic birds to make burrows as nest sites for their young. Historically, they were common across all the Hawaiian Islands, but their population has declined significantly because of habitat loss.
Cyanea kauaulaensis: This shrub, which doesn’t have a common name, produces bright orange fruit. By the time it was first found in 1989 and identified as a new species in 2012, its habitat was restricted to Kauaula Valley on Maui.
Myrsine fosbergii: These small trees are found in the wet, native forests of Oʻahu and Kauaʻi. They are easily spotted thanks to their narrow green leaves that end in a dark purple base. Although formerly common, their populations are now limited to about 50 individuals because of habitat destruction by feral pigs and goats.
Nalo Meli Maoli: Included within the 49 species are seven different species of yellow-faced bees, also known as nalo meli maoli. These bees represent one of the spectacular examples of rapid speciation that make Hawaiʻi a biodiversity hotspot.
CNS: Feds sued for neglecting protections for endangered Hawaiian species