The Akekee is a honeycreeper found only on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Its status on the World Conservation Union's Red List was changed from Endangered to Critically Endangered this year. Photo by Eric VanderWerf.
Last Tuesday, September 30, I participated in a media conference call in which the head brass of the Interior Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced a proposal to protect two birds, a fly, and 45 plant species on the Hawaiian island of Kauai under the Endangered Species Act.
They’re calling it “a newly developed, ecosystem-based approach to species conservation,” and it’s hard to find fault with it. What’s not to like about preserving “multiple species that occur in shared ecosystems and experience common threats?”
The birds in question are the Akikiki (population: fewer than 1,400; shown at right) and the Akekee (population: 3,500; shown above).
For about half a second, I wondered if the Bush administration had done an about-face and would begin protecting threatened wildlife. But really, after almost eight years, why start now?
The Critically Endangered Akikiki is found only in high-elevation forests on Kauai. Photo by Eric VanderWerf.
Consider these three pieces of news in the days following the Kauai announcement:
• On Thursday, October 2, FWS initiated a 90-day review to determine whether the threatened Marbled Murrelet should be delisted under the Endangered Species Act. “The agency’s proposal is based on the assumption, discredited by a U.S. Geological Survey report, that the murrelet’s population in Washington, Oregon, and northern California is not distinct from other murrelet populations in British Columbia and Alaska,” the American Bird Conservancy said. ABC notes that the move “was prompted by a petition from the American Forest Resource Council and the Carpenters Industrial Council, which represent companies and workers in the forest products industry.” The primary threat to the bird? You guessed it: loss of nesting areas in old-growth forests.
• Also on Thursday, the environmental group Center for Biological Diversity filed five lawsuits charging that the administration interfered in designations of critical habitat for six western species, including the Western Snowy Plover and Southwestern Willow Flycatcher. “The lawsuits represent the latest action in a campaign by the center to reverse politically tainted decisions concerning dozens of endangered species,” according to a statement. “In the case of these six species, the administration’s malfeasance resulted in the removal of protection for over 300,000 acres of habitat in seven western states.”
• Finally on Sunday, October 5, I read that there’s nothing new about the ecosystem-based approach touted for Kauai after all. "It was the Clinton administration that developed and implemented an ecosystem-based approach to species conservation — an approach that the Bush administration all but disregarded," said Mike Senatore, senior counsel with the Center for Biological Diversity. "While we welcome this action to protect these incredibly rare and imperiled species, in no way does it make up for the administration's abysmal track-record of listing and protecting endangered and threatened species." — M.M.
BirdLife International species fact sheets: