WASHINGTON — In a legal settlement finalized today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finally agreed to decide whether seven alien wildlife species should receive protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
The species – four butterflies and three birds – have been placed on the Service’s “candidate” waiting list, where some have lingered unprotected for more than 30 years.
“We are pleased that our legal action has spurred the U.S. government to finally move forward in protecting these amazing and highly endangered birds and butterflies,” said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, the plaintiff in the case. “As the extinction crisis gathers pace, the Biden administration must take bold and swift conservation action, both domestically and internationally, to save these endangered animals and many more.”
For decades, the Service has recognized that the seven animals were eligible for Endangered Species Act safeguards, but officials have deemed those protections “excluded” by the work of other agencies. Yet the Biden administration has only recorded one alien species since its inauguration, raising questions about why the Service couldn’t find the time to work on the birds and butterflies at the center. of the trial.
“The Biden administration needs to step up the pace of protections, or my children will inherit a very lonely planet with far fewer species than we enjoy today,” Uhlemann said.
Birds awaiting protection include the Okinawa woodpecker in Japan, the black-backed tanager in Brazil, and the helmeted curassow in southern Bolivia. The magnificent Fluminense swallowtail from Brazil is also on the waiting list. The species is threatened by habitat destruction or by trade, including pet dealers and butterfly collectors.
As part of the settlement, the Service pledged to offer or decline to protect the species on specific dates, beginning in 2023.
More than 600 alien species are covered by the US Endangered Species Act. The law protects endangered alien species by prohibiting their import and sale, raising public awareness and providing financial assistance.
Origins of species
Okinawa Woodpecker: Found only on the island of Okinawa in Japan, this woodpecker is one of the rarest birds in the world, with an estimated population of only 50-249 mature individuals. The species depends on old-growth forests, including forests located in the US Marine Corps Jungle Warfare Training Center in Okinawa. Scientists requested protection for the Okinawa woodpecker in 1980, and the Service deemed the listing “warranted” in 1984. The woodpecker has now lingered on the “warranted but excluded” list for over 35 years.
Fluminense swallowtail: This beautiful butterfly has a small range near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Its coastal habitat is threatened by the draining of swamps, mainly for development. The species has also been found in the curious insect trade, a notoriously difficult market to monitor. The Service received a petition to list the swallowtail in 1994 but has not yet offered protection.
Black-backed Tanager: A colorful bird with a turquoise chest and a reddish head, the black-backed tanager also lives in Brazil. Its rapid decline is likely due to habitat loss and fragmentation. It has also been found in the cage bird trade and has been awaiting protection since 1994.
Swallowtail Kaiser-i-Hind: Inhabiting the high altitude Himalayan regions of Bhutan, China, India and other countries, this rare butterfly is iridescent orange and green. It suffers from habitat destruction and is collected for trade, where it is highly valued. The Service received a petition to list the Kaiser-i-Hind swallowtail in 1994.
Southern Helmeted Curassow: This land bird has a distinctive large pale blue helmet on its head and lives only in central Bolivia. The species is threatened by hunting and habitat destruction, especially as “protected” land is converted to coca plantations, and the species lacks international trade protections. It has been on the Service’s “warranty but excluded” list for over 25 years.
Jamaican Kite Swallowtail: This blue-green and black beauty is Jamaica’s most endangered butterfly. It is threatened by habitat loss and collection for trade, with a single specimen recently selling for $178. The Service received a petition to protect the Jamaican Kite Swallowtail in 1994.
Harris’s mimic swallowtail: This mostly black butterfly has beautiful white and pinkish-red markings. It only inhabits the Atlantic Forest coastal region of Brazil and is threatened by habitat destruction and collection for the curio trade. A single specimen recently sold for $2,200. The Service received a petition to list Harris’ mimic swallowtail in 1994.