By Anai Rhoads
Friends of Animals and WildEarth Guardians today sued Ken Salazar, U.S. Secretary of Interior, for failing to determine that twelve species of parrots, macaws, and cockatoos are endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The non-profit groups assert that the U.S. government has violated the law by failing to list Yellow-billed parrots; Crimson shining parrots; Red-crowned parrots; Grey-cheeked parakeets; and White, Philippine and Yellow-crested cockatoos; as well as Hyacinth, Scarlet, Blue-headed, Great green and Military macaws. They ask the Court to order the Interior Secretary to issue a rulemaking and up-to-date finding on all of the birds within 60 days.
The beauty of these birds has brought them tragedy, for all are coveted as pets. Many die as youngsters in the stream of commerce before even reaching a market or pet store. They are captured with nets, or their nesting trees are hacked down and the young snatched away. This is traumatic for the birds taken, and the birds left behind. The latter have no way to return to the trees they have chosen as their homes and reproduction sites. Moreover, these birds usually mate for life and their low reproduction rates makes nest-robbing a major setback to their population in a given area.
"All of these communities of cockatoos, parrots and parakeets are vulnerable to both legal and illegal pet markets that lead to the United States, so urgent action by this government is necessary," said Lee Hall, Vice President of Legal Affairs for Friends of Animals, an advocacy group founded in 1957.
Hall added, "Destruction of their native forests is killing many of these birds as we speak."
Friends of Animals and WildEarth Guardians submitted timely comments on 14 September 2009 on ESA status reviews for these birds. More than sixty days have passed since the groups sent the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) a Notice of Intent to Sue. Yet the Interior Secretary has not acted.
The ESA is meant to save endangered and threatened animals and conserve the ecosystems upon which their futures depend. Any interested person can petition to list a species as either endangered or threatened - the latter meaning "likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future."
Then, FWS must make a "90-day finding" on whether the petition presents "substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted." If the answer is "positive" the Secretary has 12 months from the date the petition was received to decide whether the petitioned action is warranted, not warranted, or "warranted but precluded." The last category has been used by FWS to avoid many species listings.
"There are now approximately 250 species awaiting listing," said Michael Harris, director of the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Denver.
"Some have been stuck in the purgatory of candidate status for decades."
Friends of Animals' original petition, dated 29 January 2008, presented data from BirdLife International, NatureServe, and the IUCN Red List showing the continuing decline of these communities of birds.
When Secretary Salazar did not comply with the ESA to determine within 90 days whether the protection may be warranted, Friends of Animals went to court. The FWS issued a "positive" 90-day finding on 14 July 2009 - 17 months after receiving Friends of Animals' petition - indicating that listing may be warranted for these 12 communities of macaws, parrots, and cockatoos.
WildEarth Guardians (in October 2009) and Friends of Animals (in December 2009) notified the government of the Secretary's violation of Section 4(b)(3)(B) of the ESA, 15 U.S.C. § 1533(b)(3)(B), by failing to determine within 12 months whether Friends of Animals' petition to list the birds as threatened or endangered under the ESA is warranted. FWS has yet to issue a finding.
Today's suit is for a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief: a declaration that the Secretary has violated the ESA by failing to make a 12-month finding indicating that the petitioned action is warranted; and a listing of these twelve species of macaws, parrots, and cockatoos as threatened or endangered.
"These birds have suffered population declines due to an array of devastating threats from the pet trade to destruction of nesting trees, with human population growth as a driving force," said Dr. Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians. "These beautiful birds need every available legal shield to ensure they survive for generations to come."
Friends of Animals, headquartered in Darien, Connecticut, advocates for the interest of animals to live on their terms. WildEarth Guardians, headquartered in Santa Fe, New Mexico, promotes Endangered Species campaigns to avert extinction crises before it's too late; the group also designs creative ways to put the burden back on the federal government to itself pursue species protection efforts. Because every thread in the web of life is interconnected, the protections we gain together for the birds in this lawsuit will ripple out across entire biocommunities.