In June, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced a proposal to add 38 endangered species native to the Hawaiian Islands under the Endangered Species Act and to re-evaluate the endangered status of two more. In April, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also proposed to designate 271,602 total acres of Hawaiian land as a critical habitat, meaning that it will be protected from major alterations or damage, but will not be closed to public or government bodies, and will not require any people living on the land to sell their property. The new regulations are in response to a petition drafted by the Center for Biological Diversity in 2004 that asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list 227 species under the Endangered Species Act. The species’ protections will take effect 30 days after the government decides to list them as endangered.
The 37 plants – including shrubs, ferns, trees, and herbs – and 3 tree snails live on the islands of Moloka’i, Lana’i, Kaho‘olawe, and Maui. The species are threatened by climate change, habitat destruction, natural disasters, and invasion by non-native species of plants and animals such as pigs, sheep, and deer, which often eat the native plants. The Center for Biological Diversity reported that “The USFWS calls 15 of the plant species ‘the rarest of the rare’; they have fewer than 50 known individuals remaining in the wild. These plants are included in the mutli-jurisdictional Plant Extinction Prevention Program, which seeks to protect the species wherever examples are found.”
Critical habitats are defined as having characteristics or benefits that are vital to the survival of plant or animal species; the newly protected critical habitat encompasses land on all four aforementioned islands, which are collectively referred to as Maui Nui.
Loyal Mehrhoff, field supervisor for the Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office, said, “The health of threatened and endangered species is linked to our own well-being. Many people depend on habitat that sustains these species – for clean air and water, recreational opportunities and for their livelihoods. By protecting imperiled native fish, wildlife and plants, we can ensure a healthy future for our community and protect treasured landscapes for future generations.”
The United States adopted the Endangered Species Act in 1973, and since then, it has issued protections for thousands of species. Its provisions have allowed more than 200 species of plants and animals to fully recover from endangerment or the brink of extinction, and it currently has 1,995 species listed (1,390 of which can be found in the United States). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration co-sponsor and manage the legislation.
The Endangered Species Act is considered highly successful, and a recent Center for Biological Diversity report titled “On Time, On Target: How the Endangered Species Act Is Saving America’s Wildlife” found that the Act is hugely beneficial to vulnerable animals. The government raises awareness of the threats that endangered species face by hosting national events at community facilities such as schools and parks on Endangered Species Day, celebrated annually on May 18.
Environmental organizations have played a large part in the success of listing species on the Endangered Species Act. Last July, the Center for Biological Diversity finalized a landmark legal settlement that requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to decide whether or not to list 757 vulnerable species on the Act by 2018. This event won protections for all 757 American species, and contributed to a 10-year effort to protect 1,000 of the country’s most threatened animals. Animals that benefited from this decision include the Miami blue butterfly, the Mexican gray wolf, and the American wolverine.
If you know of a species that deserves to be listed under the Endangered Species Act, start your own petition using these guidelines from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, advertise the petition on websites like change.org, forcechange.com, or thepetitionsite.com, and then submit it to the federal government.
Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/brewbooks/2418272227