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Conservationists File Suit Over Imperiled Pacific Songbird

The threatened extinction of a songbird that shares its name with a butterfly spurred a federal complaint Thursday by conservationists.

WASHINGTON (CN) - The threatened extinction of a songbird that shares its name with a butterfly spurred a federal complaint Thursday by conservationists.

Represented by in-house counsel, the Center for Biological Diversity filed its suit in Washington over the Tinian monarch, a tiny flycatcher that makes its home in the limestone forests of Tinian Island, one of the Northern Mariana Islands, which are east of the Philippines, south of Japan, and have been a U.S. commonwealth since 1975.

Back in December 2013, according to the complaint, the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the bird as either threatened or endangered.

Among other points, the center says it noted that the bird is being killed off by avian poxvirus, invasive species, the effects of climate change, and the loss and degradation of its highly restricted habitat.

Federal law gave the government one year to resolve the petition, but the center says it is still waiting on a final determination.

Center for Biological Diversity staff attorney Ryan Shannon said listing delays are "a chronic problem."

"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has taken an average of 12 years to list species when, under the Endangered Species Act, FWS is only supposed to take two," Shannon said in an email, abbreviating the name of the agency.

Though petitions or lawsuits are necessary roughly 80 percent of the time to get species listed, Shannon noted that the delays are "far worse" under Republican administrations.

"Only 62 species were listed during the Bush administration compared to 522 under Clinton and more than 300 under Obama," Shannon said. "Trump has listed just a handful so far."

Heather Swift, the press secretary for Department of the Interior, deferred a request for comment on the lawsuit and whether the agency plans to issue a determination on the Tinian monarch to the Department of Justice.

The Department of Justice did not respond to an email seeking comment.

As noted in the complaint, the Tinian monarch was recognized as an endangered species from 1970 to 1987, having been brought to the brink of extinction by military and agricultural activities during World War II.

That designation was reduced to threatened in 1987, and the Fish and Wildlife Service deemed the bird fully recovered by 2004, delisting it altogether.

"Unfortunately, the Tinian monarch experienced a steep, rangewide decline of thirty-nine (39) percent from 1996–2008 and, as a result, is once again threatened with extinction," the 11-page complaint states says.

An increase in U.S. military activities on Tinian Island has allegedly contributed to the bird’s decline. The Center for Biological Diversity also cites the expansion of activities at the Tinian International Airport, alterations to the Federal Aviation Administration Mitigation Area, agricultural development, and the development of roads and housing to accommodate population growth.

Invasive species like rats and the brown tree snake have also taken a toll on the Tinian monarch; if the latter takes hold on the island it could lead to a 30-49 percent decline in the songbird's population, the complaint says.

The songbird is also at risk from the fires, rising sea levels and storms associated with climate change, the conservation group says.

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