Feds Urged to Protect Critically Endangered Songbird

A Tinian monarch, photographed on Tinian Island in the Northern Marianas in 2012. (Devon Pike/Wikipedia)

(CN) – A conservation group said Thursday it’s ready to sue the federal government for failing to protect the Tinian monarch, a songbird found only in the Northern Mariana Islands.

On Thursday, the Center for Biological Diversity sent the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service a letter saying the four-year delay in making a decision on whether the bird should be protected violates the Endangered Species Act. Fish and Wildlife said in 2015 that the Tinian monarch may qualify for protection, but hasn’t made a final determination.

“The Tinian monarch needs Endangered Species Act protections immediately to have any chance at survival,” attorney Ryan Shannon with the Center for Biological Diversity said in a statement. “The Fish and Wildlife Service has already acknowledged the monarch’s dire need. We’re going to court to ensure the Trump administration doesn’t block lifesaving protections.”

The Tinian monarch is a small forest bird that only lives on Tinian Island, part of the U.S. commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in the western Pacific Ocean.

It was listed as endangered in 1970, but removed in 2004 because populations had recovered.

According to the center’s petition filed in 2013, the Tinian monarch nearly went extinct after most of the island was converted to coconut plantations, sugar cane fields and cattle ranches before World War II. In 1944, the United States invaded the Japanese-held Tinian, Guam and Saipan islands with 535 ships, commencing a brutal, three-week battle that left 3,000 American and some 27,000 Japanese soldiers dead.

The United States took control of Tinian Island after the war and now occupies most of it. Recently, local ranchers have expressed concern about increased military activity that could push cattle farming even further into the 549 acres of forest habitat left on the island.

In an email, Shannon said the center will work with Fish & Wildlife toward a settlement, but is prepared to sue if it doesn’t respond to the letter within 60 days.

“The legal violation at issue, the failure to make a 12-month finding, is as clear as they come. Given that the service has already acknowledged that the Tinian monarch is critically imperiled, they may be open to settlement,” Shannon said. “In that case, we will work with them on a reasonable date for them to issue the overdue 12-month finding. However, if they are not open to settlement and do not issue a 12-month finding within 60 days, we will be ready to file suit immediately.”

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