Five Island Species Are Finally Protected


     WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed five species in American Samoa, including birds, snails and a bat, as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The listing is in response to a 2004 petition from the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) on behalf of 225 species, including four of the five listed species.
     Though listing was determined to be warranted for those four species, further action was delayed due to higher listing priorities, the Service said. The CBD sued the agency over the backlog of species waiting for determinations, and in 2011, a settlement agreement resulted in a six-year workplan for the Service that is winding down at the end of September.
     The agency determined that the fifth species, the mao, warranted listing consideration in 2014 and included it in the determination published Thursday.
     “I worked on early efforts to get three of these species protected, more than 20 years ago, so I’m very glad these unique animals from American Samoa are getting the protection they need to survive and recover,” CBD’s endangered species recovery director Loyal Mehrhoff said. “Like too many species from the Pacific Islands, these animals are threatened by habitat destruction and invasive species. But with protection under the Endangered Species Act, which has been more than 90 percent effective at saving species from extinction, they have a real shot at survival.”
     The mao, a large bird up to 12 inches long, is a member of the honeyeater family, found only on a few islands in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. The mao is endemic to the Samoan archipelago, but is no longer found on Tutuila Island in American Samoa due to deforestation for logging, agriculture and development. More than 20 nonnative pest plant species have changed the habitat for the mao. Nonnative feral pigs and cattle also cause erosion and negatively alter the landscape for the birds.
     The flora native to the Samoan archipelago numbers about 550 taxonomic groups. “An additional 250 plant species have been intentionally or accidentally introduced and have become naturalized with 20 or more of these considered invasive or potentially invasive in American Samoa,” the agency said in the October 2014 listing proposal.
     “The high-quality, protected habitat in the National Park of American Samoa may play an important role in recovery of the mao if this spectacular bird can be reintroduced from dwindling populations in other parts of the territory,” the CBD said.
     The Pacific sheath-tailed bat, once common throughout Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia, had a population of about 11,000 in American Samoa in 1975. Recent surveys and acoustic sweeps have not found any remaining bats in American Samoa. Remaining populations in other areas continue to experience habitat loss from development, predation by introduced species and the effects of climate change. The low population numbers also make this species susceptible to hurricanes and tropical storms.
     The agency has also determined that the distinct population segment of the friendly ground-dove in American Samoa also merits classification as an endangered species. As its name implies, this bird spends its time on the ground, making it particularly susceptible to predation by nonnative feral cats, and its eggs, in nests on the ground, susceptible to predation by nonnative rats. Its extremely isolated and small populations are vulnerable to being wiped out by hurricanes.
     The two snails being protected, Eua zebrine, a tree snail, and Ostodes strigatus, a ground snail, are threatened by habitat destruction by nonnative pigs and development, and predation by nonnative snails, flatworms and rats. Small populations are also vulnerable to hurricanes.
     The agency said that a critical habitat designation for the listed species is not determinable at this time, but indicated it would continue to study available scientific data to identify appropriate areas for a future habitat proposal.
     The final listings are effective Oct. 24.

Photo credit: Rebecca Stirnemann

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