WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed 23 species of plants and animals for ecosystem-based protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). All the species are found in the U.S. Territory of Guam and/or the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), the agency noted in its Oct. 1 proposal.
Among the 14 plants, four tree snails, two butterflies, one bat, one skink and one damselfly, two species of plants are proposed for a listing status of “threatened,” and all others are proposed for “endangered” status under the ESA.
The species face threats ranging from habitat loss due to development and military activities, wildfire, typhoons, water losses, climate change, competition with introduced plants, and predation from nonnative animals, including deer, pigs and water buffalo. The degradation of habitat by these animals alone threatens 17 or the 23 species, according to the action. The agency has labeled this threat an “ecosystem-level threat” due to the impact on the proposed species throughout the ecosystem.
Other nonnative animals including rats, snakes, monitor lizards, fish, slugs, ants, wasps, scale and flatworms also pose threats. One introduced flatworm preys on three of the four proposed snails, for instance.
Introduced plants also pose significant threats to the proposed species. Saipan, the largest of the Northern Mariana Islands, was nearly deforested due to heavy bombing during World War II. A tree introduced for erosion control after the war is now the dominant tree there, as an example.
Many invasive exotic plant species become established due to the activity of the nonnative animals. Pigs disperse plant seeds on their hooves and fur and in their feces while they root and wallow, which creates eroded and fertilized areas of disturbed soil.
There were about 500 species of plants in the Mariana Islands before humans arrived, 10 percent of which were species that occur only in those islands. More than 100 plant species have arrived from other areas, and one third of those have become pests, according to the action. Nine of these invasive plant species have altered the habitat for 20 out of the 23 proposed species.
The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the agency to list 225 plants and animal species in 2004. The USFWS has addressed the petition in nine other actions since that time. Seven of the petitioned species made it into the current proposal as a further response to the petition.
The agency has opened a 60-day comment period, and requests new information from the public and scientific community to be used in formulating the final determination.
“We encourage the people of Guam and the CNMI to actively participate in the public comment process to help us determine if protection is warranted for these rare species,” Kristi Young, USFWS acting field supervisor for the Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office, was quoted as saying the agency’s press release.
The agency plans to publish a separate rule to establish critical habitat at a later date.
Comments are due by Dec. 1, and requests for public hearings by Nov. 14.
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