Center for Biological Diversity Sues FWS to Protect Hawaiian Species

On Thursday, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a complaint in the District of Hawaii against Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Interior, and Martha Williams, Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), for failing to designate critical habitats for 49 species of plants and animals as required under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The complaint recounts that on September 30, 2016, FWS listed 49 Hawaiian species as endangered. Since they are native only to certain Hawaiian islands, there is a “limited range” of potential habitats that are already being degraded due to “urbanization; nonnative feral ungulates […]; nonnative plants; wildfire; and water extraction.”  In order to “prevent [a species’] extinction and aid its recovery,” the Service must designate a critical habitat to safeguard that area from human activities until its population can grow and re-stabilize, according to the plaintiff. The Center noted that “Congress recognized the importance of habitat protections to the conservation and recovery of endangered species” which requires “timely” critical habitat designation to help these plants and animals.

However, the ESA habitat protections cannot start until FWS designates a critical habitat, per the complaint. The Center called the agency’s lack of action “inexcusable” since “habitat loss and degradation were thoroughly cited […] as significant threats to the longevity of these species.” By the criteria listed in the ESA, after listing the 49 species in September 2016, they had until September 2017 to designate critical habitat but have neglected to do so to the present day. Thus, the Center for Biological Diversity is suing for a violation of Section 4 of the Endangered Species Act. 

The Center is seeking a declaration that FWS violated the ESA, an order that the Service must propose and finalize critical habitat rules for these Hawaiian species, attorney’s fees and costs, and other relief.

The Center for Biological Diversity is represented by Michael Phillips and Brian Segee.