Center for Biological Diversity Sues Over Failure to Protect Marianas

On Tuesday, the Center for Biological Diversity, a non-profit corporation, filed a lawsuit alleging that government agencies violated both the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) for their failure to properly protect various plant and animal species throughout Guam’s Mariana Islands. 

The complaint was filed against Secretary of the Interior Debra Haaland, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and its Principal Deputy Director Martha Williams in the District of Guam.

“These beautiful, dwindling Pacific Island species desperately need protected habitat or they won’t survive,” said Maxx Phillips with the Center for Biological Diversity in a press release. “We can’t stop the extinction crisis if wildlife officials ignore the law and abandon the places where imperiled species live. Militarization, invasive species, climate change and urban sprawl have taken an enormous toll. Since government officials won’t take action, we’re asking the court to force them to.”

In October of 2015, the Service reportedly approved a petition seeking endangered status for 16 plant and animal species as well as threatened status for seven plant species. The plaintiff claimed that the administrative procedures required as a response to the listing of these species as threatened were not met by the Service within the required time period according to ESA standards. Allegedly, the procedures have still not been completed, and the plaintiffs argued that designating a critical habitat is a crucial factor in the continued conservation and revival of endangered or threatened species.

The plaintiff cited section 4 of the ESA as the reason for their complaint, which says “when the Service lists a species as endangered or threatened, it must concurrently designate critical habitat for that species. If the Secretary finds that critical habitat is not determinable at the time of listing, it may extend the one-year period by not more than one additional year, but not later than the close of such additional year the Secretary must publish a final regulation, based on such data as may be available at that time, designating, to the maximum extent prudent, such habitat.”

The Center argued that it has standing because it has been working in the area for over 20 years and actively works to conserve the Islands and has researched, studied, observed, and sought protection for a variety of plant and animal species throughout the area, including the 23 that are mentioned in the suit. They have also been active participants in the effort to get conservation for those listed species and filed the original petition to have the species covered in 2004.

The plaintiff stated that “These species’ habitat is being devastated by development, activities associated with military weapons testing, training and urbanization, nonnative ungulates and plants, brown tree snakes, fire, and climate change.” They fear that the Defendants’ continued failure to comply with their obligations under the ESA will continue to adversely affect and irreparably injure the “cultural, aesthetic, recreational, spiritual, scientific, educational, conservational, medicinal, and other interests of the Center and its members.”

The Service had until October 1, 2016, to publish final critical habitat designations. By allegedly failing to do so, the plaintiff asserts that the defendant violated the ESA and the APA and request relief from the court in the form of a declaration that the Service is in violation of Section 4(a) of the ESA by failing to timely designate critical habitat for each of the 23 Micronesian species, and a requirement that the Service to propose and finalize critical habitat rules for the species.

The plaintiff is represented by Blue Ocean Law.