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U.S. to Finally Decide Protection for Foreign Birds, Butterflies

WASHINGTON -

In a legal agreement finalized today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to finally decide whether seven foreign wildlife species should be granted U.S. Endangered Species Act protections.

The species — four butterflies and three birds — have been parked on the Service’s “candidate” waitlist, where some have lingered unprotected for more than 30 years.

“We’re glad our lawsuit prompted the U.S. government to finally move forward in protecting these stunning and highly threatened birds and butterflies,” said Sarah Uhlemann, International program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, the plaintiff in the case. “As the extinction crisis accelerates, the Biden administration needs to take bold, fast conservation action, both domestically and internationally, to save these imperiled animals and many others.”

For decades the Service has acknowledged that all seven animals qualify for Endangered Species Act safeguards, but officials deemed those protections “precluded” by other agency work. Yet the Biden administration has listed only one foreign species since inauguration, raising questions about why the Service couldn’t find time to work on the birds and butterflies at the center of the lawsuit.

“The Biden administration has to pick up the pace of granting protections or my kids will inherit a very lonely planet with far fewer species than we enjoy today,” said Uhlemann.

The birds awaiting protection include the Okinawa woodpecker in Japan, the black-backed tanager of Brazil and the southern helmeted curassow of Bolivia. Brazil’s beautiful Fluminense swallowtail is also waitlisted. The species are threatened by habitat destruction or trade, including from pet traders and butterfly collectors.

Under the settlement, the Service committed to either propose or decline to protect the species by specific dates, starting in 2023.

More than 600 foreign species are covered by the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The Act protects foreign endangered species by banning their import and sale, increasing awareness and providing financial assistance.

Species Backgrounds

Okinawa woodpecker: Found only on the island of Okinawa in Japan, this woodpecker is one of the world’s rarest birds, with an estimated population of only 50 to 249 mature individuals. The species relies on old-growth forests, including forests located within the U.S. Marine Corps’ Jungle Warfare Training Center on Okinawa. Scientists requested the Okinawa woodpecker’s protection in 1980, and the Service deemed listing “warranted” in 1984. The woodpecker has now lingered on the “warranted but precluded” list for more than 35 years.

Fluminense swallowtail: This beautiful butterfly has a tiny range near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Its coastal habitat is threatened by draining of swamps, primarily for development. The species has also been found in the insect curio trade, a market that is notoriously hard to monitor. The Service received a petition to list the swallowtail in 1994 but has not yet proposed protection.

Black-backed tanager: A colorful bird with a turquoise breast and reddish head, the black-backed tanager lives in Brazil as well. Its rapid decline is likely due to habitat loss and fragmentation. It has also been found in the cage-bird trade and has been waitlisted for protection since 1994.

Kaiser-i-Hind swallowtail: Inhabiting high-altitude Himalayan regions of Bhutan, China, India and other nations, this rare butterfly is orange and iridescent green. It suffers from habitat destruction and is collected for trade, where it is highly valued. The Service received a petition to list the Kaiser-i-Hind swallowtail in 1994.

Southern helmeted curassow: This ground-dwelling bird has a large, distinctive pale-blue casque on its head and lives only in central Bolivia. The species is threatened by hunting and habitat destruction, especially as “protected” land is converted to coca plantations, and the species lacks international trade protections. It has lingered on the Service’s “warranted but precluded” list for more than 25 years.

Jamaican kite swallowtail: This blue-green and black beauty is Jamaica’s most endangered butterfly. It is threatened by habitat loss and collection for trade, with a single specimen recently selling for $178. The Service received a petition to protect the Jamaican kite swallowtail in 1994.

Harris’ mimic swallowtail: This mostly black butterfly has beautiful white and rose-red markings. It inhabits only Brazil’s coastal Atlantic Forest region and is threatened by habitat destruction and collection for the curio trade. A single specimen recently sold for $2,200. The Service received a petition to list the Harris’ mimic swallowtail in 1994.

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive. 

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