WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice of intent today to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to protect Tinian monarchs under the Endangered Species Act. These highly imperiled flycatchers are found only on the 39-square-mile island of Tinian in the western Pacific, which was famously used as a jumping-off point for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II. The birds are threatened by increased military activity resulting from the relocation of training exercises from Okinawa.
“Tinian monarchs and their tiny island home need protection from U.S. firing ranges to have any chance at survival,” said Tara Easter, a scientist at the Center. “With plans to dramatically increase combat training on this fragile little island, it’s critical that the Fish and Wildlife Service act quickly to protect the birds.”
The Center petitioned for Endangered Species Act protection for Tinian monarchs in December 2013; now the Service has failed to meet its deadline to take the crucial first step of issuing a finding on whether the monarchs “may warrant” protection.
A member of the flycatcher family, monarchs were threatened with extinction during World War II due to forest clearing for agriculture and military staging on Tinian, a U.S. territory located east of the Philippines and south of Japan that is part of the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands.
The bird was protected under the Endangered Species Act in 1970 and was removed from the list in 2004 following an increase in forest cover and population size. But the population declined by nearly 40 percent between 1996 and 2008 and the resurgence in military training activities and increased development are threatening the birds’ remaining 549 acres of forested habitat. Habitat loss, in addition to disease, typhoons, and the increased likelihood of invasion by exotic brown tree snakes that have decimated native bird populations on other islands, all leave the Tinian monarch in need of federal protection once again.
“It’s abundantly clear that the monarchs need federal protection,” said Easter. “Immediate action is needed, or the U.S. military may drive this special bird to extinction.”
The monarch is a 7.5-inch, tan-faced bird with a gray head, chocolate-brown back and dark wings with white bars. It feeds by catching insects, and nests year-round in trees, with reduced nesting during periods of low rainfall. The monarch’s call sounds like a squeaky dog toy.