Endangered Foreign Birds to Come Under Fed's Wing

Thirty-one of the world's most-imperiled bird species -- whose fly-zones range from Peru to Colombia to Spain to India to the South Molucca Islands of Indonesia -- almost ended up in U.S. federal court recently.

But they've been spared their day on the docket -- at least for now.

The Center for Biological Diversity in San Francisco and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently reached a settlement that forces the service to clear out its backlog and get moving toward adding 31 foreign bird species to the Endangered Species List. Some of the petitions to list these birds date back to 1980, others to 1991.

The settlement stems from a June lawsuit the center filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco against Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the Fish and Wildlife Service, claiming the service had violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to meet mandated deadlines regarding these petitions, even though it had determined the species warranted listing.

"The Fish and Wildlife Service has spent the better part of two decades making recycled petition findings that these species continue to warrant listing, but that their listing is precluded by other priorities," said Jacki Lopez, a staff attorney with the environmental group that filed the suit.

It was the third lawsuit the center had filed on behalf of these 31 species in seven years.

"We have a listing priority we assign to species," said Nicole Alt, acting division chief for conservation classification for the endangered species program. "Based on that number, we try to make expeditious progress. The program that's overseeing foreign species had higher priority obligations, and just recently was able to free up additional dollars to start to work on these."

The settlement compels the Fish and Wildlife Service to take the required procedural steps -- whose deadlines it had missed in the past -- to protect all 31 species on a rolling timeline that ends Dec. 29, 2009.

It could still be another year and a half before all 31 beleaguered birds take their place on the U.S. Endangered Species List, said Lopez.

Here, from two continents, are six of their stories.

Blue-Billed Curassow (Crax alberti)

Blue-Billed Curassow Courtesy of Ben Freeman

A large, mainly black iridescent game bird that measures about 3 feet and stands on pinkish legs, the blue-billed curassow has a hanging wattle and curled black crest feathers that it "flips up like an umbrella," much the way a peacock displays its tail feathers, said Paul Salaman, director of conservation at World Land Trust U.S., who has studied the bird for 12 years.

"The males give a very deep low hooting sound that reverberates through the forest for great distances," Salaman said. "You can feel it in your chest before you hear it and, basically, hunters will track it down."

Listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List, the blue-billed curassow at one time had a range that stretched for 41,197 square miles across northern and central Colombia, "over entire humid lowlands ... all the way to Antioquia to the Sierra Nevada to the Caribbean coast and all the way down the Magdalena Valley," Salaman said.

Today, its range is about 807 square miles, and its natural habitat is about 98 to 99 percent lost, said Salaman, having given way to cattle grazing, clearing for timber, agriculture and illegal cocaine cultivation.

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