Six Foreign Birds Get Protection in U.S.

Why protect international species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act? One word: commerce.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week published rules protecting six extremely rare, international bird species -- none of which are normally found in within the United States. The rules are intended not to safeguard the species in the wilds of the American wilderness, but from the wilds of international trade.

The six species include:

  • New Zealand's black stilt (17 breeding pairs in existence)
  • Indonesia's caerulean paradise-flycatcher (estimated population as low as 19 birds)
  • The giant ibis of Viet Nam, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, and (maybe) Fiji (with just 100 pairs of birds spread between those countries)
  • The Gurney's pitta of Myanmar and Thailand (once thought extinct in both those countries, with current populations estimated at just 180 birds)
  • Fiji's long-legged thicketbird (as few as 12 pairs of birds left)
  • and Mexico's Socorro mockingbird (just 400 birds in the wild)

While these rules probably won't, in and of themselves, do a heck of a lot to protect these rare species, they do send a signal:

"These birds have suffered from a variety of threats, from habitat fragmentation to predation and competition from invasive species, to unregulated hunting and trafficking," said FWS Director H. Dale Hall. "We hope this designation will help garner added international support for conservation efforts in the countries where these species live."

As the Center for Biological Diversity puts it:

Listing international species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act restricts buying and selling of imperiled wildlife, increases conservation funding and attention, and adds scrutiny to projects proposed by U.S. government and multilateral lending agencies such as the World Bank.

It took a long time -- nearly two decades -- for the FWS to make the decision to officially protect these species. It also took two lawsuits by the CBD, which calls these listings "long overdue."