Press Release on USFWS's Endangered Species Act Listing of 23 species in Guam and the CNMI Department of Lands and Natural Resources and Division of Fish and Wildlife

Saipan, October 2, 2015 — The US Fish and Wildlife Service has announced that they will list 23 species in Guam and the CNMI as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. These species include 14 plants, 1 mammal, 1 reptile, 3 insects and 4 snails. Of these species, 17 are found in the CNMI.

CNMI Department of Lands and Natural Resources (DLNR) has a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) under Section 6(c) of the Endangered Species Act. This cooperative agreement recognizes DLNR's role in the management of rare, threatened and endangered species of the CNMI through its administration of conservation and recovery programs for these species in cooperation with USFWS. The Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) protects native species and provides enforcement in accordance with the CNMI Fish, Game, and Endangered Species Act, and in addition cooperates with USFWS in the enforcement of the federal Endangered Species Act.

When the proposed rule to list 23 species was issued by USFWS in October 2014, DLNR and DFW staff reviewed the evidence presented and conducted surveys within the CNMI, and presented these findings in our comments on the proposed rule. We supported the listing of seven of the 17 species found in the CNMI. However, we questioned the inclusion of some of the species in the proposed rule. From our own review and surveys, we found that some of these species were far more abundant and widespread than had been claimed by USFWS in the proposed rule for listing, and we found no evidence that these species were declining in the CNMI. For some other species, we found that there was insufficient information to determine whether these species should be listed at this time, and we recommended further surveys be conducted.

We concluded that a number of the 23 species included here do not meet the definitions of "threatened" or "endangered", and we did not feel that these require federal protection at this time. We found that currently there is insufficient scientific information to determine whether several other of the proposed species warrant listing. We recommended to USFWS that further surveys be conducted on some of these species in question to determine if these species warranted listing, and requested additional time to conduct these surveys, however unfortunately this was not granted.

We believe that this listing process was rushed and that other avenues for conservation were not considered. Listing a species may be easy, but delisting is extremely difficult. While we fully support the Endangered Species Act's role in the conservation of species at risk, it is DLNR's position that listing a species that is not actually at risk of extinction is counterproductive to the conservation of both that species and species that are actually at risk.

We feel that the bar for what constitutes an "endangered" or "threatened" species in the CNMI has now been set too low. We believe that USFWS has not considered that species that are endemic to small islands (i.e. are found nowhere else) have inherently small populations and distributions. We do not believe that such species should be listed unless there is demonstrable evidence that the species is declining and that there is hard scientific evidence of the factors that may cause the species to become extinct. USFWS informed us that the species' status in Guam drove the listing decision, but we feel that this is unjustified. We are concerned that USFWS may now proceed to list additional species that may have even smaller populations and ranges within the CNMI than those included here.

We hope that in the future, USFWS will work more closely with our agency when considering new species to list in the CNMI, in order to make fully informed decisions that will benefit our native species at risk without causing unnecessary burdens on the people of the CNMI. We look forward to working with USFWS in the protection and recovery of rare, threatened and endangered species in the CNMI. We will work with USFWS to develop recovery plans and implement conservation programs in order to protect these species and bring the populations to a stable level for delisting.