USFWS proposes an experimental population of Guam kingfisher

The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service plans to develop a nonessential experimental population of Guam kingfisher (Todiramphus cinnamominus) on Palmyra Atoll to assist the USFWS in gathering information necessary for a successful future reintroduction back to Guam.

Locally known as sihek, the species historically occupied the island of Guam. The introduction of the brown tree snake (Boiga irregularis) to the island caused the species to rapidly decline in the mid-20th century, followed by their extinction in the wild by 1988. The last of the species was taken into captivity more than 30 years ago.

The proposal to designate an experimental population outside of a species’ historical range is supported under the 1982 amendments to the ESA, which includes section 10(j). Currently, the regulatory interpretation of section 10(j) only allows species introduction beyond probable historical range in extreme cases where the primary habitat has been unsuitably and irreversibly altered or destroyed, such as with the sihek.

While not applicable to proposed rulemaking for the sihek, The Department of Interior has recently taken steps to reassess and clarify the regulatory interpretation of section 10(j). Although the sihek qualified for this designation, that’s not the case for a number of other species. In June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to expand the opportunities available to reintroduce species and establish experimental populations beyond their probable historical ranges to combat dynamic conservation issues such as climate change, invasive species and human encroachment.

The Wildlife Society supported the new rule in its comments to the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, stating that the ability to restore species to a suitable habitat outside of their historical conditions will give species the opportunity to recover more efficiently. Additionally, TWS raised several questions on the implications of this rulemaking to existing ESA listing and delisting processes, and requested additional information on how the USFWS will prepare for potential cascading, ecosystem-level impacts that may result for utilizing this newly proposed flexibility.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently undergoing review of the 10(j) public comments received. All comments regarding the nonessential sihek experimental population must be submitted by September 27.

Read The Wildlife Society’s Comments on the newly proposed Endangered Species Act section 10(j) rule and position statement on the ESA.

Header Image: Guam Kingfisher sitting in its habitat at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Credit: Fred Faulkner