Friends of Animals joined WildEarth Guardians in filing a ten-page Injunction and Complaint for a Declaratory Judgment this month against Ken Salazar, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”), 16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq., and the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), 5 U.S.C. 706(1) & 706(2)(A), to secure a recovery plan for Thick-billed Parrots (Rhynchopsitta pachyrhyncha).

Thick-billed Parrots, the sole surviving U.S. indigenous parrots, were constantly sought and captured during the 1970s and 80s for the caged bird trade, and they have been listed as endangered under the ESA since the Act’s inception in 1973. Within two and a half years of a final ESA listing, a recovery plan is required. Yet in 36 years, the Secretary has developed no recovery plan for these birds. A search of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s “Recovery Online Activity Reporting System” for these birds returns no results.

A challenge to the Secretary’s unreasonable and illegal delay has been brought by WildEarth Guardians and Friends of Animals in federal court in Tucson, as southeastern Arizona is home to the last-known community of Thick-billed Parrots in the United States, and this is where these nomadic birds, on visits or in migrations from Mexico, would most likely be.

Research by the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law shows that Thick-billed Parrots were commonly seen in Arizona in the late 1800s and early 1900s; and although they have receded to the small and diminishing habitat of the Sierra Madre Occidental, communities do still reproduce within 100 miles of the US-Mexico border. Their old-growth forests have been decimated. By 1995, 99.5% of the pine”“oak forest in the Sierra Madre Occidental was logged. This left only about twenty-two square kilometers of old-growth forest intact at the altitude these birds need. They can survive in partially degraded forests, but not in the populations known in the recent past.

The point of the ESA is not only to temporarily halt extinctions of such animals, but also to make it possible for them to recover and thrive. To this end, the Secretary is to report to Congress every two years on the status of site-specific efforts, and the government must solicit and consider public comments.

Thick-billed Parrots are about 15 to 16 inches long, emerald green with scarlet markings on their heads, wings, and lower legs, and yellow skin ringing their eyes. They travel in flocks in search of pine cones (they use their strong bills to crack open the pine cones to get to the seeds), and juniper berries and acorns. Their calls sound like human laughter. Scientists estimate that only 2,000 to 2,800 of them live in freedom in Mexico, where they are constantly sought for the pet trade. The birds return to the same areas, such as waterfalls, to drink and bathe, making capture easy. Trappers most often use nets to capture adults, and sometimes the entire tree is cut down to reach a nest — thus decreasing available nest sites for future breeding.

“These birds–any who have eluded the pet traders — have seen their forests taken out from under them,” said Lee Hall, legal director for Friends of Animals, an advocacy group founded in 1957.

“Places they once thrived are now cattle ranches.”

A reintroduction by the Arizona Game and Fish Department ended in 1993 over the high rate of death — partly because birds captive-raised by scientists do not know how to flock well.

“The parrots’ ability to grow up in their own communities must be protected,” said Hall.

The parrots are listed on CITES Appendix I and deemed Endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List, yet their numbers continue to decline. On October 23, 2009, WildEarth Guardians, based in New Mexico, notified the government of an intent to sue to ensure a recovery plan was formulated and implemented. The government did not respond.

Lee Hall said, “Our groups demand a declaratory judgment that the Secretary has violated the ESA and the APA, and an injunction requiring the Obama administration do what past administrations have failed to do: make and implement a recovery plan for the Thick-billed Parrots.”