Sept. 2, 2004 The Center for Biological Diversity on Wednesday filed a U.S. District Court suit against Interior Secretary Gale Norton and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to force the agency to include two rare V.I. species on the endangered list.
They are the Agave eggersiana, native only to St. Croix, and Solanum conocarpum, native only to St. John.
Peter Galvin, the California-based conservation director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said foot-dragging on the part of Fish and Wildlife forced the center's hand.
"It's clear these species do warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act, but the Fish and Wildlife Service is stalled and needs to get going," Galvin said.
Rafe Boulon, now chief of environmental protection at the V.I. National Park, said he petitioned Fish and Wildlife to include these species back in the mid-1990s when he served as chief of environmental protection at the Planning and Natural Resources Department's Fish and Wildlife Division.
Galvin said that the federal Fish and Wildlife found that the petition was warranted back in November 1998. The Endangered Species Act gives the agency a year from the time the petition is submitted to act, but six years later, it has not moved on the issue.
Tom McKenzie, Fish and Wildlife's Region 4 spokesman, did not return a phone call requesting comment. The Virgin Islands comes under Region 4, which is based in Atlanta. The Center for Biological Diversity filed the suit in Atlanta.
Galvin said that he hopes that Norton and Fish and Wildlife will decide to settle. If not, the case will have to wind its way through the judicial process.
"It could conclude in a year," he said.
He said that there are only a handful of Agave eggersiana plants in St. Croix. They are located in the southeast corner and the west side of the island. He did not want to be more specific for fear residents without an environmental conscience could remove them.
The rare Agave eggersiana is one of several hundred species of the familiar Agave plant. St. John has about 190 Solanum conocarpum plants, all located near Nanny Point and Estate Concordia.
Both Agave eggersiana and Solanum conocarpum are tall shrubs.
"These two are sort of clinging on to existence," he said.
Galvin said that other plants have become extinct while waiting for inclusion on the Endangered Species List.
He said that the Virgin Islands situation came to his organization's attention while staff was systematically reviewing the backlog of cases pending at Fish and Wildlife.
Galvin said the organization has a particular interest in the Caribbean because islands have an amazing amount of biodiversity.
"They are a microcosm of larger areas," he said.
He said the world's residents have a moral obligation to see that these species continue to exist. Additionally, it may turn out that they have medicinal uses such as the Taxol synthesized from the yew tree. It is used to treat breast cancer.
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