A federal judge ruled that habitats for 14 endangered species on Hawaii island must be protected.

The March decision comes after the Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for not designating critical habitat for 14 of 15 species listed as endangered in 2013.

The Endangered Species Act requires Fish and Wildlife to designate critical habitat no more than one year after the plant or animal is listed as endangered.

Ko‘oko‘olau has long been used as a medicinal plant. Courtesy: Karl Magnacca

“In the listing Fish and Wildlife said that there are serious and ongoing threats to the survival of these species but they dragged their feet for more than six years in designating these areas,” said Maxx Phillips, Hawaii director for the Center for Biological Diversity.

“We are satisfied that the settlement agreement is the best result for both conservation and the American taxpayer,” Jason Holm of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said over email. “We will comply with our obligations within this settlement, and will continue to work closely with others to protect fish, wildlife and their habitat for the continuing benefit of the American public.”

The species that will receive habitat protection by 2024 include the koʻokoʻolau and hāhā plants, a small shrimp only found in five tidal pools and a fly with translucent wings.

“Endangered species with critical habitat have a much higher rate of success and recovery and can come off the list, which is the goal,” said Phillips. “So it is imperative that we protect the areas that these unique critters require for survival.”

A critical habitat designation requires the federal government to manage and protect the area but rarely restricts public access, Philips said.

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