[Federal Register: January 22, 2004 (Volume 69, Number 14)]
[Rules and Regulations]               
[Page 3022-3029]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

RIN 1018-AI16

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Endangered Status 
for the Rota Bridled White-Eye (Zosterops rotensis) From the 
Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Final rule.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, determine endangered 
status pursuant to the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended, for 
the Rota bridled white-eye (Zosterops rotensis), a bird. The Rota 
bridled white-eye is a recognized species of white-eye endemic to the 
island of Rota, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The Rota 
bridled white-eye was once widespread, possibly occupying forested 
habitat at all elevations. The total population of the Rota bridled 
white-eye was estimated at 1,167 individuals in 1996, representing a 
decline of 89 percent from the 1982 estimated population of 10,763 
individuals. The Rota bridled white-eye has continued to decline: In 
1999, the population estimate was approximately 1,092 individuals. The 
Rota bridled white-eye is currently found in four patches of mature wet 
forest at elevations above 200 meters (650 feet). The reasons for this 
species' decline are likely the degradation or loss of habitat due to 
development, agricultural activities, and naturally occurring events; 
avian disease; predation; and pesticides. This final rule implements 
the protection provisions of the Act.

DATES: This rule is effective February 23, 2004.

ADDRESSES: The administrative file for this rule is available for 
inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours at the U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service, Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office, 
300 Ala Moana Boulevard, Room 3-122, Box 50088, Honolulu, HI 96850.
    To request copies of regulations on listed species, or for 
inquiries on prohibitions and permits, write or visit the Service's 
Portland Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Endangered Species 
Permits, 911 NE., 11th Avenue, Portland, OR 97232-4181.

Supervisor, at the Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office (see 
ADDRESSES section) (telephone (808) 792-9400; facsimile (808) 792-
    Endangered Species, Portland Office (see ADDRESSES section) 
(telephone (503) 231-2063; facsimile (503) 231-6243).



    The Rota bridled white-eye (Zosterops rotensis) is endemic to the 
island of Rota, U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands 
(CNMI). The fourth largest island in the Mariana Archipelago, Rota is 
approximately 86 square kilometers (km2) (33 square miles (mi \2\)), 
and is composed of a series of uplifted coral limestone plateaus with a 
volcanic outcrop. The climate is tropical marine with high humidity and 
uniform temperatures throughout the year. Average daytime temperatures 
are approximately 12 degrees Celsius (80 degrees Fahrenheit), with 
approximately 200 centimeters (cm) (80 inches (in)) of rainfall 
annually and about 80 percent humidity. Rainfall averages 27 cm (10.6 
in) per month during the wet season and 9.6 cm (3.8 in) per month 
during the dry season.
    The Rota bridled white-eye is a small flocking bird in the Family 
Zosteropidae, Order Passeriformes. The name white-eye is derived from 
the ring of white feathers around each eye. The plumage is tinged with 
yellow, and the bill, legs, and feet are yellow-orange (Pratt et al. 
1987). Wing, tail, and tarsal lengths taken from 21 adult birds 
captured by the Mariana Avian Rescue and Survey (MARS) Project averaged 
5.6 cm (2.2 in), 3.8 cm (1.5 in), and 2.6 cm (1 in), respectively 
(Scott Derrickson, National Zoological Park, in litt. 1998). Average 
weights taken from birds captured for the MARS Project were 9.7 grams 
(0.3 ounces) for males and 9.2 grams (0.3 ounces) for females (S. 
Derrickson, in litt. 1998).
    All of the bridled white-eyes in Micronesia, including the Rota 
bridled white-eye, were placed under one species, Zosterops 
conspicillatus, by Stresemann (1931). Later, the bridled

[[Page 3023]]

white-eyes in the Mariana Islands were recognized as three separate 
subspecies: Z. c. rotensis (Rota), Z. c. saypani (Saipan and Tinian), 
and Z. c. conspicillatus (Guam) (Mees 1969). However, the Rota bridled 
white-eye is now considered to be a full species, Z. rotensis, on the 
basis of recent genetic evidence from mitochondrial DNA sequences 
(Slikas et al. 2000) and unpublished differences in plumage, 
vocalizations, and behavior (H. D. Pratt, in litt. 1994, as cited in 
Collar et al. 1994).
    Rota bridled white-eyes are primarily found in native forests and 
introduced Acacia confusa (sosugi) forests at upper elevations in 
Rota's Sabana region (Amidon 2000). On Saipan and Guam, bridled white-
eyes were recorded at a wide range of elevations in native and 
introduced forests, suburban areas, beach strands, wetlands, and 
grasslands at a wide range of elevations (Craig 1996; Jenkins 1983). 
Rota bridled white-eyes forage primarily by gleaning insects from 
leaves in the upper, outer layers of trees, but also feed on seeds, 
nectar, flowers, and fruits (Craig and Taisacan 1994; Amidon 2000). The 
majority of the foraging observations were recorded in Elaeocarpus joga 
(yoga) trees (Amidon 2000). However, these birds have also been 
observed foraging in eight other tree species, including Hernandia 
labyrinthica (oschal), Merrilliodendron megacarpum (faniok), and sosugi 
(Amidon 2000).
    Rota bridled white-eyes are highly gregarious and are often 
observed foraging in small groups of five to seven birds (Craig and 
Taisacan 1994). These foraging groups sometimes include rufous fantails 
(Rhipidura rufifrons) (Amidon 2000). Historically, flock sizes were 
larger, but available evidence indicates that group sizes have 
decreased as the population has declined (Craig 1989; Craig and 
Taisacan 1994; Fancy and Snetsinger 2001; Derrickson, in litt. 2001). 
Home ranges of Rota bridled white-eye flocks are estimated to be at 
least 150 meters (m) (495 feet (ft)) in diameter (Craig and Taisacan 
    Very little is known about the breeding biology of the Rota bridled 
white-eye. Twenty-three nests have been recorded (Yamashina 1932; Pratt 
1985; Lusk and Taisacan 1997; Amidon 2000), and the discovery dates of 
these nests indicate that the breeding season extends at least from 
December to August. However, a year-round breeding season may be more 
likely, as indicated by breeding records of bridled white-eye species 
and subspecies (Marshall 1949; Jenkins 1983). Clutches from four Rota 
bridled white-eye nests consisted of one to two light blue eggs 
(Yamashina 1932; Amidon 2000). Observations of 7 active nests by Amidon 
(2000) indicate incubation and nestling periods of at least 10 and up 
to 12 days, and observations of 1 banded nestling indicates a fledgling 
period of at least 8 days. Nests were found above 320 m (1,056 ft) 
elevation in oschal, yoga, faniok, and sosugi trees with diameter at 
breast height (dbh) between 23 cm (9 in) and 60.2 cm (24 in) (Pratt 
1985; Lusk and Taisacan 1997; Amidon 2000). Rota bridled white-eye 
nests were commonly suspended between branchlets and leaf petioles and 
were composed of rootlets, woven grass or Pandanus spp. fibers, moss, 
spider webs, and a yellow cotton-like material (Lusk and Taisacan 1997; 
Amidon 2000).
    Very little is known about the past distribution and abundance of 
bridled white-eyes on Rota. Early descriptions by Baker (1948) 
described this species as numerous and found at lower elevations. 
Residents of Rota during the post-World War II years also remember 
seeing white-eyes at low elevations in Songsong Village (Engbring et 
al. 1986). However, in 1975, Pratt et al. (1979) found no white-eyes in 
the lowland areas and observed birds in the Sabana region only at upper 
elevations. The current distribution of Rota bridled white-eyes 
indicates that the highest densities are found in the high-elevation 
wet forests on the Sabana (Amidon 2000; Fancy and Snetsinger 2001). 
Most Rota bridled white-eye nests with recorded locations (22 out of 23 
nests) were also recorded in high-elevation wet forest (Pratt 1985; 
Lusk and Taisacan 1997; Amidon 2000). Whether this distribution is the 
result of habitat preference or is simply an artifact of population 
decline is unknown; however, the species appears to have been mostly 
limited to this distribution since at least the 1960s (Fancy and 
Snetsinger 2001).
    In 1977, a bird survey, conducted only on the Sabana, estimated 
Rota bridled white-eye densities to be 22 birds/km2 (35 
birds/mi2) (Ralph and Sakai 1979). The first island-wide 
survey of forest birds was conducted in 1982. During this survey, 
bridled white-eyes were found only in forested areas above 300 m (984 
ft) (Engbring et al. 1986). The average bridled white-eye density on 
Rota was determined to be 183 birds/km2 (292 birds/
mi2), with an island population estimate of 10,763 birds. 
Other surveys following the 1982 survey showed little change in the 
white-eye distribution, but did show a decline in white-eye numbers 
(Engbring 1987, 1989; Craig and Taisacan 1994). A 1994 survey found 
that densities had decreased 27 percent (155 birds/km2 (248 
birds/mi2)) from the 1982 estimate (Ramsey and Harrod 1995). 
In the fall of 1996, a survey by Fancy and Snetsinger (2001) estimated 
the population of Rota bridled white-eyes to be 1,167 birds. This 
estimate indicated an 89 percent decline from the 1982 estimate. In 
addition, this survey determined that the population was restricted 
primarily to four patches of forest covering an area of about 254 
hectares (ha) (628 acres (ac)) above 200 m (656 ft) elevation. Ninety-
four percent of the Rota bridled white-eyes were found to occur in 
these patches. In 1999, survey work by Amidon (2000) estimated the Rota 
bridled white-eye population to be 1,092 within the high-density areas 
identified by Fancy and Snetsinger (2001).
    The forest in these four high-density areas can be described as a 
type of cloud forest, with growths of epiphytic ferns and orchids, 
because of the cloud buildup over the Sabana region (Fosberg 1960; 
Falanruw et al. 1989). Amidon (2000) found that the primary overstory 
components of three of the four high-density Rota bridled white-eye 
areas were oschal and yoga. The remaining area of the overstory was 
almost exclusively faniok.
    Currently, 85 percent of the Rota bridled white-eye population 
occurs on public lands and 15 percent occurs on private lands. There is 
no U.S. Government-owned land in the CNMI; all public lands are 
administered by the Mariana Public Land Authority for people of Mariana 
Island descent. Approximately 60 percent of the land on Rota is 
administered by the Mariana Public Land Authority, although much of it 
has been leased to private individuals.
    The Rota bridled white-eye is listed as a critically endangered 
species in the most recent list of threatened animals of the world by 
the World Conservation Union (IUCN) (2002). The IUCN list provides an 
assessment of the conservation status of species on a global scale in 
order to highlight species threatened with extinction and, therefore, 
promote their conservation. According to the IUCN, a critically 
endangered species is one facing an extremely high risk of extinction 
in the wild in the immediate future. Also, in 1991, the CNMI government 
listed the Rota bridled white-eye as threatened or endangered (the CNMI 
makes no distinction between the threatened and endangered categories).

Previous Federal Action

    Federal action on the Rota bridled white-eye began when we 
published a

[[Page 3024]]

Notice of Review in the Federal Register on December 30, 1982 (47 FR 
58454). The Rota bridled white-eye was included as a Category 2 
candidate for Federal listing. Category 2 species were those for which 
conclusive data on biological vulnerability and threats were not 
currently available to support publication of a proposed rule. 
Subsequent Notices of Review, published on September 18, 1985 (50 FR 
37958), January 6, 1989 (54 FR 554), and November 21, 1991 (56 FR 
58804), also designated this species as a Category 2 species.
    In the November 15, 1994, Notice of Review (59 FR 58982), the Rota 
bridled white-eye was moved from a Category 2 candidate to a Category 1 
candidate for Federal listing. Category 1 species were those for which 
we had on file substantial information on biological vulnerability and 
threats to support preparations of listing proposals, but for which 
listing proposals had not yet been published because they were 
precluded by other listing activities.
    In the February 28, 1996 (61 FR 7596), and September 19, 1997 (62 
FR 49398), Candidate Notices of Review, we discontinued category 
designations and listed the Rota bridled white-eye was listed as a 
candidate species. We define candidate species as those for which we 
have sufficient information on biological vulnerability and threats to 
support a proposal to list the species as threatened or endangered.
    On August 29, 2001, a settlement agreement was announced between 
the Service, the Center for Biological Diversity, and others regarding 
endangered species litigation. The terms of agreement required that the 
Service submit to the Federal Register, on or by September 29, 2001, a 
proposed rule to list the Rota bridled white-eye as endangered. On 
October 3, 2001, we published a proposed rule to list the species as 
endangered (66 FR 50383). Because all available listing funds in 2002 
were used to fund the proposal and designation of critical habitat for 
other species required by court order, we were not able to finalize our 
decision to list the Rota bridled white-eye. On August 22, 2002, the 
U.S. District Court in Hawaii approved an agreement between the Service 
and the Center for Biological Diversity to modify the court-ordered 
deadlines for submitting final critical habitat designations for the 
Kauai cave amphipod (Spelaeorchestia koloana), Kauai cave wolf spider 
(Adelocosa anops), and Blackburn's sphinx moth (Manduca blackburni). In 
consideration for an extension of time on these critical habitat 
proposals, the Service committed to take final action on the proposal 
to list the Rota bridled white-eye by January 15, 2004.

Summary of Comments and Recommendations

    In the proposed rule (66 FR 50383), we requested that all 
interested parties submit comments on the proposal. We also contacted 
all appropriate Commonwealth and Federal agencies, local governments, 
landowners, and other interested parties and invited them to comment. 
The comment period closed on December 3, 2001 (66 FR 50383).
    During the public comment period, we received five comment letters. 
Commenters included one Federal agency, two organizations, and two 
individuals. We did not receive any comments from State agencies. In 
total, none of the commenters opposed the listing, three supported the 
listing, and two were neutral.
    This final rule incorporates and addresses comments and information 
we received during the comment period. We address substantive comments 
concerning the rule below. Comments of a similar nature are grouped 

Peer Review

    In accordance with our July 1, 1994, Interagency Cooperative Policy 
for Peer Review in Endangered Species Act Activities (59 FR 43270), we 
solicited the expert opinions of three independent specialists 
regarding pertinent scientific or commercial data and assumptions 
relating to the taxonomy, population status, and supporting biological 
and ecological information for the Rota bridled white-eye. The purpose 
of such review is to ensure that listing decisions are based on 
scientifically sound data, assumptions, and analyses, including input 
of appropriate experts and specialists. Information and suggestions 
provided by reviewers were incorporated or addressed as applicable.
    We received peer reviews from three experts. All agreed that the 
Rota bridled white-eye is imperiled throughout its range, and that the 
proposed rule was based on scientifically sound data, assumptions, and 
analysis. These experts' comments are incorporated in the final rule 
and summarized in the following responses to comments.
    Comment 1: Several commenters stated that critical habitat should 
have been proposed for the Rota bridled white-eye at the time the 
proposed rule was published. Two peer reviewers and two commenters 
suggested that critical habitat be designated as soon as possible.
    Our Response: As stated in the proposed rule, we believe that 
designation of critical habitat for the Rota bridled white-eye would be 
prudent. However, due to our limited listing budget, we are not able to 
propose critical habitat for the Rota bridled white-eye at this time 
and it is essential to the conservation of the species that this final 
listing decision be published promptly. See 16 U.S.C. 1533(b)(6)(c)(i). 
When funds become available, we will propose critical habitat for the 
Rota bridled white-eye as required under section 4(a)(3) of the Act.
    Comment 2: One commenter requested information on the plans that 
will be proposed for the recovery of the species.
    Our Response: A recovery plan will be developed, in coordination 
with stakeholders. This plan will identify recovery objectives and 
describe specific management actions necessary to achieve the 
conservation and long-term survival of the species. We anticipate that 
these management actions will include habitat protection and 
restoration, and efforts to study and reduce Rota bridled white-eye 
    Comment 3: One commenter suggested that high mosquito densities 
within the Rota bridled white-eye's range and resulting blood loss 
should be considered a limiting factor.
    Our Response: We do not agree that blood loss from high mosquito 
densities is having an impact on species survival. Compared to other 
areas of Rota, mosquito densities appear to be higher on the Sabana 
within the Rota bridled white-eye's range (Amidon pers. obs. 1999). 
However, high mosquito densities would also likely impact other bird 
species and reduce their abundance in this region. Review of bird 
survey results do not indicate that the abundance of native species 
differs between the Sabana region and other areas of the island (Amidon 
unpubl. data 2000).

Summary of Factors Affecting the Species

    Section 4 of the Act and our regulations issued to implement the 
Act's listing provisions (50 CFR part 424) establish the procedures for 
adding species to the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened 
Species. We may determine a species to be endangered or threatened due 
to one or more of the five factors described in section 4(a)(1) of the 
Act. These factors and their application to the Rota bridled white-eye 
are as follows:
    A. The present or threatened destruction, modification, or

[[Page 3025]]

curtailment of its habitat or range. The Mariana Islands are believed 
to have been colonized by humans at least 4,000 years ago (Craib 1983). 
Before European contact, the island of Rota was thought to have had a 
large human population that moved into the area from insular (interior) 
southeast Asia and Melanesia and modified most of the island's 
vegetation (Fosberg 1960). During the Spanish administration (1521-
1899), the island was largely depopulated, and the vegetation probably 
recovered on most of the island until the Japanese administration from 
1914 to 1944 (Fosberg 1960; Engbring et al. 1986). During the Japanese 
administration, much of the level land was cleared for sugar cane 
cultivation, including areas on the Sabana, and additional areas were 
also cleared on the Sabana for phosphate mining (Fosberg 1960; Engbring 
et al. 1986). Rota was heavily bombed but not invaded during World War 
II (Engbring et al. 1986). In 1946, one-fourth of the total area of 
Rota was covered in well developed forest, but this was broken later 
into small parcels or located along the base of cliffs (Fosberg 1960). 
By the mid-1980s, Engbring et al. (1986) reported that 60 percent of 
Rota was composed of native forest, although a good portion of this was 
in an altered condition. The majority of the mature native forest was 
found along the cliffs of the upper plateau, with the forest on level 
portions of the island being mostly secondary growth. Today, less than 
60 percent of the native limestone forest remains (Falanruw et al. 
1989), and there are plans for further projects, such as agricultural 
homesteads and resort development in the As Mundo and As Rosalia areas, 
in the remaining limestone forest, and the available habitat for the 
Rota bridled white-eye.
    Although the habitat in the limestone forest may be threatened by 
development, the majority of the high-elevation forests on the Sabana 
have not been subjected to development and large-scale clearing in the 
past because of their rugged topography. The forests have, however, 
received extensive typhoon damage in recent years, which has increased 
fragmentation and reduced the availability of breeding and foraging 
habitat. In 1988, typhoon Roy hit Rota with winds of over 241 
kilometers per hour (150 miles per hour) and completely defoliated 
almost all of the forests of Rota (Fancy and Snetsinger 1996). In some 
areas, 50 percent of the trees were downed, and 100 percent of the 
trees suffered limb damage. The wet forests of the upper cliffline were 
drastically altered by this storm and have been heavily degraded (Fancy 
and Snetsinger 2001; Derrickson, in litt. 2001). In December 1997, 
Supertyphoon Paka hit Rota, and much of the upper plateau was 
defoliated again. These storms have resulted in the degradation and 
destruction of high-elevation wet forests on Rota and have limited the 
available nesting and foraging sites for the Rota bridled white-eye. 
This habitat loss may be the primary factor in the range restriction 
and population decline of the Rota bridled white-eye over the last two 
decades (Amidon 2000; Fancy and Snetsinger 2001; Derrickson, in litt. 
    Although land clearing on the Sabana has been limited, it may have 
played a part in the extent of typhoon damage to the forests on the 
Sabana. Clearings increased forest fragmentation on the Sabana, and 
thus increased the amount of forest edge, especially in the center and 
this increased forest exposure to typhoon damage. Probably the damage 
caused by typhoons might not have been as extensive if the forests on 
the Sabana had not been fragmented by land clearing.
    B. Overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or 
educational purposes. Valued for their songs, some species and 
subspecies of white-eyes are kept as pets in Asian countries (Moreau 
and Kikkawa 1985). However, there are no reports of Rota bridled white-
eyes in the pet trade. Unrestricted collecting or hunting is not known 
to be a factor currently affecting this species. Vandalism is a 
potential concern for this species. Rare plants on Rota have been the 
target of vandals who feared the plant's existence was an impediment to 
development (Raulerson and Rinehart 1997); however, we have no evidence 
of such vandalism directly affecting Rota bridled white-eyes.
    C. Disease or Predation. Black drongos (Dicrurus macrocercus), a 
bird species from Asia, was thought to have been introduced to Rota 
from Taiwan by the Japanese South Seas Development Company in 1935 to 
control destructive insects (Baker 1948). Black drongos were noted for 
their aggression toward and occasional predation on small passerines 
(Ali and Ripley 1972; Maben 1982). On Guam, black drongos were observed 
eating a Eurasian tree sparrow (Passer montanus) (Maben 1982), rufous 
fantails (Rhipidura rufifrons), a Mariana swiftlet (Aerodramus 
bartschi) (Perez 1968), and either a bridled white-eye or a Guam 
broadbill (Myiagra freycineti) (Drahos 2002). A black drongo was also 
observed eating a Rota bridled white-eye (Amidon 2000). In addition to 
predation, Maben (1982) observed black drongos harassing native and 
introduced doves (Order Columbidae), cardinal (Micronesian) honeyeaters 
(Myzomela rubratra), and Micronesian starlings (Aplonis opaca). Drongos 
have also been observed harassing other potential drongo predators such 
as crows and raptors (Ali and Ripley 1972; Maben 1982; Melville 1991).
    Craig and Taisacan (1994) believe that a relationship exists 
between the abundance and distribution of black drongos and the decline 
and range restriction of the Rota bridled white-eye. Engbring et al. 
(1986) found black drongos to be uncommon in the forests of the upper 
plateau, where the Rota bridled white-eye is found, and abundant in 
lowlands. In lowland areas, the rufous fantail, another potential prey 
species of the black drongo, was also found to be uncommon, while birds 
too large to be prey for black drongos were abundant (Engbring et al. 
1986). Amidon (2000) analyzed 1982 and 1994 bird survey data and found 
that black drongo numbers had increased on the Sabana between 1982 and 
1994, while Rota bridled white-eye numbers decreased. However, Amidon 
did not find a negative relationship between black drongo, Rota bridled 
white-eye, and rufous fantail abundance estimates at survey stations on 
the Sabana.
    Not all researchers agree that the black drongo was the main factor 
in the decline and range restriction of the Rota bridled white-eye. 
Maben (1982) found that, although they would harass other birds on 
Guam, black drongos did not regularly attempt to prey on them. Birds 
have also been reported to forage within black drongo territories and 
nest near active black drongo nests without harassment (Ali and Ripley 
1972; Shukkur and Joseph 1980; Maben 1982). Michael Lusk of the Service 
(unpublished data) observed no interactions between black drongos and 
Rota bridled white-eyes during a 1993-1994 study of their interactions 
on Rota (cited in Fancy and Snetsinger 1996). In addition, Amidon 
(2000) observed only one black drongo predation on a Rota bridled 
white-eye over 11 months, despite efforts to record observations of 
black drongo predation on Rota bridled white-eyes. However, it is 
possible that black drongo predation or harassment, in combination with 
other factors, such as habitat loss, may be limiting the Rota bridled 
white-eye population (Amidon 2000; Fancy and Snetsinger 2001).
    The brown treesnake (Boiga irregularis) is recognized as the major 
factor in the decline of native forest birds on Guam (Savidge 1986, 
1987). There have been 46 sightings and 8 captures of brown treesnakes 
on Saipan

[[Page 3026]]

since 1982 (Nate Hawley, CNMI Department of Fish and Wildlife, in litt. 
2002), and a population of this voracious predator may now be 
established on Saipan (Hawley, in litt. 2002). Presently, no 
observations of live brown treesnakes have been recorded on Rota, 
although two confirmed dead brown treesnakes have been found on Rota 
(Hawley, in litt. 2002). Currently, brown treesnakes are not believed 
to be a factor in the decline of the Rota bridled white-eye (Fancy and 
Snetsinger 2001). However, given that the brown treesnake is well 
established on Guam and may now be established on Saipan, and that two 
dead brown treesnakes were found on Rota, the accidental introduction 
of the brown treesnake to Rota is a serious potential threat.
    Two species of introduced rat, Asian house rat (Rattus tanezumi) 
and Polynesian rat (R. exulans), have been recorded on Rota (Johnson 
1962; Flannery 1995). Recent work by Service personnel on Rota, and 
opportunistic trapping and observations for the Guam rail release 
program, have indicated that high densities of rats exist on Rota 
(Fancy and Snetsinger 2001). Introduced rats have been found to be 
major predators of native birds in Hawaii, New Zealand, and other 
Pacific Islands (Atkinson 1977, 1985; Robertson et al. 1994). It 
appears unlikely that rat predation is responsible for the Rota bridled 
white-eye's restricted distribution because rat numbers within their 
range are similar to other areas outside their range on Rota (Amidon 
2000). However, rat predation may be limiting the recovery of the 
species and may, in combination with other factors, be playing a role 
in the population decline.
    Avian disease has also been implicated as a potential factor in the 
population decline and range restriction of the Rota bridled white-eye. 
In Hawaii, research has indicated that avian disease was a significant 
factor in the decline and distributional change of the native avifauna 
(van Riper et al. 1986; Warner 1968). Observations made by biologists 
and veterinarians who have worked on Rota, however, do not indicate the 
presence of pathogens or an epidemic (Fancy and Snetsinger 1996; Pratt 
1983). Research on Guam has not revealed the presence of significant 
levels of disease (Savidge 1986). The presence of the haematozoans, 
Plasmodium spp. (Savidge 1986) and Haemoproteus spp. (Marshall 1949; 
Savidge 1986), in bridled white-eyes on Saipan has been reported. 
However, these parasites were considered to be relatively benign based 
on the good physical condition of the birds (Savidge 1986). In 
addition, 21 Rota bridled white-eyes captured by the MARS Project were 
sampled for avian disease, and no diseases were detected (Glenn Olsen, 
Biological Resources Division, pers. comm. 2000). However, no large-
scale studies on the presence and effect of disease on the native birds 
of Rota have been conducted. Therefore, the role of avian disease in 
the decline and range restriction of the Rota bridled white-eye remains 
unclear. However, the accidental introduction of a new avian disease, 
such as West Nile virus, could also pose an additional threat to the 
    D. The Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms. In 1991, the 
CNMI government listed the Rota bridled white-eye as threatened or 
endangered (the CNMI makes no distinction between the threatened and 
endangered categories) (Public Law 2-51). However, CNMI regulations do 
not prohibit the taking of CNMI-listed threatened and endangered 
species (Kevin Garlick, Service, in litt. 1997).
    In addition to listing the species, the CNMI has also designated a 
protected area on the Sabana in 1994 through Rota Local Law No. 9-1 
(Sabana Protected Area Management Committee 1996). A plan was developed 
to manage this protected area as part of an effort by the CNMI 
government to limit development in this upper elevation area (Sabana 
Protected Area Management Committee 1996). Zones of activities have 
been designated for the protected area, with rules established for each 
zone. A number of activities are allowed to occur in the protected area 
in certain zones, such as farming, hunting, forestry, and medicinal use 
of plants. Many of these activities require a permit from the CNMI 
Department of Lands and Natural Resources. Conservation zones within 
the protected area have been established in areas critical to the 
continued survival of bats on Rota (Sabana Protected Area Management 
Committee 1996). These conservation zones also correspond to most of 
the current range of the Rota bridled white-eye. However, vegetation 
that is 15 cm (6 in) diameter at breast height or less may be permitted 
to be removed in certain zones, including the bat conservation zone. 
Removal of this vegetation may have negative effects on Rota bridled 
white-eye nesting and foraging habitat. While preservation of these 
forested areas is believed to also be essential for the long-term 
stability of the Rota bridled white-eye, not all of its habitat occurs 
within the Sabana Protected Area. In the As Rosalia area, there are 
plans for projects such as agricultural homesteads and resort 
development. Since the Rota bridled white-eye is not protected from 
take as a CNMI-listed species, and since the Sabana Protected Area 
affords minimal habitat protection for this species, regulatory 
mechanisms to protect this species are inadequate.
    E. Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting Its Continued 
Existence. The use of pesticides has been implicated as a potential 
factor in the decline of the Rota bridled white-eye (Fancy and 
Snetsinger 2001). However, little information is available on the use 
of pesticides in the post World War II Mariana Islands. The U.S. 
military is reported to have liberally applied DDT (1, 1-bis 
(chlorophenyl)-2, 2, 2 trichloroethane) on the Mariana Islands during 
and after WWII (Baker 1946; Grue 1985). Pesticide use on Guam was 
implicated as a potential factor in the decline of Guam's avifauna 
(Jenkins 1983; Diamond 1984; Drahos 2002). But concentrations of DDT 
and DDE (1, 1-bis (chlorophenyl)-2, 2-dichloroethane) in Mariana 
swiftlet carcasses and guano were considered to be too low to cause 
mortality or reproductive failure (Grue 1985; Savidge 1986). The 
insecticide malathion was also used to control the introduced melon fly 
(Dacus cucurbitae) in 1988 and 1989 on Rota (Engbring 1989). However, a 
study to monitor the status of birds on Rota before and after the 
insecticide application did not detect any adverse effects on 
populations there (Engbring 1989). Approximately 90 to 95 percent of 
crops grown on Rota are root crops, such as sweet potato and taro, so 
pesticide use tends to be minimal. The most commonly used insecticides 
on Rota are diazinon, sevin, and malathion, which are used to control 
insects on vegetables and livestock (John Morton, Service, pers. comm. 
1998). It is not known what impacts these insecticides may have on the 
Rota bridled white-eye.
    The small population size and limited distribution of the Rota 
bridled white-eye places this species at risk from naturally occurring 
events and environmental factors. In particular, typhoons pose a 
serious threat, directly and indirectly, to the white-eye and other 
avian populations (Wiley and Wunderle 1993). This threat can also be 
exacerbated by human land-use practices, which can affect the extent of 
damage caused by these storms (see ``The Present or Threatened 
Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment of its Habitat or Range,'' 
above). Direct effects include mortality from winds and rains. Indirect 
effects include the short-term and potential long-term loss of food 
supplies, foraging habitat, nests, nest and roost sites, and 

[[Page 3027]]

changes. For example, in December 1997, Supertyphoon Paka defoliated 
trees and removed large amounts of epiphytic growth and associated 
organic matter from the forests of Rota (John Morton, pers. comm. 
1998). This may have resulted in lower-quality foraging and breeding 
habitat and decreased availability of nesting material for the Rota 
bridled white-eye until the forests regenerated from the typhoon. 
Typhoon damage can also lead to long-term forest composition changes 
(Lugo and Scatena 1996), which can affect bird community composition. 
For example, Amidon (2000) found that Rota bridled white-eye abundance 
decreased on the Sabana between 1982 and 1994, while black drongo, 
collared kingfisher (Halcyon chloris), and Micronesian starling 
abundance increased. These changes in bird abundance may be related to 
changes in habitat caused by typhoon Roy in 1988.
    In making this determination, we have carefully evaluated the best 
scientific and commercial information available regarding the past, 
present, and future threats faced by this species. Based on this 
evaluation, we are listing the Rota bridled white-eye as endangered. 
The Rota bridled white-eye is endemic to the island of Rota, and its 
population has declined an estimated 89 percent from 1982 to 1996. This 
species is threatened by one or more of the following: habitat 
degradation or loss due to development, agricultural activities, and 
naturally occurring events such as typhoons; predation by black drongos 
and rats; and inadequate existing regulatory mechanisms. The small 
population size and limited distribution make this species particularly 
vulnerable to extinction from random environmental events. Because the 
Rota bridled white-eye is in danger of extinction throughout all or a 
significant portion of its range, it fits the definition of endangered 
as defined in the Act.

Critical Habitat

    Critical habitat is defined in section 3 of the Act as the (i) 
specific areas within the geographical area occupied by a species, at 
the time it is listed in accordance with the Act, on which are found 
those physical or biological features (I) essential to the conservation 
of the species, and (II) that may require special management 
considerations or protection, and (ii) specific areas outside the 
geographical area occupied by a species at the time it is listed in 
accordance with the provisions of section 4 of the Act, upon a 
determination by the Secretary that such areas are essential for the 
conservation of the species. ``Conservation'' means the use of all 
methods and procedures needed to bring the species to the point at 
which listing under the Act is no longer necessary.
    Section 4 of the Act and implementing regulations (50 CFR 424 part 
12) require that, to the maximum extent prudent and determinable, the 
Secretary of the Interior (Secretary) designate critical habitat at the 
time the species is determined to be endangered or threatened unless 
publishing the listing rule more promptly is essential to the 
conservation of the species. Our implementing regulations (50 CFR 
424.12(a)) state that the designation of critical habitat is not 
prudent when one or both of the following situations exist: (1) the 
species is threatened by taking or other human activity, and 
identification of critical habitat can be expected to increase the 
degree of threat to the species, or (2) such designation of critical 
habitat would not be beneficial to the species.
    We find that designating critical habitat is prudent for the Rota 
bridled white-eye. Consistent with applicable regulations (50 CFR 
424.12(a)(1)(i)) and recent case law, we do not expect that the 
identification of critical habitat will increase the degree of threat 
to this species of taking or other human activity. In the absence of a 
finding that critical habitat would increase threats to a species, if 
any benefits would result from critical habitat designation, then a 
prudent finding is warranted. In the case of this species, some 
benefits may result from designating critical habitat. The primary 
regulatory effect of critical habitat is the section 7 requirement that 
Federal agencies refrain from taking any action that destroys or 
adversely modifies critical habitat. While a critical habitat 
designation for habitat currently occupied by this species may not 
change the section 7 consultation outcome because an action that 
destroys or adversely modifies such critical habitat is also likely to 
result in jeopardy to the species, in some instances a section 7 
consultation would be triggered only if critical habitat is designated 
(e.g., unoccupied habitat). Some educational or informational benefits 
also may result from designation of critical habitat.
    Section 4(b)(6)(C) of the Act states that the final critical 
habitat designation shall be published with the final listing 
determination unless ``(i) it is essential to the conservation of such 
species that the regulation implementing such determination be promptly 
published. * * *'' The Rota bridled white-eye has declined by 
approximately 90% since 1982 and is currently threatened by one or more 
of the following: habitat degradation or loss due to development, 
agricultural activities, and naturally occurring events such as 
typhoons; predation; and inadequate existing regulatory mechanisms. The 
small population size and limited distribution make this species 
particularly vulnerable to extinction from random environmental events. 
Nearly all of our listing funds are being used to comply with court 
orders and court-approved settlement agreements to complete listing 
determinations or petition findings, we were unable to additionally 
propose critical habitat with the proposal to list this species and the 
final listing rule. We will develop a proposal to designate critical 
habitat for the Rota bridled white-eye as soon as funding is available 
and in accordance with other priority listing actions.

Available Conservation Measures

    Conservation measures provided to endangered or threatened species 
under the Act include recognition, recovery actions, requirements for 
Federal protection, and prohibitions against certain practices. 
Recognition through listing encourages and may result in conservation 
actions by Federal, State, and local agencies, private organizations, 
and individuals. The Act authorizes possible land acquisition and 
cooperation with ``States,'' including the CNMI, and requires that 
recovery plans be developed for all listed species. Funding is 
available through section 6 of the Act for the CNMI to conduct recovery 
activities. We discuss the protection required of Federal agencies and 
the prohibitions against taking and harm for the Rota bridled white-eye 
    Section 7(a) of the Act, as amended, requires Federal agencies to 
evaluate their actions with respect to any species that is proposed or 
listed as endangered or threatened, and also with respect to its 
critical habitat, if any is proposed or designated. Regulations 
implementing this interagency cooperation provision of the Act are 
codified at 50 CFR part 402. Section 7(a)(4) requires Federal agencies 
to confer with us on any action that is likely to (a) jeopardize the 
continued existence of a species proposed for listing or (b) result in 
destruction or adverse modification of proposed critical habitat. If a 
species is listed, section 7(a)(2) requires Federal agencies to ensure 
that activities they authorize, fund, or carry out are not likely to 
jeopardize the continued existence of the listed species or destroy or 
adversely modify its critical habitat. If a Federal action may affect a 
listed species or its critical habitat, the

[[Page 3028]]

responsible Federal agency must enter into consultation with us, under 
section 7(a)(2) of the Act.
    Federal agency actions that may affect the Rota bridled white-eye 
and may require consultation with us include, but are not limited to, 
those within the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 
Natural Resources Conservation Service, Federal Emergency Management 
Agency, Federal Aviation Administration, and Federal Highway 
    There are no federally owned lands on the island of Rota. Parts of 
Rota have been used as, or are under consideration for use as, training 
areas by U.S. armed forces. In the past, some military training has 
occurred at the Rota airport and on Angyuta, an island near the 
commercial port. Neither area is within the known range of the Rota 
bridled white-eye. Federally supported activities that could affect the 
Rota bridled white-eye or its habitat in the future include, but are 
not limited to, low-altitude helicopter maneuvers, road construction 
and improvements, and radio tower construction within areas occupied by 
the Rota bridled white-eye.
    Listing the Rota bridled white-eye necessitates the development and 
implementation of a recovery plan for the species. This plan will bring 
together Federal, Commonwealth, and regional agency efforts for 
conservation of the species, and will also establish a framework for 
agencies to coordinate their recovery efforts. It will set recovery 
priorities and estimate the costs of the tasks necessary to accomplish 
the priorities. It will also describe the site-specific management 
actions necessary to achieve conservation and survival of the species.
    The Act and implementing regulations found at 50 CFR 17.21 set 
forth a series of general prohibitions and exceptions that apply to all 
endangered wildlife. The prohibitions of section 9(a)(2) of the Act, 
implemented by 50 CFR 17.21 for endangered species, make it illegal for 
any person subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to take 
(includes harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, or 
collect; or attempt any of these), import or export, ship in interstate 
commerce in the course of a commercial activity, or sell or offer for 
sale in interstate or foreign commerce any listed species. It is also 
illegal to possess, sell, deliver, carry, transport, or ship any such 
wildlife that has been taken illegally. Further, it is illegal for any 
person to attempt to commit, to solicit another person to commit, or to 
cause to be committed, any of these acts. Certain exceptions apply to 
agents of the Service and CNMI conservation agencies.
    Permits may be issued to allow people and groups to carry out 
otherwise prohibited activities involving endangered wildlife under 
certain circumstances. Regulations governing permits are codified at 50 
CFR 17.22 and 17.23. Such permits are available for scientific 
purposes, to enhance the propagation or survival of the species, and/or 
for incidental take in the course of otherwise lawful activities. 
Permits are also available for zoological exhibitions, educational 
purposes, or special purposes consistent with the purposes of the Act. 
Requests for copies of the regulations regarding listed wildlife and 
inquiries about permits and prohibitions may be addressed to the 
Service's Portland offices (see ADDRESSES and FOR FURTHER INFORMATION 
CONTACT sections).
    It is our policy, as published in the Federal Register on July 1, 
1994 (59 FR 34272), to identify to the maximum extent practicable at 
the time a species is listed those activities that would or would not 
likely be a violation of section 9 of the Act. The intent of this 
policy is to increase public awareness of the effect of this listing on 
proposed and ongoing activities within the range of the species. We 
believe that permitted scientific activities or recreational activities 
within forested areas that support populations of Rota bridled white-
eyes would not likely result in a violation of section 9.
    Activities that we believe could potentially harm the Rota bridled 
white-eye, and would likely violate section 9, include, but are not 
limited to:
    (1) Unauthorized collecting, handling, possessing, selling, 
delivering, carrying, transporting, or shipping of the species;
    (2) Intentional introduction of alien species that compete with or 
prey on bird species, such as the introduction of the predatory brown 
treesnake to islands that support bird populations; and
    (3) Activities that disturb Rota bridled white-eyes and disrupt 
nesting and foraging, and destruction or alteration of forested areas 
required by the bridled white-eye for foraging, perching, breeding, or 
rearing young.
    Questions regarding whether specific activities will constitute a 
violation of section 9 of the Act should be directed to the Field 
Supervisor of the Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office (see FOR 
FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT section). Requests for copies of the 
regulations regarding listed species and inquiries regarding 
prohibitions and permits may be addressed to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service, Endangered Species Permits, 911 NE 11th Avenue, Portland, OR 
97232-4181 (503/231-2063; facsimile 503/231-6243).

National Environmental Policy Act

    We have determined that an Environmental Impact Statement and 
Environmental Assessment, as defined under the authority of the 
National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, need not be prepared in 
connection with regulations adopted pursuant to section 4(a) of the 
Act. We published a notice outlining our reasons for this determination 
in the Federal Register on October 25, 1983 (48 FR 49244).

References Cited

    A complete list of all references cited in this rulemaking is 
available upon request from the Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife 
Office (see ADDRESSES section).


    The primary author of this final rule is Fred Amidon, Biologist, 
Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office (see ADDRESSES section).

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17

    Endangered and threatened species, Exports, Imports, Reporting and 
recordkeeping requirements, Transportation.

Regulation Promulgation

For reasons given in the preamble, we amend part 17, subchapter B of 
chapter I, title 50 of the Code of Federal Regulations, as set forth 


1. The authority citation for part 17 continues to read as follows:

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1361-1407; 16 U.S.C. 1531-1544; 16 U.S.C. 
4201-4245; Pub. L. 99-625, 100 Stat. 3500, unless otherwise noted.

2. Amend ``17.11(h) by adding the following, in alphabetical order 
under BIRDS, to the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife to read 
as follows:

Sec.  17.11  Endangered and threatened wildlife.

* * * * *
    (h) * * *

[[Page 3029]]

                          Species                                                  Vertebrate population
-----------------------------------------------------------     Historic range      where endangered or     Status       When      Critical     Special
            Common name                 Scientific name                                  threatened                     listed      habitat      rules
                                                                      * * * * * * *
                                                                      * * * * * * *
White-eye, Rota bridled............  Zosterops rotensis...  Western Pacific Ocean- Entire...............          E         741          NA          NA
                                                             U.S.A. (Commonwealth
                                                             of the Northern
                                                             Mariana Islands).
                                                                      * * * * * * *

    Dated: January 12, 2004.
Steve Williams,
Director, Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 04-1297 Filed 1-21-04; 8:45 am]