CNMI BUSINESSMAN ACCUSED OF TAKING ENDANGERED BIRD

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By Cherrie A. E. Villahermosa

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Nov. 1) – The jury trial of a businessman charged with taking endangered species in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands has begun.

The defendant, Soleman, is engaged in the charcoal business on Saipan, and is represented by attorney Robert T. Torres. Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Moran is the prosecutor.

Moran, in his opening argument yesterday, said Soleman instructed his employees to cut tangan-tangan trees in 2005 and turn them into charcoal that was to be sold to the public.

He said Soleman had caused harm to and harassed an endangered species — the nightingale reed warbler.

Tangan-tangan [weed] trees are the territorial habitats of nightingale reed warblers, which can be found only on the islands of Saipan and Alamagan.

Moran said these birds are protected by federal law.

[PIR editor’s note: According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife website, the Nightingale Reed-warbler is protected by the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended in the United States and is also listed as an endangered species by the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the Territory of Guam.]

Soleman, he added, didn’t have a permit for clearing the land.

Torres said the case is about the rules and the endangered species.

He said the Division of Fish and Wildlife is not even sure if there are regulations regarding the endangered species, adding that Division of Fish and Wildlife never had a permitting section for local birds.

"It’s about knowing what the rules are and following the rules. You have to know the rules first before you can be prosecuted for violating such rules, but in this case, Mr. Soleman didn’t know that such rules existed," Torres said.

"Was the amount of clearing significant to disrupt the shelter of the bird? This case is not about the bird, it’s about Mr. Soleman, it’s about human knowledge and conduct," Torres said.

The government presented its first witness, Shelly Kramer, an ornithologist from the Division of Fish and Wildlife.

Kramer said the nightingale reed warblers consider the tangan-tangan one of their habitats and once these birds establish their territory, they remain in these trees.

One way of marking their territory is making their distinctive song or sounds, she said.

Kramer said one knows if nightingale reed warblers are staying in the tangan-tangan tree if you hear their sounds.

"It’s easy to find them — one just has to listen to their songs. They use the sounds to mark their boundaries," she said.

The prosecution then showed a picture of a nightingale reed warbler and played the bird’s distinctive sound on a recording device.

Soleman was charged with two counts of taking endangered species on May 24, 2006.

The government later dismissed the other count.

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