Court Approves Endangered Species Workplan for Nearly 900 Species

WASHINGTON, DC, September 9, 2011 (ENS) – A federal judge today approved legal agreements between two conservation groups and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that will enable the agency to review the needs of hundreds of candidate species to determine if they should be added to the lists of endangered and threatened wildlife and plants.

Most of these candidate species have been waiting for protection under the Endangered Species Act for more than two decades. Dozens have waited for more than 30 years. The agreements require the agency to make its decisions by 2018.

“The ESA represents a commitment to protect and preserve our natural heritage out of a deeply held understanding of the direct link between the health of our ecosystems and our own well-being,” said Fish and Wildlife Service Director Daniel Ashe.

Hawaiian scarlet honeycreeper, ‘i’iwi in the Waikamoi Preserve, Maui (Photo by weedmandan)

“This work plan will allow the Service to more effectively focus our efforts on providing the benefits of the ESA to those imperiled species most in need of protection,” said Ashe.

The listing work plan for 251 candidate species was first developed through an agreement with WildEarth Guardians and filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on May 10.

Under the agreement the Service also would make 90-day findings on more than 600 citizen petitions for imperiled plants and animals over the next two years.

WildEarth Guardians has petitioned more than 700 species for listing since 2007 and has filed over 30 lawsuits on behalf of those species.

“All told, nearly 900 species, including the Mexican gray wolf, greater sage-grouse, Sonoran desert tortoise, Gunnison’s prairie dog, coral pink sand dunes tiger beetle and the Acuna cactus will finally receive the attention they deserve,” said WildEarth Guardians Executive Director John Horning. “This is one of the most important accomplishments in my career working to protect endangered species.”

On July 12, 2011, the Service reached an agreement with another plaintiff group, the Center for Biological Diversity, that reinforces the multi-year work plan. It requires the agency to make decisions on whether to add hundreds of imperiled plants and animals to the list by 2018.

Legal opposition from the Center for Biological Diversity had blocked approval of the WildEarth Guardians agreement until today, when Judge Emmet Sullivan approved both agreements.

Pacific Walrus bull in Alaska (Photo by Joel Garlich-Miller courtesy USFWS)

Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center, said, “The historic agreement gives species like the Pacific walrus, American wolverine and California golden trout a shot at survival.”

The Center wrote scientific listing petitions and/or filed lawsuits to protect 757 species as part of its decade-long campaign on behalf of imperiled animals and plants.

“With approval of the agreement, species from across the nation will be protected,” said Greenwald. “Habitat destruction, climate change, invasive species and other factors are pushing species toward extinction in all 50 states, and this agreement will help turn the tide.”

Individual species covered by the agreement include the Pacific walrus, wolverine, Mexican gray wolf, New England cottontail rabbit, three species of sage grouse, the scarlet Hawaiian honeycreeper called ‘i’iwi, the California golden trout and Rio Grande cutthroat trout — as well as 403 southeastern river-dependent species and 42 Great Basin springsnails.

Springsnails may be small, but they play important ecological roles cycling nutrients, filtering water and providing food to other animals. Living in isolated springs of the Great Basin and Mojave deserts, many springsnails are threatened by a Southern Nevada Water Authority plan to pump remote, desert groundwater to Las Vegas.

While the agreement encompasses nearly all the species on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s official list of candidates for Endangered Species Act protection, two-thirds of the species in the agreement (499) are not on the candidate list.

Greenwald said, “This corresponds with the conclusion of numerous scientists and scientific societies that the extinction crisis is vastly greater than existing federal priority systems and budgets.”

“The Endangered Species Act specifically allows scientists, conservationists and others to submit petitions to protect species,” said Greenwald. “These petitions play a critical role in identifying species in need and help the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with the ever-expanding task of protecting species threatened with extinction.”

The species in the agreement occur in all 50 states and several Pacific island territories. The three states in the agreement with the most candidate species are Alabama with 149 species, Georgia with 121 species, and Florida with 115 species. Hawaii has 70, Nevada 54, California 51, Washington 36, Arizona 31, Oregon 24, Texas 22 and New Mexico 18.

Candidate species are classified as “warranted but precluded” from making the endangered species list. The “warranted but precluded” finding is a deferral that means other, higher-priority actions will take precedence.

But the Service has not been able to complete the process for the candidate species because new petitions keep coming. The lack of resources means species have been waiting on the candidate list for years, even decades.

A list of these candidate species is online at: http://www.fws.gov/endangered/improving_ESA/listing_workplan.html.

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