The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a new work plan today – a way to deal with a “bioblitz” of endangered species listing petitions without repeatedly missing deadlines and winding up in court.
Under the plan, the agency will clear a backlog of 251 candidate species within the next six years. The highest-priority species will go first.
The new work plan is part of a legal settlement with Wild Earth Guardians, one of two environmental groups (the other is the Center for Biological Diversity) that have filed 90 percent of the 1,200+ Endangered Species Act listing petitions over the past four years. Since 2007, the two groups have also filed more than 100 lawsuits against the Service over delays involving 1,100 species petitions.
On a conference call announcing the new work plan today, Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes cited another statistic to highlight the flood of petitions the agency has gotten in recent years:
Between 1994 and 2006, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service received petitions for 20 species per year. Since 2007 the agency has gotten 1,230 – more than 300 a year and not far from the 1,370 species the Service has listed in the entire 37-year history of the Endangered Species Act.
The result, Hayes says, is a long list of “warranted but precluded” species that would be on their way to Endangered Species Act protection if the Service had enough people to do the work.
“What has happened is resources have been consumed to great measure by the need to respond in short order to petitions for new species,” said Hayes. “But it has precluded resource attention on species that, as a result of this process, have been identified as though they appear to be warranted for listing. The service has not been able to follow through and complete the process because more petitions are rolling in.”
Under the Endangered Species Act, the Interior Department must determine if a petition to list a species warrants further investigation within 90 days. If the agency finds that a listing may be warranted, it has 12 months to conduct a scientific investigation and make a final determination. The agency frequently misses both of these deadlines.
Gary Frazer, Director of Endangered Species for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said if the new work plan is accepted by the court, he said, it will free up staff to take a new approach:
“It will give us relief from deadline-related litigation,” he said. “It will refocus our efforts on species most in need of protection – something we haven’t been able to do in years.”
Why the pileup in species listing petitions?
From the New York Times:
“Some environmental groups argue that vastly expanded listings are needed as evidence mounts that the world is entering an era of mass extinctions related to destruction of habitat, climate and other changes. Such threats require a focus on entire ecosystems, they say, rather than individual species.
Fish and Wildlife Service officials say the barrage has paralyzed the listing process. Last month, the agency asked Congress to intervene and impose a limit on the number of species it must consider for protection, setting the stage for a showdown.”
Apparently the “bioblitz” is a strategy for getting the federal agency to give endangered species more attention. One group says the Service should be active looking for candidate species instead of waiting for petitions to roll in.
The new agreement could increase the number of species added to the list to 50 a year, up from 8 under the Bush administration and 29 under the Obama administration.