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America's Top 40: Full of Sad Songs for Endangered Species

Report Shows Many of the Nation's Unprotected, but Imperiled Species Are Slipping Away

DENVER - WildEarth Guardians released a report today showing that the most imperiled candidates for Endangered Species Act protection continue to be refused coverage under the law, even as the Obama administration reaches its 100th day in office. The report, entitled “America’s Top 40: A Call to Action for the Nation’s Most Imperiled Species,” describes how members of a list kept by the federal government of the most imperiled species that are not yet federally protected are faring poorly, with many feared extinct.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), the federal agency within the Department of Interior in charge of most Endangered Species Act decisions, routinely cites the “Top 40” as priority species that need to be protected before other imperiled species can be listed. But today’s report by WildEarth Guardians shows that even the Top 40 are being systematically denied protection. Service officials pledged to Congress that some of the Top 40 would be proposed for listing in FY 2008 and listed in FY 2009. But the report chronicles the Service’s string of broken promises - to Congress and to the public - regarding its listing program.

Many species in the Top 40 list are feared extinct. On average, members of the Top 40 have been waiting for federal protection for 13 years. Some have waited even longer - up to 21 years.

“We urge the Obama administration to step up its endangered species listing program, to provide prompt protection to the plants and animals that need it most,” stated Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians, author of the report. “The Top 40 qualify for emergency protection, which the Obama administration could grant almost overnight,” stated Rosmarino, referring to a provision in the law that allows immediate, temporary protection for candidate species at risk.

The report shows that some species awaiting federal protection have not been seen in a decade or more. The Langford’s tree snail was last seen in 1992, but has sat on the candidate list, awaiting protection, since 1994. The Warton’s cave spider was last seen in 2001 and has also been on the candidate list since 1994. The lock on the gate to the only cave it occupies has rusted shut and the landowner denies government biologists access to verify whether the species still exists.

The Obama administration listed a Hawaiian plant, Phyllostegia hispida, in March, but has taken no other actions to address the backlog of candidate species awaiting protection. (The only other listing taken by the Obama administration was of two species of salamanders previously protected under a different taxonomic designation). Many other Hawaiian plants linger on the candidate list, some of which have not yet even been proposed for listing. In the report, WildEarth Guardians urges the current administration to promptly list all members of the Top 40 before it is too late. It also recommends prompt protection for other candidate species that didn’t make the Top 40 list, as well as timely findings on new petitions to protect imperiled plants and animals.

Interior Secretary Salazar assumed his post with full knowledge that endangered species protections had been severely set back by the Bush administration, and Interior was rocked by scandals of political interference in endangered species decisions. When Obama first nominated Salazar, WildEarth Guardians expressed deep concerns, along with over 100 scientists and wildlife groups, about whether Salazar would pump life back into Endangered Species Act enforcement and specifically questioned whether he would grant candidate species prompt federal protection.

“We have been waiting for Salazar to prove us wrong - but he hasn’t yet. We remain worried that Salazar is not going to bat for the Top 40 or the hundreds of other plants and animals that are imperiled but not yet protected under federal law,” stated Rosmarino.

The report also pointed out that many top officials at the Service held the same or similar posts under the Bush administration, suggesting that there has been little house-cleaning at the scandal-rocked agency. One of the officials, Ren Lohoefener, has openly criticized the Service for protecting too many species and sympathized with Julie MacDonald, an Interior official under Bush who resigned in the face of Congressional inquiries on species decisions. The report states, “To remain in their posts, the leadership at the Service should explicitly commit to an escalated listing program and should match their promises with prompt actions.”

For more information, including a copy of the Top 40 report, photos, and other background information, contact nrosmarino@wildearthguardians.org.

View the Top 40 report here.


 

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