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WildEarth Guardians and Interior Reach Settlement on Endangered Species Listings
Washington, DC—May 10. WildEarth Guardians and the Department of Interior today reached a nationwide agreement regarding Interior’s management of its endangered species listing program. They filed the proposed settlement with Judge Emmet Sullivan in Washington, DC who presides over 12 cases in which Guardians challenged Interior’s failure to list species in a timely manner. If approved, the settlement requires Interior to make final listing determinations by September 2016 for 251 species, all of which are formal candidates for Endangered Species Act protection. In return, WildEarth Guardians agrees to dismiss its lawsuits and refrain from suing Interior over other missed deadlines for listing species for the next six years.
“We and the government agree that the day has come to address the future of the endangered species candidates. This will be an important step toward protecting the rich biodiversity in the U.S. and stemming the extinction crisis,” stated Dr. Nicole Rosmarino, Wildlife Program Director of WildEarth Guardians.
Until they are listed under the Endangered Species Act, imperiled plants and animals receive no protection under the law. The most recent Candidate Notice of Review (CNOR), released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) in November 2010, includes 251 species considered “warranted but precluded” from protection – a loophole provided in the statute. The majority of the current candidates (150) have been waiting for more than 20 years for listing; 57 species have been waiting for more than 30 years. Under today’s proposed settlement, all 251 species in the 2010 CNOR would receive decisions, within the next six years, on whether or not they will be listed.
“The candidate list has been the black hole of the Endangered Species Act, where animals and plants that deserve the protection of the Act were consigned to an endless queue. Today’s agreement will finally allow these species, that the government has repeatedly stated warrant protection, to have a decent chance at actually receiving that protection before they go extinct,” stated Jay Tutchton, General Counsel of WildEarth Guardians. “For species on the brink, delayed protection often equals extinction.”
The candidates include a diverse array of species, such as birds, butterflies, mammals, fishes, mollusks, wildflowers, and others. These species require a range of natural ecosystems, including mountaintops, tropical islands, forests, rivers, deserts, and other habitats. Some of the candidates occur in only one place on Earth; while others were historically wide-ranging but have since dwindled.
In addition to resolving the status of all 251 candidate species, the settlement includes a two-year work plan guiding the Service response times for making findings on other citizen petitions requesting species be added to the endangered list; critical habitat proposals and designations; and compliance with existing court orders. The resulting program balances the need to list candidate species with considering new plants and animals for listing and conferring habitat protections for species already listed.
WildEarth Guardians has petitioned more species in the last four years than all other petitioners combined. Since 2007, the group petitioned over 700 of the 1,230 species for which Interior has received listing requests and has filed dozens of lawsuits to obtain findings on those petitions. Under the agreement, Guardians would agree to limit its filing of new petitions to ten or less per year and refrain from litigating over those missed deadlines in favor of addressing the current Endangered Species Act candidates.
“We hope this agreement accomplishes what matters most: adding these imperiled plants and animals to the endangered species list,” stated Rosmarino. “We expect that this settlement will fundamentally shift how the endangered species listing program is run by ensuring the Service completes the listing process for the species that have waited the longest.”
The candidate species daily face serious threats. According to Service data, almost all (98%) are imperiled by habitat loss. Lack of legal protection is also a leading threat (97%). More than one-half are threatened by disease or predation (53%), and one-third are impacted or potentially impacted by the climate crisis (37%). Nearly every one of the candidate species faces multiple threats.
Scientists estimate that, globally, animals and plants are going extinct at rates 1,000 higher than the natural extinction rate. These animals and plants make up the natural ecosystems on which human economies are based. Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner E.O. Wilson has warned that the loss of species diversity “is the folly that our descendents are least likely to forgive us.”