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Federal Court Approves Historic Species Agreement

Settlement between WildEarth Guardians and Interior Benefits Hundreds of Imperiled Plants and Animals

Washington, DC – A federal judge has approved a nationwide agreement between WildEarth Guardians and the Department of the Interior to make final listing determinations by September 2016 for 253 species, all but one of which are formal candidates for Endangered Species Act protection. The settlement resolves 12 lawsuits in which Guardians challenged Interior’s failure to timely list species under the act, and attempts to fix a listing program that has failed to function properly since the Reagan Administration. The agreement also schedules petition findings for more than 600 additional species. In return, WildEarth Guardians consented to dismiss its lawsuits and refrain from suing Interior over missed listing deadlines for the next six years.

“We and the government agree that it is long past time to get the endangered species listing program back on track,” stated John Horning, Executive Director of WildEarth Guardians. “This is an important step toward protecting our rich biodiversity and stemming the extinction crisis in our country.”

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 give these species, that the government has repeatedly stated warrant protection, a fighting chance at survival,” 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 mountain ranges, tropical islands, forests, rivers, deserts, and other habitats. Some of the candidates occur in only one place on Earth, while others were historically widespread but have since dwindled in number and range.

In addition to resolving the status of all 251 candidate species, the settlement includes a two-year work plan for the Service to make findings on citizen petitions requesting species be added to the threatened and endangered list; propose and designate critical habitat; and comply 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 settlement, Guardians agreed to limit its filing of new petitions to ten or fewer species per year and refrain from litigating over any missed deadlines for petition findings in favor of addressing the current Endangered Species Act candidates.

“We hope this agreement accomplishes what matters most: providing these imperiled plants and animals a safety net by adding them to the endangered species list,” said Horning. “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 listed on the 2010 CNOR face serious threats. According to Service data, almost all (98%) are imperiled by habitat loss. Lack of legal protection is also a leading threat (98%). More than one-half are threatened by disease or predation (55%), and one-third are impacted or potentially impacted by the climate crisis (35%). 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.”

WildEarth Guardians’ agreement:

  1. Schedules 90-day findings for 529 petitioned species.
  2. Schedules 12-month findings for 100 species.
  3. Requires proposed listing rules or “not warranted” determinations for 253 species. Of these, 251 species were included on the 2010 Candidate Notice of Review (CNOR). Another species (no. 252), the Sonoran desert tortoise, became a candidate species after the 2010 CNOR was published. The last species (no. 253), the Mexican wolf, is currently listed as an experimentally reintroduced population of gray wolves. Guardians’ agreement requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to publish a proposed listing rule or a “not warranted” determination for the Mexican wolf as a separate subspecies under the Endangered Species Act.
  4. The agreement also requires the Service to prepare a proposed rule to adjust the boundary of the listed Distinct Population Segment of Canada lynx to include New Mexico.

WildEarth Guardians’ agreement affects 863 species (not counting twice the 20 species that will receive both 90-day findings and 12-month petition findings under the agreement, and not including currently listed species that will receive proposed or final critical habitat designations (e.g., slickspot peppergrass, jaguar)).

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View Guardians map of candidate species nationwide.

View Guardians candidate species video.

Further information on the settlement agreement available.


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