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
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
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.
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:
- Schedules 90-day
findings for 529 petitioned species.
12-month findings for 100 species.
- 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.
- 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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Guardians map of candidate species nationwide.
Guardians candidate species video.
information on the settlement agreement available.