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Federal Court Approves Historic Species Agreement
Federal Court Approves Historic Species Agreement
Settlement between WildEarth Guardians and Interior Benefits Hundreds of Imperiled Plants and Animals
Contact: John Horning (505) 988-9126 x1153
Washington, DC – A federal judge has approved a nationwideagreement between WildEarth Guardians and the Department of the Interior tomake final listing determinations by September 2016 for 253 species, all but oneof which are formal candidates for Endangered Species Act protection. Thesettlement resolves 12 lawsuits in which Guardians challenged Interior’sfailure to timely list species under the act, and attempts to fix a listingprogram that has failed to function properly since the Reagan Administration.The agreement also schedules petition findings for more than 600 additionalspecies. In return, WildEarth Guardians consented to dismiss its lawsuits andrefrain from suing Interior over missed listing deadlines for the next six years.
“We and the government agree that it is long past time toget the endangered species listing program back on track,” stated John Horning,Executive Director of WildEarth Guardians. “This is an important step towardprotecting our rich biodiversity and stemming the extinction crisis in ourcountry.”
Until they are listed under the Endangered Species Act,imperiled plants and animals receive no protection under the law. The mostrecent Candidate Notice of Review (CNOR), released by the U.S. Fish and WildlifeService (Service) in November 2010, includes 251 species considered “warrantedbut precluded” from protection – a loophole provided in the statute. Themajority of the current candidates (150) have been waiting for more than 20years for listing; 57 species have been waiting for more than 30 years. Undertoday’s proposed settlement, all 251 species in the 2010 CNOR would receivedecisions, within the next six years, on whether or not they will be listed.
“The candidate list has been the black hole of theEndangered Species Act, where animals and plants that deserve the protection ofthe Act were consigned to an endless queue. Today’s agreement will finally givethese species, that the government has repeatedly stated warrant protection, a fightingchance at survival,” stated Jay Tutchton, General Counsel of WildEarthGuardians. “For species on the brink, delayed protection often equalsextinction.”
The candidates include a diverse array of species, such asbirds, butterflies, mammals, fishes, mollusks, wildflowers, and others. Thesespecies require a range of natural ecosystems, including mountain ranges,tropical islands, forests, rivers, deserts, and other habitats. Some of thecandidates occur in only one place on Earth, while others were historicallywidespread but have since dwindled in number and range.
In addition to resolving the status of all 251 candidatespecies, the settlement includes a two-year work plan for the Service to makefindings on citizen petitions requesting species be added to the threatened andendangered list; propose and designate critical habitat; and comply withexisting court orders. The resulting program balances the need to listcandidate species with considering new plants and animals for listing andconferring habitat protections for species already listed.
WildEarth Guardians has petitioned more species in the lastfour years than all other petitioners combined. Since 2007, the grouppetitioned over 700 of the 1,230 species for which Interior has receivedlisting requests and has filed dozens of lawsuits to obtain findings on thosepetitions. Under the settlement, Guardians agreed to limit its filing of newpetitions to ten or fewer species per year and refrain from litigating over anymissed deadlines for petition findings in favor of addressing the currentEndangered Species Act candidates.
“We hope this agreement accomplishes what matters most:providing these imperiled plants and animals a safety net by adding them to theendangered species list,” said Horning. “We expect that this settlement willfundamentally shift how the endangered species listing program is run byensuring the Service completes the listing process for the species that havewaited the longest.”
The candidate species listed on the 2010 CNOR face seriousthreats. According to Service data, almost all (98%) are imperiled by habitatloss. Lack of legal protection is also a leading threat (98%). More thanone-half are threatened by disease or predation (55%), and one-third areimpacted or potentially impacted by the climate crisis (35%). Nearly every oneof the candidate species faces multiple threats.
Scientistsestimate that, globally, animals and plants are going extinct at rates 1,000higher than the natural extinction rate. These animals and plants make up thenatural ecosystems on which human economies are based. Two-time Pulitzer Prizewinner E.O. Wilson has warned that the loss of species diversity “is the follythat our descendents are least likely to forgive us.”
WildEarth Guardians’ agreement:
- Schedules 90-dayfindings for 529 petitioned species.
- Schedules12-month findings for 100 species.
- Requires proposedlisting rules or “not warranted” determinations for 253 species. Of these, 251species were included on the 2010 Candidate Notice of Review (CNOR). Anotherspecies (no. 252), the Sonoran desert tortoise, became a candidate speciesafter the 2010 CNOR was published. The last species (no. 253), the Mexicanwolf, is currently listed as an experimentally reintroduced population of gray wolves.Guardians’ agreement requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to publish aproposed listing rule or a “not warranted” determination for the Mexican wolfas a separate subspecies under the Endangered Species Act.
- The agreementalso requires the Service to prepare a proposed rule to adjust the boundary ofthe listed Distinct Population Segment of Canada lynx to include New Mexico.
WildEarth Guardians’ agreement affects863 species (notcounting twice the 20 species that will receive both 90-day findings and12-month petition findings under the agreement, and not including currentlylisted species that will receive proposed or final critical habitatdesignations (e.g., slickspot peppergrass, jaguar)).
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