ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT • ENFORCING THE ACT
Largest-ever deal for imperiled species protects 757 plants, animals
A decade-long Center for Biological Diversity campaign to protect 1,000 imperiled plants and animals came to fruition this summer in a set of legal settlements that will leapfrog bureaucratic and political roadblocks to push 757 species toward Endangered Species Act protection.
The deals include 403 river- and wetland-dependent species the Center wrote scientific petitions to protect last year, 254 “candidate” species from across the country for which we filed petitions or lawsuits to protect, 42 Great Basin springsnails we petitioned to protect in 2009, and 32 Pacific Northwest mollusks we petitioned to protect in 2008.
It also includes dozens of species we’ve singled out for special protection, such as the wolverine (2004), yellow-billed cuckoo (1998), Pacific walrus (2008), Miami blue butterfly (2011) and Pacific fisher (2000).
This is not only the biggest species protection agreement in the Center’s history, it’s the biggest and most complex in U.S. history. And it almost didn’t happen.
After several years of litigation and six intense, drama-filled months of negotiation, we nixed a proposed agreement in May because it was too weak and unenforceable. While restarting negotiations with us, the Department of the Interior secretly struck an even weaker deal with another conservation group that had no previous involvement with most of the species at issue.
We quickly went to court, blocking approval of the flawed deal and forcing the administration back to the table. Using this leverage
in another month of high-stakes negotiating, we secured a better, final agreement in late June while fending off an 11th-hour motion by the anti-environmental Safari Club International to block the deal.
The agreements spell out legally binding deadlines to protect 757 species between now and 2017 with initial, proposed and/or final protection decisions. Included are decisions on more than 250 plants and animals on the “candidate” list
species that government scientists
say need federal protection but have shunted to a waiting list because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says other species need priority attention.
The problem is, candidate species have had to wait an average of 20 years before the government makes a decision. At least 24 have gone extinct while waiting.
Among the candidates listed in the agreement are the eastern massasauga rattlesnake, which has been on the waiting list for 30 years; the white fringeless orchid, waiting 25 years; the Oregon spotted frog, waiting 18 years; and the Pacific fisher, now waiting seven years.
The agreements address one of the most fundamental problems with Endangered Species Act implementation: government delay. Inaction only adds to the plight of species facing accelerating climate change, habitat loss, human overpopulation and other threats edging them toward extinction.
With legal deadlines now in place, these 757 species are guaranteed to get timely, science- based decisions that will, we hope, result in the protections they desperately need. •
PHoTo CREDITS: oRCHID © LARRY ALLAIN/USDA-NRCS PLANTS DATABASE; BUTTERFLY © jARET C. DANIELS/MCGUIRE CENTER FoR LEPIDoPTERA BIoDIVERSITY; CUCKoo © RoN AUSTING; FISHER © RYAN BATTEN; FRoG © ToM BRENNAN; GRoUSE AND WALRUS USFWS
Oklahoma grass pink orchid, cactus ferruginous pygmy owl, plains bison, longn smelt and 567 other species
Miami blue buttery, Mexican wolf, San Bernardino ying squirrel, Gunnison sage grouse and 178 other species
Yellow-billed cuckoo, American wolverine, Oregon spotted frog, Dakota skipper and 108 other species
Pacic sher, Rio Grande cutthroat trout, Kittlitz’s murrelet, Yosemite toad and 21 other species
Greater sage grouse, New England cottontail, Montana grayling, Tucson shovel-nosed snake and 48 other species
Relict leopard frog, yellow- billed loon, Tahoe yellow cress, roundtail and headwater chubs, ‘i‘iwi and 39 other species