Because hundreds of species that require Endangered Species Act protection to survive and recover had been languishing on the “candidate list” for years, the Center in May 2004 petitioned the Bush administration, which protected fewer species under the Act than any other administration in history, to place 225 plants and animals on the endangered species list. The action was the largest single listing effort in the history of the Endangered Species Act. A coalition of prominent scientists, artists and environmentalists filed 1,000 pages of legal documents requesting that the government cease delaying Endangered Species Act protection for the 225 plants and animals —species spanning the country from Hawaii to Washington, California, New York and Florida.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had already declared that all of the 225 plants and animals covered by the petition qualify as proposed endangered species. Instead of protecting them, however, it placed them on a waiting list called the “candidate list.” A report by the Center showed that systematic delays, including lengthy waits on the candidate list, contributed to the extinction of 83 species between 1974 and 1994. Seventy-nine percent of the 225 petitioned species (178) had been on the candidate list for at least 10 years, 38 percent (86) had waited at least 20 years, and 28 percent (64) had been waiting since 1975. On average, the 225 species had been on the waiting list for 17 years.
In 2005, the Center followed the petition with a lawsuit arguing that continued delay of protection for all candidate species, including those covered by the petition, was illegal because the administration had failed to make expeditious progress in listing species considered a higher priority, which is required by the Endangered Species Act. This lawsuit was still pending in federal court when in May 2011, the Fish and Wildlife Service convinced another group to agree to a settlement over the candidate species. If approved, this settlement — though it could protect up to 251 candidates and 839 total species (the vast majority of which the Center petitioned to protect) — is full of loopholes and ultimately unenforceable, and it could actually prevent protection for other species in dire need of it. So after Center opposition, a federal judge ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service back into negotiations with the Center for a stronger agreement that will be better for all imperiled species.
The current hundreds of candidate species include the elfin woods warbler, a beautiful Puerto Rican forest bird that was placed on the candidate list in 1982. The Oregon spotted frog — placed on the candidate list in 1991 — has disappeared from California, is barely hanging on in Washington and Oregon, and was the first species listed as endangered on an emergency basis by the Canadian government. The Aquarius paintbrush, a stunning plant from Utah, was first placed on the waiting list in 1975, as was the white fringeless orchid (AL, GA, TN, KY, SC), and the bog asphodel (DE, NC, NJ, NY, SC). The Hawaiian band-rumped storm petrel, a beautiful bird, has been waiting since 1989. The yellowcheek darter, an Arkansas fish, has been waiting since 1975 — and has now, thankfully, been proposed for protection.
While the Clinton administration placed 65 species per year on the endangered list, Bush Sr. averaged 58 and Reagan 32, the Obama administration has so far averaged just 29 species listings per year for a total of 59 species. Of these, however, 48 are from Kauai, HI, and were protected in a single rule first developed by the Bush administration. When this rule is factored in, the Obama administration hasn’t made much improvement over the second Bush administration, which essentially shut down the endangered species protection program. Bush fils had the worst listing record in the history of the Endangered Species Act: 62 species listed from 2001 through 2008, or fewer than eight species per year.
The Center is continuing to work to ensure that all the candidates receive protection as soon as possible.
Oregon spotted frog photo courtesy USFWS