Group files lawsuits seeking U.S. protection for 93 species
The Center for Biological Diversity filed four lawsuits against the Obama administration today in an effort to force it to pick up the pace on protections for 93 plants and animals.
The lawsuits, filed in federal district courts in Washington, D.C., Sacramento, Calif., Portland, Ore., and Tucson, Ariz., collect dozens of petitions for species listings filed over the past decade. The oldest petition dates to 2000, and the most recent is a year old.
The Endangered Species Act requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to make a finding on such petitions within a year, but it can take years for the agency to address the petitions, and it often does so only when forced by lawsuit.
"The problem is with the program as a whole; the whole program is failing to perform," said Noah Greenwald, an attorney with the center. "So we're hoping we can approach it from a programmatic perspective."
Among the species at issue in lawsuits today: a Puerto Rican butterfly, a Nevada toad, the dusky tree vole in Oregon and a Southeastern tree harmed by the chestnut blight. The group also wants federal protection for a striped newt it says is threatened by development, agriculture and forestry in Georgia and Florida and for 42 western springsnails that it says are at risk from plans to pump groundwater in Nevada.
The Obama administration is trailing the pace set by its predecessor for listing endangered species. So far, President Obama's Fish and Wildlife Service has offered protection to two U.S. species, both plants, out of nearly 250 on the "candidates" list. The administration has also finalized listings for dozens of foreign bird species.
Candidate species have been deemed worthy of protection by federal biologists but are kept from formal listing because of other priorities. The service also finalized listings for three foreign bird species and a segment of the Atlantic salmon population.
By contrast, President George W. Bush's administration finalized protections for 11 species in its first year. The Bush-era listings tapered off in subsequent years, for an average annual listing rate of just under eight species -- far below the average 65 species listed each year under President Clinton and 58 under President George H.W. Bush.
Fish and Wildlife Service officials say they are handcuffed by litigation on species issues and a lack of money for listings. They have vowed to dramatically pick up the pace.
The service plans to propose protections for 48 species in Kauai, Hawaii, in the coming weeks, and agency officials have said they are on track to list a quarter of the candidate species by the end of the year.
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