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For Immediate Release, February 18, 2011

Contact: Jaclyn Lopez, (415) 436-9682 x 305 or jlopez@biologicaldiversity.org

Obama Administration Delays Protection for Yet Another Endangered Species

Virgin Islands Plant Deemed Worthy of Protection But Denied It

SAN FRANCISCO— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that a rare plant in the U.S. Virgin Islands warrants federal protection but won’t receive it. In response to a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Service decided today that the imperiled Solanum conocarpum is imminently threatened by a variety of pressures including climate change and habitat destruction. The thornless, flowering shrub persists in the wild only on the Caribbean island of St. John, where fewer than 400 plants are known to exist. Despite the scientific finding that the plant urgently needs help, the Service is refusing to protect it under the Endangered Species Act, citing a lack of funding and higher-priority species.

“The Obama government has made a habit of invoking this warranted-but-precluded finding, which threatens to write the final chapter on not just this island plant but 253 other species languishing in bureaucratic limbo,” said Jaclyn Lopez, a Center staff attorney. “This is the second Virgin Islands plant in less than six months that the Service has decided warrants protection but will not get it.” The Service made the same finding for Agave eggersiana in September 2010.

Since taking office in January 2009, the Obama administration has made 18 such “warranted by precluded” findings, compared to the Bush administration’s total of 10. The Service claims that despite its duty under the Endangered Species Act to list and protect imperiled species, it is hamstrung by an annual congressional appropriations process that limits the available resources for listing actions. However, the budget for listing has nearly quadrupled since 2002, with little increase in actual listing. Also, this particular 12-month finding was made pursuant to a court-enforced settlement agreement, which means the Service knew it would be making this decision in February 2011 so cannot claim it did not budget for the listing activity. 

“Secretary Salazar’s failure to prioritize protection of endangered species is placing hundreds of species at risk of extinction,” said Lopez. “This is not the hope President Obama promised.” 

The U.S. Virgin Islands Division of Fish and Wildlife of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources first petitioned the Service to protect Solanum conocarpum in 1996. In 1998, the Service determined that the petition presented substantial scientific information to support listing; it committed to issuing a final finding within nine months on whether the species should be listed. Nine months turned into six years, and in 2004 the Center filed a lawsuit, resulting in a settlement agreement requiring the Service to submit a final finding in 2006. The Service then inexplicably changed its position, disregarded the opinions of its own experts, and published a finding in 2006 that neither Virgin Islands species should be listed. The Center again filed suit in 2008 challenging this, resulting in a settlement agreement for the Service to revisit its finding.

The Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Denver and the Turner Environmental Law Clinic at Emory Law School represented the Center for Biological Diversity on the case. More on the lawsuit, and background information on the plant species, can be found on the Center’s website at http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/plants/Virgin_Islands_plants/index.html.


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