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For Immediate Release, August 16, 2012

Contact:  Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495

New Study: Citizens Play Crucial Role in Identifying Species That Need Endangered Species Act Protection

PORTLAND, Ore.— A new study published today in the journal Science finds that citizen petitions and litigation “play a valuable role in identifying at-risk species” for protection under the Endangered Species Act. The study compares the degree of imperilment of species that were listed at the sole initiation of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with those protected after a petition or litigation by citizens. The researchers determined that “citizen-initiated species are significantly more threatened than FWS-initiated species.” 

“This study shows that citizens, independent scientists and groups like ours are often at the forefront of determining which plants and animals need help the most,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, which has helped secure protections for more than 500 species including polar bears, Mexican spotted owls, jaguars and Puget Sound killer whales. “Limiting citizens’ access to that process would leave many, many species without the protection they need to avoid extinction.”

The results of the study are important because citizen action to protect species under the Endangered Species Act has recently been criticized by Republican members of Congress, including Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), who argue that petitions and litigation are preventing the Fish and Wildlife Service from prioritizing its work to protect species. The agency recently sought, and was granted, a cap on how much money it can spend responding to citizen petitions to protect species. 

“This study clearly documents that, contrary to criticisms from Congressman Hastings and his ilk, citizen petitions and litigation are directing the Fish and Wildlife Service’s resources toward the most imperiled species,” said Greenwald. 

The study further determined that citizen-initiated species were more likely to be in conflict with development than species listed solely by the agency, suggesting that citizens are moving protection for species that are more likely to be controversial.  Indeed, the study concludes: “Calls to streamline the ESA and to rely exclusively on FWS to identify and list species might mean that a significant number of species that deserve legal protection — especially those that are politically unpopular because of the potential to obstruct development projects — would be left out in the cold. “

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 375,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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