Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places of western North America
and the Pacific through science, policy, education, and environmental law.

April 18, 2001

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Brent Plater, 510-841-0812
More information: Report, Goldenstate Biodiversity Initiative

REPORT: 95% of Bay Area Endangered Species Listings Prompted by Citizen Actions

Bush Suspension of Citizen Oversight Could Spell Extinction of Dozens of Species

The Center for Biological Diversity released a report today demonstrating the devastating impact George W. Bush's proposal to eliminate citizen oversight from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) would have on imperiled San Francisco Bay Area plants and animals. Citizen Oversight and the Endangered Species Listing Program shows that citizen petitions and litigation are responsible for 95% of all Endangered Species Act listings in the Bay Area in the past decade. Without citizen involvement, few species would be listed and the extinction rate would be enormous.

"The Bush administration is attacking citizen participation because citizen involvement works, and the administration's industry backers want the ESA to fail," said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center. "The Bush administration has rolled back one environmental regulation after another, but this is the worst yet. It not only targets endangered species, it closes the door on participatory democracy."

The Bush administration is attempting to add a rider to the 2002 Interior Appropriations Bill that would abolish the rights of citizens to participate in the ESA listing process. The rider would, among other things, remove mandatory timelines to determine the merits of citizen-initiated petitions, eliminate mandatory timelines to complete government-initiated listings, and prevent citizens from upholding those timelines. Secretary of Interior Norton would be given sole discretion to decide whether or not to initiate, and whether or not to complete the listing process for imperiled species.

Mandatory listing timelines and the ability of citizens to enforce them were not in the original ESA as passed in 1973. Congress amended the ESA in 1982 to add these provisions in order to end, in Congress' words, "the foot dragging of a delinquent agency." At the time, there was a backlog of over 3,000 imperiled species waiting for protection under the ESA.

Yet even after the amendments were passed, the Fish and Wildlife Service ignored its duty to list species, failing to make headway into the backlog of listed species. In the Bay Area, no species were listed from 1981 through the middle of 1985, and from 1985 through 1988, the agency maintained a low, steady listing rate of two species per year. According to federal auditors, over 34 species went extinct between 1980 and 1990 while waiting for protection under the ESA.

Once citizen involvement began in earnest, the ESA started working. In the Bay Area, the number of species protected by the ESA increased 448% in the last ten years compared to the prior 17 years, when citizen involvement was limited. In a testament to the effectiveness of the ESA, none of the Bay Area species that were fortunate enough to be protected have gone extinct. "The mandatory timelines coupled with citizen enforcement have been the savior for dozens of the Bay Area's most imperiled species, but dozens more still desperately need protection," said Brent Plater, an attorney at CBD. "If the Bush administration repeals these provisions, Bay Area species such as the California Tiger Salamander, the San Francisco Bay Spineflower, the Suisun Song Sparrow, and the Foothill Yellow-Legged Frog are likely to go extinct before the Bush administration lifts a finger to protect them."

The CBD report catalogs the delinquency of the listing process, and the importance citizen involvement has played in providing much needed protection for species that have no time to lose. Some of the findings include:

  • Despite a federal requirement to list imperiled species within two years, Bay Area listings took 15 years on average, with 51% taking at least 20 years.

  • The average time between a Bay Area species being designated a high listing priority and its actual listing was 13 years, with 64% taking at least 15 years.

  • When citizens intervened, however, these same species were listed within two years.

The report provides a county by county list of all 83 threatened and endangered species in the nine county Bay Area, the listing history of each, graphs showing Bay Area listing trends since the ESA was enacted in 1973, and lists of imperiled species threatened with extinction by the Bush's proposed rider.


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