Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.

For Immediate Release August 16th, 2005



Contact: Noah Greenwald: 503-484-7495, Jeremy Nichols: 303-454-3370, Jacob Smith: 303-546-021

A coalition of conservation groups released a report today demonstrating the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is failing to make “expeditious progress” protecting known imperiled species as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, leading to a backlog of 286 plants and animals on the candidate waiting list. Based on the Administration’s lack of progress, the coalition today filed a formal 60-day notice of intent to sue. The report and notice call for an agreement and comprehensive plan to list all 286 species over the next five years.

“The Bush Administration is failing to protect the Nation’s wildlife,” states Noah Greenwald, Conservation Biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Endangered Species Act is an effective tool for saving wildlife from the abyss of extinction, and the Administration isn’t using it.”

The Bush Administration has refused to list a single species under the Endangered Species Act—America’s safety net for plants, wildlife, and fish on the brink of extinction—except under court order or threat of lawsuit. Instead, the Administration has referred many imperiled plants and animals to the candidate waiting list, which confers no legal protections. Candidate status signifies that FWS has determined that the species is in need of listing as threatened or endangered, but the listing is deferred due to other priorities. There are currently 286 unprotected candidate species that have on average been waiting for protection for 17 years.

The Endangered Species Act requires the federal government to make “expeditious progress” in listing those species on the candidate list. However, as the Center’s report points out, under the Bush Administration, progress by FWS towards protecting these and other species has plummeted to the lowest level since the landmark law was passed in 1973. To date, the Bush Administration has only protected 37 species compared to 512 during the Clinton Administration and 234 under the elder Bush’s Administration. On average, this Administration has listed only eight species per year. In contrast, an average of 45 species per year were listed from 1974-2000 and 73 species per year were listed from 1991-1995.

“This is the slowest rate of protecting species of any administration in history,” states Jeremy Nichols, Conservation Director of the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance. “This is not expeditious progress. The Nation’s endangered wildlife need protection, not foot-dragging.”

With this notice, conservation groups are calling on the Administration to allow FWS to develop and follow a multi-year schedule to protect these 286 imperiled plants and animals, and put an end to the need for lawsuits to force the Administration to implement Endangered Species Act protections for America’s most imperiled wildlife.

“The Service keeps making up excuses,” stated Jacob Smith, executive director of the Center for Native Ecosystems. “But if they followed the law and honored their commitments in the first place they would protect the most endangered species and save the taxpayers a bundle of money.”

FWS argues they can’t protect the 286 species because all of their funding is taken by court orders requiring designation of critical habitat or listing determinations on petition findings. An examination of their annual budget requests to Congress, however, shows that year after year the agency requests far less than it needs to address the backlog of species needing protection. This is despite the fact that Congress appropriated more than they requested for listing in 2002 and equal to what they requested 2003-2005.

The Bush Administration is also listing far fewer species per dollar than in previous years. The rate of species listings per dollar has dropped from 22 species listed per million dollars spent in 2000 to just two species per million dollars in 2003 and six species per million in 2004.

Groups filing the notice include Center for Biological Diversity, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Center for Native Ecosystems, Colorado Native Plant Society, Forest Guardians and Utah Environmental Congress.

Background on the 286 Candidate Species:

Candidate designation provides little if any protection to species. Of the 286 species currently recognized as candidates, 265 (93%) have been waiting for protection for five or more years, 224 (78%) have been waiting 10 or more years, 178 (62%) have been waiting 15 or more years, 117 (41%) have been waiting 20 or more years, and 73 (26%) have been waiting 25 or more years. On average, these species have been waiting for protection for over 17 years. Delays in protection have real consequences with at least 27 species having gone extinct after designation as a candidate.

The list of candidate species has gotten longer since the Bush Administration came into office. In 2001, there were 252 species on the candidate list compared to 286 today, reflecting the small number of species listed by the administration.

Candidate species occur in nearly every state. The following are but a few examples of the precious wildlife species we may lose forever if the Service continues to delay protection. If you don’t see your state, please visit: for a link to a map of each state, which then can be clicked on to find some of the candidates for each state.

Dakota skipper (IA, IL, MN, MT, ND, SD, Saskatchewan, Manitoba). The Dakota skipper, a butterfly found only in the northern Great Plains of North America, has been waiting for protection for 30 years. The skipper was once found throughout pristine tall-grass and mixed-grass prairies of the northern plains. These prairies have declined by over 90% because of conversion to croplands and ongoing degradation. Scientists report the skipper will go extinct within 50 years without Endangered Species Act protection.

Oregon Spotted Frog (OR, WA, CA, BC). The Oregon spotted frog has been waiting for protection for 13 years. It is found in California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia in wetlands from sea level to at least 5,500 feet. The frog’s habitat has been lost at an accelerating pace and the species is now absent from up to 90 percent of its former range, including all of California.

Sonoyta Mud Turtle (AZ). The Soynoyta Mud Turtle has been a candidate since 1997. In the U.S., it has been reduced to a single reservoir in Arizona that is isolated from populations in Mexico. The Turtle eats insects, crustaceans, snails, fish, frogs, and plants. Females bury their eggs on land.

Lesser Prairie-Chicken (CO, KS, NM, OK, TX). The lesser prairie-chicken has been awaiting listing since 1998. A relative of the now extinct heath hen and the Endangered Attwater’s prairie-chicken, the lesser prairie-chicken depends on tallgrass habitat in shinnery oak and sand sage ecosystems, which have been extensively degraded by oil and gas drilling and livestock grazing. The booming and dancing that is part of the prairie-chicken’s mating ritual draws hundreds of birders to rural areas in the southern Great Plains where lesser prairie-chickens still exist. Protection for the lesser prairie-chicken would help safeguard the unique sand shinnery community, the largest stand of oak in the U.S.

Na'ena'e (HI). The Na’ena’e is a striking plant of the bogs and wet forests near the summit of Waialeale on the island of Kauai. The Smithsonian Institution petitioned to list it as an endangered species in 1975. In 1976 the agency formally proposed to list the Na’ena’e as an endangered species, but never finalized listing. This rare Hawaiian plant has thus waited for protection for 29 years. Today there are just 25 plants left.
Eastern Massasauga (IL, IN, IA, MI, MN, MO, NY, OH, PE, WI, ON). The Eastern Massasauga is a wetland rattlesnake of the Midwest and Great Lakes. It has been waiting for protection for 25 years, having been made a candidate in 1982. The snake is extirpated from 40% of the counties it historically inhabited due to wetland losses from urban and suburban sprawl, golf courses, mining and agriculture.

Parachute Penstemon (CO). The Parachute Penstemon is a beautiful perennial wildflower that grows on the rocky cliffs of the Roan Plateau above the Colorado River near the town of Parachute, Colorado. It occupies just five locations totaling less than one-third of a square mile. The penstemon has been listed as a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act since 1990. All populations are on lands threatened by oil shale mining and oil and gas drilling.

White Fringeless Orchid (AL, GA, TN, KY, SC). The White Fringeless Orchid is a two-foot-tall herb that grows in wetlands in the Blue Ridge Mountains and Alabama's coastal plain. It has been a candidate for 30 years. The orchid is limited to 53 locations.



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