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For Immediate Release, November 6, 2009

Contact: Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495

Obama Issues Endangered Species Performance Review: Has Only Listed Two Species in 10 Months

WASHINGTON— The Obama administration today issued its first review of species that are candidates for protection as endangered species, identifying a total of 249 species in need of protection. The review also describes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s progress in listing these species, showing that the administration has, to date, only listed one species — the slickspot peppergrass and the Phylostegia hispida, a Hawaiian plant reduced to a handful of individuals.     

“This review shows that the Obama administration has not substantially improved the dismal record of the Bush administration in providing protection to the nation’s critically endangered wildlife,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Protection of only two species in 10 months reflects a failure to enact substantial reforms in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”

During its eight-year tenure, the Bush administration protected a mere 62 species – a rate of fewer than eight species per year. This compares to 522 species protected under the Clinton administration, at an average rate of 65 per year, and 231 species protected under the George H. W. Bush administration, for an average rate of 58 per year. With only two species listed so far, at this point the Obama administration seems to be flatlining in terms of new listings for candidate species.

“Continued delays in protection of these 249 species is a failure of leadership by Interior Secretary Salazar,” said Greenwald. “And that failure is placing these species at greater risk of extinction. The position of chief of conservation and classification hasn’t even been filled yet, exemplifying the failure of the Obama administration to prioritize species conservation.”

Many of the candidate species have been waiting for protection for decades – delays that have real and often lethal consequences on the ground, with at least 24 species having gone extinct after being designated candidates for protection.

“Because extinction is forever, delays in protection of the nation’s most imperiled species are unacceptable,” said Greenwald. “The Endangered Species Act can save these 249 species, but only if they are granted protection.”

The Center and other groups have a pending lawsuit in Washington, D.C., arguing that continued delay in protecting the now-249 candidate species is illegal. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is not making expeditious progress listing species as required by the Endangered Species Act.

Background on the Candidate Species

The 249 candidates include a wide variety of species, from shorebirds such as the red knot, which migrates along the Atlantic Coast during one of the longest migrations in the animal world, to the aboriginal pricklyapple, a cactus found in Florida, to the Pacific fisher, a relative of the mink and otter that is dependent on old-growth forests on the West Coast. Being designated as a candidate does not provide any formal protection to the 249 species, a number of which have been waiting for protection for almost as long as the Endangered Species Act has existed. On average, the candidates have been waiting 20 years for protection.

The current review includes eight new species since the last review: Florida bonneted bat, yellow-billed loon, roundtail chub, diamond darter, rabbitsfoot clam, Goose Creek milkvetch, Kentucky gladecress, and Florida bristle fern. Four species were removed, including the fat-whorled pondsnail, troglobitic groundwater shrimp, and two plants, Calliandra locoensis and Calyptranthes estremerae.  

Each of the candidates are given a priority number ranging from 1 to 12 based on their taxonomic rank (e.g. species, subspecies or population) and magnitude and immediacy of threats, with lower numbers indicating higher priority. The majority of candidates are rated as either priority 2 or 3, meaning they are in immediate danger of extinction.

The following are but a few examples of candidate species awaiting protection:

Oregon spotted frog: The Oregon spotted frog has been in protection limbo since 1991. 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: The Sonoyta mud turtle has been a candidate since 1997. In the United States, 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.

Florida semaphore cactus: The Florida semaphore cactus has been waiting for protection for six years. It is a large prickly pear cactus from the Florida Keys that was thought to have been driven extinct by cactus collectors and road construction in the late 1970s, but was rediscovered in the mid-1980s. Much of its historic habitat has fallen prey to development, destruction, and fragmentation. Only two populations remain.

Eastern massasauga: The Eastern massasauga is a wetland rattlesnake of the Midwest and Great Lakes, and has been found in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Ontario, Canada. It has been waiting for protection for 25 years, having been made a candidate in 1982. The snake is extirpated from 40 percent of the counties it historically inhabited due to wetland losses from urban and suburban sprawl, golf courses, mining, and agriculture.

Parachute beardtongue: The Parachute beardtongue, also known as the Parachute penstemon, is an attractive perennial plant that grows on rocky cliffs above the Colorado River near the town of Parachute, Colorado. It occupies just two locations of less than one-third of a square mile. The beardtongue has been listed as a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act since 1990. Both populations are on lands slated for oil-shale mining.

White fringeless orchid: 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 found in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and South Carolina, and has been a candidate for 30 years. The orchid is limited to 53 locations.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national nonprofit conservation organization with 240,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.


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