For Immediate Release, December 11, 2013

Contact: Brett Hartl, (202) 817-8121

House Republicans Hold Sixth Hearing Attacking Species Protection Agreement

Hearings Designed to Subvert Historic Agreement's Unprecedented Success in Reducing Backlog of
Species Awaiting Endangered Species Act Protection

WASHINGTON— Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) will chair a House Natural Resources Committee hearing Thursday to orchestrate yet another spurious and highly partisan attack on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for doing its job — protecting rapidly declining species under the Endangered Species Act. The hearing will be the sixth one held to criticize an agreement between the Center and the Fish and Wildlife Service that merely requires the agency to meet its legal requirement to make prompt decisions on whether to protect hundreds of highly imperiled species, many that have been waiting decades for protection under the Act. 

“Given the serious threats to our nation’s wildlife and lands from climate change and habitat destruction, it’s truly amazing that Representative Hastings has nothing better to do than to waste taxpayer money holding circus-like hearings over an agreement that simply requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to do its job in a timely manner and make decisions about protecting species,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center. “This agreement is working to get America’s most imperiled plants and animals protected so we can all move forward and start taking actions to address the threats these species face.”

To date the Center’s 2011 agreement with the Fish and Wildlife Service has resulted in endangered species protection for 105 species and reduced the backlog of “candidate” species awaiting protection to 146 species, the lowest level in decades. The Endangered Species Act, which became law 40 years ago this month, requires the Service to designate a species as a candidate for listing when there is sufficient scientific information that listing is warranted, but funding is not available to complete listing process. Over the past 40 years, 24 candidate species have gone extinct while waiting for protection under the Act.

Contrary to false assertions from the right, the agreement does not cut states or industry out of the listing process for these candidate species. It simply requires Fish and Wildlife to follow procedures required by the Endangered Species Act on a reasonable timetable over the next six years — a process that includes multiple opportunities for public comment and consultation with state governments.

“Species like the lesser prairie chicken, sage grouse and freshwater fish and mussels of the Southeast are finally on the road to recovery,” said Hartl. “And we know we can save them by protecting them under the Endangered Species Act, which has prevented the extinction of 99 percent of the plants and animals it protects.

“The biggest obstacle for these species continues to be Republican efforts to cut funding for endangered species and to interfere in decisions by the Fish and Wildlife Service that should be based on science and not politics.” 

In 2011 the Republican House tried, but failed, to limit all funding for the Fish and Wildlife Service to list any species as endangered. Most recently, in July 2013, the Republican House attempted to include a policy rider that would have prevented any species from receiving protection if it was part of the Center’s legal settlement with the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Below are just a few examples of species that may have been easier and less costly to recover had they been listed when the science first indicated that protections under the Endangered Species Act were warranted.

Lesser prairie chicken
  • Lesser Prairie Chicken
  • The Fish and Wildlife Service designated the lesser prairie chicken as a candidate species in 1998, when roughly 90 percent of the bird's former habitat had been compromised by development. In 2013 the population fell to only 18,000 birds, less than 1 percent of its historic abundance.

    Mountain yellow-legged frog
  • Mountain Yellow-legged Frog
  • Mountain yellow-legged frogs were first identified as a declining species by the Fish and Wildlife Service in 1991. The Southern California Distinct Population Segment was listed in endangered in 2002, and the Service concluded that the Sierra Nevada Distinct Population Segment warranted listing in 2003. By 2003 the Sierra Nevada population had been extirpated from approximately 83 percent of its range. In the ensuing decade the Sierra Nevada population has declined even further and has been extirpated from more than 92 percent of its range. 

    Gunnison sage grouse
  • Gunnison Sage Grouse
  • The Gunnison sage grouse was first identified by the Service as a candidate species in 2000 due to a 75 percent reduction in population size and geographic reach from historic levels. A decade later the species range has declined even further and the grouse is now present on only 7 percent of its historic range and has seen a 93 percent reduction from its historic abundance.

    Neosho mucket
  • Neosho Mucket
  • The Neosho mucket is a freshwater mussel that was formerly found in Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas. The Service first identified it as a declining species in 1984 and listed it as a candidate species in 2001. The mussel has been extirpated from 832 river miles, representing 62 percent of its historic range. Since first being identified as a declining species, the mussel has been extirpated from two additional rivers systems. 

    Photo credits: Lesser prairie chicken courtesy USFWS; mountain yellow-legged frog by Adam Backlin, USGS; Gunnison sage grouse courtesy BLM; Neosho mucket by Edwin J. Miller, Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. Photos are available for media use.

    The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 625,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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