Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, September 1, 2016

Contact: Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495,

Hundreds of Animals, Plants Left Out of New Plan for Protecting Endangered Species

PORTLAND, Ore.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today released a seven-year plan for making Endangered Species Act protection decisions for roughly 320 species and moving protection forward for 30 candidate species that have already been determined to warrant federal safeguards. The agency, however, faces a backlog of more than 550 species that have been petitioned for protection and that it has determined may warrant protection. Many hundreds more species formerly recognized as candidates for protection also await consideration for protection.

“We’re glad to see the agency pushing forward on many protection decisions, but its new plan only begins to scratch the surface, leaving hundreds more species without the help they desperately need,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “At least 42 species have already gone extinct waiting for protection. Under this plan, we’re at risk of losing hundreds more. Once a species is gone, nothing can be done to bring it back.” 

Delays in protection of species have been a persistent problem almost since the passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973. A recent peer-reviewed study found that, on average, species waited 12 years for protection during the Endangered Species Act’s 40-plus year history, and that lawsuits were an important factor in speeding protection for species stuck in the listing process. Last week the Center filed a notice of intent to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service regarding 417 species that are awaiting protection decisions. 

“We're going to take a close look at this work plan, but overall it doesn’t appear to be sufficient to address our concerns that species are waiting too long for protection,” said Greenwald. “We agree with the Fish and Wildlife Service that species should receive protection according to biological need, but this plan simply leaves out too many species. We’re committed to working with the agency to find a solution that accelerates decisions for the plants and animals most in need of protection.”

Since 2011 the Service has been implementing a settlement agreement with the Center that has required the agency to make protection decisions for 757 species. The agreement largely comes to a close on Sept. 30. Under the settlement, the Service has successfully reduced a backlog of 251 candidate species to roughly 30, including protection of 147 animals and plants to date. These species, however, represent a small fraction of the true backlog of species needing protection because it does not include the 417 species included in last week’s notice, more than 100 species petitioned for by other organizations, or hundreds of other species arbitrarily dropped from consideration by the Service in 1996 (former “category 2” candidates) with a promise that they would still get consideration. 

“The Endangered Species Act is incredibly successful at protecting and recovering animals and plants, but it only works if species are actually listed as threatened or endangered,” said Greenwald. “Literally hundreds of species are being dangerously neglected for no other reasons than bureaucratic inefficiency and lack of political will.”

Overall, under the Obama administration, the Fish and Wildlife Service has protected 232 species, for an average of 31 species per year. Although this represents a vast improvement over the 62 species protected during the entire eight years of the Bush administration, it falls well below the 499 (an average 62 per year) protected under the Clinton administration. The Service routinely requests far less money than it needs to address the backlog of species needing protection and, since 1998, has requested and been granted a cap on the dollars that can be spent for listing of species.  

“Delayed protection can be deadly for species already on the brink of extinction. The longer we wait, the more difficult — and expensive — it becomes to save them,” Greenwald said. “Simply put, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service needs to be acting more quickly to decide which species will be protected so the recovery process can begin.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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