| For Immediate Release: May 12, 2006
Contact: Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, 503-484-7495
Case to Protect Hundreds of Wildlife Species
Lawsuit Arguing Fish and Wildlife Service Unlawfully Delayed
Washington, DC – Judge Gladys Kessler ruled this week that the Center for Biological Diversity, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance and Forest Guardians can proceed in a federal lawsuit that charges the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) with unlawfully delaying protection for 263 wildlife species.
All 263 species are currently listed as candidates for protection as threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act, meaning FWS concedes they are sufficiently endangered to warrant protection, but such protection is precluded by work to protect other species. To date, at least 24 candidate species have gone extinct while waiting for protection.
“The court’s ruling is a victory for the nation’s wildlife, bringing literally hundreds of plants and animals one step closer to the protection they need to avoid extinction,” stated Noah Greenwald, Conservation Biologist for the Center for Biological Diversity.
The Endangered Species Act allows FWS to declare species’ protection “warranted but precluded” as it did in the case of these candidate species, but it must demonstrate that it is making “expeditious progress” in protecting other species that are of a higher priority. However, despite an increasing budget for listing, the Bush administration has protected the fewest number of species of any administration since the Act was passed. To date, it has protected 56 species compared to 512 under the Clinton administration and 234 under Bush senior’s administration.
“The Bush administration has the worst record of protecting the nation’s wildlife of any modern presidency and will go to any length to avoid protecting the nation’s wildlife,” said Greenwald. “The Endangered Species Act works, but for these 263 species to benefit from the Act, they must first be protected as threatened or endangered.”
The government tried to argue that because the case originally applied to two of the candidate species, any mention of other candidate species should be struck from the case. However, the court concluded that the “motion has no merit” and that:
In making this determination, Judge Kessler admonished the government for needlessly delaying the case, calling its delay “distressing.” The court’s decision clears the path for the case to move forward and puts the 263 species one step closer to the protection they deserve. The groups are represented by Meyer, Glitzenstein and Crystal. The court’s decision is available on request.
For more information on candidate species, including a list of many of the candidates by state, visit:
To view a report detailing FWS’s progress in listing species under the Endangered Species Act, visit:
Background on the candidates. FWS last published a list of candidate species in May 2005, which included 286 species. In the past year, it has made decisions on 24 of these species, listing 20 of them and denying protection for four, leaving a total of 262 species. An additional species was subsequently added to the list, bringing the total to 263 species. Of these, 93 (35%) are in Hawaii, 81 (31%) are in the Southeast, 33 (13%) are in the Southwest, 20 are in California, 18 are in the Pacific Northwest, 6 are in the northern Rockies, 5 are in the Midwest, and 2 are in the Northeast. The following are some examples of candidates in need of protection:
Florida semaphore (FL). The Florida semaphore is a large prickly pear cactus from the Florida Keys. It was thought to have been driven extinct by cacti collectors and road construction in the late 1970s, but was rediscovered in the mid-1980s. Despite the species' precarious status, it was not put on the federal candidate list for protection under the Endangered Species Act until 1999. During this time, and while lying unprotected on the list, its historic habitat continued to fall prey to development, destruction and fragmentation. Much of it is now unusable for recovery actions. Just two populations remain, and one is reproducing through pollination.
Dakota Skipper Buttefly (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 is being 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 tall-grass 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 the action. This rare Hawaiian plant has thus waited for protection for 29 years. Today there are just 25 plants left.
Many-colored Fruit Dove (U.S. Territories). The many-colored fruit dove is found in American Samoa on the four main islands of Tutuila, Olosega, Ofu and Tau, as well as western Samoa. Only roughly 85 birds could be found in 1986. Populations are threatened by loss of rainforest habitat due to urbanization and agriculture, its small population size, catastrophes such ashurricanes and hunting. The species has been a candidate since 1996.
Pacific Fisher (CA, OR, WA). The fisher is a forest carnivore related to the mink that inhabits dense old forests. In the Pacific coast states, the fisher formerly inhabited old-growth forests throughout the Sierra Nevada, northern California, and western Oregon and Washington. As a result of logging, trapping and development, the fisher’s range has been greatly reduced. Small populations remain in the southern Sierra Nevada, California’s north coastal mountains and the southern Cascades of Oregon. Leading fisher biologists have found that populations are “dangerously low.” In particular, because the population in the southern Sierra is small (likely between 100 and 500 individuals) and isolated, Forest Service researchers concluded that the species likely faces “a steady decline toward extinction” in the region in the absence of increased protection. In Oregon and Washington, the fisher has largely been extirpated, and any remnant native populations are very small and isolated. The fisher has been a candidate since 2004.
The Alabama pearlshell, Georgia spinymussel and slabside pearlymussel are just a few of dozens of imperiled southeastern mussels. The latter is the most imperiled species group in the United States. The Department of Interior knew these three were headed toward extinction in 1968, but did not list them as endangered species when the Endangered Species Act was created in December 1973. Instead it waited eleven years and then placed them on the federal candidate list in 1984. The candidate list provides no protection. More than twenty have passed since and they still have not been listed as endangered species.
Eastern Massasauga (Il, IN, IA, MI, MN, MO, NY, OH, PN, WI). The Eastern massasauga is a wetland rattlesnake of the Midwest and Great Lakes. It was placed on the federal candidate list for Endangered Species Act protection in 1982. During the 22 years it has been awaiting protection, its habitat and population numbers have continued to decline. It is now extirpated from 40 percent of the counties it historically inhabited due to wetland losses from urban and suburban sprawl, golf courses, mining and agriculture. As the massasauga seeks out food and mates, it suffers high mortality rates from having to cross roads and degraded habitats where it is more easily seen by natural and human predators.