WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity today filed one lawsuit and amended another in an effort to speed badly needed protection for nearly 100 species under the Endangered Species Act. The lawsuits challenge the failure of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to issue decisions to protect species as threatened or endangered within legally required timelines.
“Under Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is failing to meet its legal obligations to provide prompt protection to the nation’s endangered species,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “This is more than mere bookkeeping: It’s putting dozens of species at risk of extinction.”
The new lawsuit filed by the Center concerns three southeastern mussels — the Georgia pigtoe, interrupted rocksnail and rough hornsnail — that have been waiting more than a decade for protection. They were finally proposed for listing on June 29, 2009, but that decision has yet to become final. Under the Endangered Species Act, Fish and Wildlife has one year to finalize protection of species following a proposed listing. The Center also amended an ongoing lawsuit over late findings on 20 petitions to list 92 species, including adding six new species to the suit, most notably the plains bison. Also added were the striped newt, berry springs salamander, Puerto Rican harlequin butterfly, gull-billed tern and Mohave ground squirrel.
“Hailing from nearly every region of the country, these 92 species should not have to wait decades for protection because of bureaucratic ineptitude and foot-dragging,” said Greenwald. “We’ve yet to see comprehensive reform in the endangered species program under the Obama administration.”
The agency frequently claims it lacks sufficient resources to list more species. Congress, however, has increased the budget for listing species from $3 million in 2002 to more than $10 million in 2010 with little increase in the rate of species listings. To date, the Obama administration has not substantially increased the pace of species listings by the Fish and Wildlife Service. It did finalize protection for 51 species from Hawaii, but in the conterminous United States has only finalized protection for one plant and only proposed protection for 15 species, including the three mollusks. This means there will be few listings finalized in the remainder of the administration. Under the Clinton administration, by contrast, the Fish and Wildlife Service listed a total of 498 species for a rate of 62 species per year.