WASHINGTON (CN) - A new workplan to tackle the continuing backlog of endangered and threatened species waiting for listing decisions falls short of what is needed, some environmentalists claim. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced its workplan for the next seven years, just one week after the Center for Biological Diversity (CBC) conservation group warned the agency it planned to sue them over the backlogged species.
The CBD's April 23 notice regarding the pending lawsuit claimed that the agency did not make required "12-month finding" determinations for more than 417 species that the CBD and other groups had petitioned for listing between 2008 and 2010, making the findings at least five to seven years overdue. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) mandates a two-year process from petition to final listing.
The CBD cited a peer-reviewed study that found species waited an average of 12 years for protection, and noted that more than 42 species have already become extinct while waiting for protection.
The Service's workplan addresses the 30 species already on the Candidate List and includes 320 previously petitioned species scheduled for 12-month findings. Some of the better-known species listed in the workplan include the lesser prairie chicken, northern Rocky Mountain fisher, the wolverine, the northwest moose, two spotted owls, the Pacific walrus, the monarch butterfly and the Florida sandhill crane.
The CBD maintains that the new workplan ignores many more equally deserving species. "The agency 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," the CBD said.
The announcement of the new workplan comes on the heels of the conclusion of a court-mandated workplan that was part of a 2011 court settlement between the agency and the CBD and its allies to speed listing decisions for hundreds of backlogged species. That agreement wraps up at the end of this month. The agency successfully finalized protection for 147 species, the CBD said. Thirty remaining candidate species are rolled over into the new workplan.
"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," CBD's endangered species director Noah Greenwald, said. "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."
The species will be evaluated using the agency's newly formulated prioritization methodology, which was met with considerable skepticism by the CBD. Instead of the old Category List system, the agency has switched to a system of five priority bins based on threats to the species, conservation efforts planned or already in place, and developing science, according to the agency.
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