WASHINGTON (CN) – Forty years ago in the Reagan administration, a dearth of endangered-species listings spurred Congress to impose strict new deadlines. With the Trump administration now rivaling those numbers, the Center for Biological Diversity asked a federal judge Wednesday to step in.
In-house attorney Ryan Shannon, who filed the lawsuit, called the 16 species designations that the Trump administration has made to date “historically poor.”
“In comparison, the Clinton administration put an average of 65 species on the endangered list each year — over four times as many per year as the Trump administration has listed in two years,” Shannon said in an email.
While the Endangered Species Act imposes a two-year window for listing a species as either endangered or threatened, the conservation group claims its listing petitions have lingered since 2010.
Since Congress passed the law in 1973, the lawsuit says 47 species went extinct while waiting for protection.
“Many more imperiled species continue to decline while defendants drag their feet, failing to make the requisite listing decisions and critical habitat designations, making recovery more tenuous and expensive,” the 47-page complaint says.
The Department of the Interior, which houses the Fish and Wildlife Service, declined to comment on the pending litigation.
Attorney Shannon called the Trump administration uninterested in protecting wildlife, and said its process for listing decisions and critical habitat designations “is clearly broken.”
“We have no faith that species will receive timely protections absent litigation,” he said.
While its petitions for species designation linger, the Center for Biological Diversity notes that the threat of habitat loss only grows, helped by developers, farmers, miners and livestock, to name just a few.
“These threats have resulted in drastic reductions in these species’ historic ranges,” the lawsuit says. “Many are also at greater risk from stochastic events because their numbers have dwindled and many of their remaining populations are small and isolated.”
Noting a backlog of more than 500 species with overdue designation decisions, the Center for Biological Diversity says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must be compelled to take action on 24 of them.
These species include “the Big Cypress epidendrum, brook floater, Cape Sable orchid, clam-shell orchid, Elk River crayfish, Franklin’s bumblebee, longsolid, Panamint alligator lizard, pyramid pigtoe, purple lilliput, round hickorynut, seaside alder, tricolored blackbird, and yellow-banded bumblebee.”
Determinations are also due on two Arizona plants, the beardless chinch weed and the Bartram stonecrop, the latter of which the complaint describes as “a rare and beautiful succulent.”
When the Center for Biological Diversity submitted its petition to protect the plant on July 7, 2010, only 12 known populations of the plant existed.
“Some of those populations may be extirpated,” the complaint says.
The group is also seeking final listing determinations for the meltwater lednian and western glacier stoneflies, along with critical habitat designations for six species.
Nearly eight years have elapsed since the deadline for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife to issue 12-month findings on listing petitions that the center filed in 2010.
The complaint notes that Fish and Wildlife Service announced a work plan in 2016 following a settlement to publish more than 500 overdue findings – including those at issue here.