New Species Workplan |Receives Mixed Response

     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 agency insists that the lawsuit threat did not spur the workplan announcement. “The workplan was many months in the making,” USFWS’s Brian Hires said.
     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.
     According to the agency’s information on the Endangered Species Act, the listing process could be accomplished in as little as two-years from petition to final listing for warranted species that are not precluded by higher listing priorities. “We have 12 months to do a 12-month finding, but there is no real time frame for producing proposed rules on species that are warranted (and often precluded by higher priorities), providing we are making expeditious progress on addressing candidates,” Hires said.
     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 new workplan addresses the 30 species that have been added to the Candidate List since the last workplan 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 September. The agency successfully finalized protection for 147 species, the CBD said.
     “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. The Listing Priority Numbers system is still in use for the existing candidate species, but the agency will use the new system of five priority bins based on threats to the species, conservation efforts planned or already in place, and developing science, for pending 12-month findings and critical habitat determinations, according to the agency.
     “Our workplan is an achievable, grounded, science-based approach for conserving America’s most imperiled species that will provide greater transparency and predictability on our upcoming actions to state wildlife agencies, non-profit organizations, private landowners and other partners,” FWS Director Dan Ashe said. “This predictability allows many conservation efforts already underway the opportunity they need to reach their full potential and succeed in recovering species before they require federal protections.”
     The FWS points out that by sharing their workplan, other stakeholders such as states, private landowners, industry and non-profits can collaborate in advance of listing actions to proactively conserve the species, noting that a number of species, such as the Columbia spotted frog, New England cottontail and mariposa lily, did not require listing.
     The Defenders of Wildlife, another frequent petitioner and litigant against the agency, issued a cautiously optimistic response to the workplan. “The backlog of imperiled species waiting for protection under the Endangered Species Act has for years served as a somber reminder of the tragic gap between our nation’s commitment to preserving endangered species and the inadequate resources Congress has provided to accomplish that goal. We commend the Fish and Wildlife Service for developing a forward-looking strategy to prioritize its listing workload so that species that badly need the act’s protections can receive them in a more timely manner. We look forward to reviewing the workplan to evaluate its feasibility,” Defender’s President and CEO Jamie Rappaport said.
     The FWS’s announcement noted that the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, representing state, provincial and territorial wildlife agencies, welcomed the workplan. AFWA’s President Dave Chanda was quoted as saying, “addressing those species of greatest concern in the evaluation and prioritization process will help states best focus on further data collection and the demonstration of effective state management actions.”

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