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White House set to decide on protections for 27 threatened species

Some species included in Tuesday's settlement have been waiting for a decision on endangered species protections since 1975.

(CN) — The Biden administration made progress on deciding whether to list 27 species under the federal Endangered Species Act, including the iconic monarch butterfly after a wildlife advocacy organization won a legal battle to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife to establish timelines. 

 The Center for Biological Diversity announced the legal decision Tuesday, saying the feds will consider whether more than 27 species should be afforded the protection necessary to halt and reverse their declines. 

“I’m so glad these 27 species are finally getting a shot at badly needed protections and a chance to avoid extinction,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the center. “It’s incredibly frustrating, however, that some of these animals and plants have waited decades for help.”

The monarch butterfly, for instance, has sustained an 85% population decline in North America from its historic levels, mostly due to habitat encroachment, a decline in milkweed and the widespread use of insecticides across America’s landscape. 

The migratory butterfly that winters in warmer latitudes before repairing to northern climes during the summer must still wait until 2024 for a decision to be rendered, however. 

Greenwald said it’s frustrating to wait and that Fish and Wildlife needs to be more transparent on the cause for these delays and how they can ameliorate them. 

“The service’s slow, bureaucratic process for listing species has tragic consequences, like further declines, more difficult recoveries and sometimes even extinction,” said Greenwald. 

Other species to get a decision date include two that are endemic to southern Nevada — the Las Vegas bear poppy and the Mojave bee. The solitary bee will be given a decision one way or the other by 2026, while the rare and beautiful desert flower will be decided by 2024, according to Fish and Wildlife. 

“Southern Nevada’s rich biodiversity is at risk from development and mining, and this agreement is throwing these two rare species a lifeline,” said Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin director at the center. 

The poppy in particular has been affected by the rapid pace of development in and around Las Vegas, which has seen a significant population boom in the past two decades. The flower has vanished from more than half of its range and its population is about 90% of its historic levels. 

“Clark County and the Bureau of Land Management have had 20 years to save these two species from free-falling into extinction, and they’ve failed,” said Donnelly. “Now only the Endangered Species Act can save the bee and the bear poppy from destruction by mining and urban sprawl.”

Other notable species included in the decision are a tortoise from the Deep South, Western pond turtles that can be found all along the West Coast, a tricolored bat from the eastern United States, a petrel that lives in cliffs along the Atlantic Coast from the Carolinas to Florida and the key ring-necked snake found in the Florida Keys. 

The petrels and the pond turtles are slated for a decision next year according to the settlement, while the tortoise and the tortoise are scheduled to receive a decision by the end of this calendar year. 

The longfin smelt, native to the San Francisco Bay in Northern California, has suffered from substantive population declines in recent years and will receive a decision from Fish and Wildlife during the current calendar year. 

There are also five plant species from Florida that wildlife advocates say are in steep decline due to runaway sprawl in the state. 

People with the center expressed dismay that some of the Florida plants, including sand flax and Blodgett’s silverbush, have been petitioned by wildlife advocates as far back as 1975. The center says Fish and Wildlife is required to act on petitions within two years but takes an average of 12 years to make decisions on individual species. 

"We’re in an extinction crisis, and scientists are warning of the impending loss of more than a million species,” Greenwald said. “We need a Fish and Wildlife Service that does its job and acts with urgency.”

The agency did not return a request seeking comment as of press time. 

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