Endangered Species Act listing crisis
Wednesday 05 May 2004
Scientists, including acclaimed wildlife biologist Jane Goodall, joined environmental groups Tuesday in petitioning the government to add 225 plants and animals to the endangered species list.
The species are not new to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; four-fifths have been on the agency's waiting list for a decade. Some have been waiting since 1975. The average is 17 years.
Goodall, known for her pioneering research on chimpanzees, signed the petitions, joined by other prominent scientists including biologists E.O. Wilson of Harvard University and Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University.
"Wildlife is facing serious threats almost everywhere," Goodall said in a statement. She accused the Bush administration of seeking to undermine the Endangered Species Act.
Robert Hass, former poet laureate of the United States, said it's not too late to save the 225 plants and animals "languishing on the federal candidate list. It's time to open the doors of the ark and let them in."
Eleven individuals and three environmental organizations filed the petitions, said Brian Nowicki, a conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, which organized the effort.
A spokesman for the Interior Department accused the Tucson-based group of misrepresenting the realities of the endangered species program. Hugh Vickery attributed a decline in listing new species to "a flood of lawsuits" filed by the center and other plaintiffs since 1997.
The 225 species listed in the petitions are from 39 states, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Mariana and Northern Mariana islands and American Samoa. Nearly half are from Hawaii.
More than 1,200 species have been placed on the endangered list since the Endangered Species Act became law in 1973, Nowicki said. The Bush administration has listed only 31 species as endangered, in contrast to an average of 65 a year by the Clinton administration and 59 a year under the first President Bush.
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Group Urges Species
Wednesday 05 May 2004
A request includes one type of plant and two animal species in Oregon
Two rare Oregon frogs and a plant need federal protection before they disappear, says a national group that has won lawsuits against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding these issues in the past.
The Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, Ariz., formally asked the federal agency Tuesday to list 225 plants and animals on the endangered-species list in an attempt to prevent them from going extinct.
It is, by far, the largest request for listings in the history of the Endangered Species Act, which passed in 1973.
Federal officials concede that the species identified are at risk, but they say that the cost of protection is prohibitive.
All of the 225 species are on the candidate list, which means that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognizes their plight but has other, higher-priority species to protect.
Candidate species get no protection. There are 257 candidate species.
"They are using the candidate list as a purgatory and a means to avoid listing," said Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity in Portland. "Since some of these species have been waiting for 20 to 30 years in cases, we feel that they cant wait any longer. Its just sad to see this poor implementation of the Endangered Species Act."
But U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials say that it would cost $153 million to move all the candidate species to the threatened or endangered list.
"That is a huge amount of money," said Betsy Lordan of the agency. "You cant just go to Congress and ask for $153 million to clear up the backlog - youd get laughed at."
Lordan also said that the centers action is redundant because the agency already has reviewed each of the 225 species.
"They are on the candidate list - not because listing is not warranted but because it is precluded by other, higher listing priorities, which is another way of saying that we dont have the money to list them now," Lordan said. "So I would question what the center hopes to achieve by re-petitioning these species."
Three Oregon species have been on the candidate list for many years and were included Tuesday in the centers request for listing:
A recent report by the Center for Biological Diversity stated that systematic delays, including lengthy waits on the candidate list, contributed to the extinction of 83 species between 1974 and 1994.
But Russ Brooks, managing attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundations northwest center in Seattle, said that listing a species doesnt help recover the species.
"It seems to me that listing a species on the endangered species list is really a death sentence for that species," said Brooks, whose group represents private-property owners and others. "The history of the ESA shows that the only way - or often - that species comes off the endangered list is if it goes extinct. - The ESA should be recovering species. It is not recovering species that are currently listed. I dont know what the Center for Biological Diversity thinks it is doing by asking for the listing of these 225 species."
Others think that placing a species on the endangered-species list is the most basic of protections to prevent extinction.
"Listing does matter," said Joe Bowersox, associate professor of politics in environmental and natural-resources policy at Willamette University. "The Endangered Species Act, for all of its criticisms by both environmentalists as well as commodity interests, it is still the No. 1 way to go about protecting at a national level sensitive, threatened and endangered species."
The centers actions, through lawsuits and formal requests, have helped to get listings for 339 species across the country - 25 percent of the species on the federal list.
The protection of imperiled species has worsened under the Bush administration, Greenwald said.
For example, he said, the Clinton administration listed 394 species compared with the Bush administrations 39.
"Other administrations have managed to list far more species," he said. "This is an administration clearly opposed to listing."
And the budget argument doesnt pass muster for Greenwald, who said that the Fish and Wildlife Service needs to ask for more money to be granted more money.
"Fish and Wildlife says they need $153 million to address the backlog, but their request to Congress is $12.3 million," Greenwald said. "They request way less than they need - Theyve essentially created their own budget crisis."
The finger-pointing goes both ways. Federal agency officials said that groups such as the Center for Biological Diversity cause the budget woes.
"The center and other plaintiffs, beginning in 1997, have filed a flood of lawsuits requiring the service to designate critical habitat for already listed species," said Hugh Vickery of the agency. "This has diverted staff and resources from the listing of new species."
Critical habitats are areas that are essential to a species survival.
Vickery said that the listing budget has increased in the past several years but that $153 million would be a tenfold increase, something that no administration or Congress ever has indicated that it would support.
"Its the whole budget process that is fundamentally flawed," said Susan Ash, conservation director for the Audubon Society of Portland. "More money needs to be appropriated from Congress instead of the continued bowing down to industry interests - that cycle has got to change."
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The loss of a large cat species for a
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