Black-tailed Prairie Dogs
SANTA FE -- On March 19, my friends at WildEarth Guardians, one of the few 'no sell out' groups left in the southwest, filed a needed lawsuit in Washington DC against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) seeking protection of 681 plant and animal species under the Endangered Species Act. The suit challenges the Service's failure to issue findings on two petitions filed by WildEarth Guardians last summer which requested protection of 681 critically imperiled species across twelve western states.
The Washington Post reported WildEarth Guardians' lawsuit and the broader problem of the Bush administration's low rate of listing endangered species. The Post story describes how the Bush administration has dismissed scientific advice and reversed long-standing policies in order to avoid protecting imperiled species.
"Tragically, 80% of the endangered species in the U.S. are not protected under the Endangered Species Act," stated Dr. Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians. "Under the Bush administration, one of the biggest threats facing species on the brink of extinction in the U.S. is the very agency that is supposed to be protecting them -- the Fish and Wildlife Service," continued Rosmarino.
WildEarth Guardians' petitions cite the current human-caused extinction crisis, with 6,000-9,000 species estimated at risk of extinction in the U.S., as a rationale for federal protection of all critically imperiled and imperiled species across the twelve western states in the Service's Southwestern and Mountain-Prairie Regions. Nationwide, only 1,351 U.S. species are federally protected (listed under the Endangered Species Act).
Many of the species for which WildEarth Guardians filed suit face added risks from the climate crisis. Climate change scenarios in the western U.S. include extended droughts, erratic precipitation and thus altered stream flows, reduced snow pack, warmer temperatures, and other effects including species range shifts. Rare species -- such as the 681 species WildEarth Guardians filed suit over last week -- may be at particular risk.
The Endangered Species Act is one of the most powerful conservation protection statutes in the world. The Service acknowledges that over 99% of the species protected under this law have been spared extinction. Native wildlife and plants possess a range of values for humans, including economic, aesthetic, and ecological, alongside their own inherent value. At least 85% of the American public supports the Endangered Species Act, many of whom do so out of a moral duty to preserve nature for future generations.
"The Endangered Species Act can help address the extinction crisis in the U.S., but plants and animals do not enjoy any of its protections until they are listed under the Act," stated attorney Jay Tutchton, General Counsel for WildEarth Guardians and University of Denver Environmental Law Clinic Director. "We are pressing for protection of some of the most critically imperiled plants and animals so that they do not disappear forever," continued Tutchton.
No U.S. wildlife or plant species have been listed in the nearly two years in which Dirk Kempthorne has been Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne. The Post reports that 231 species were listed under George H.W. Bush in his one term, 521 species were listed under Bill Clinton in his two terms, but only 59 have been listed under George W. Bush.
"Under Bush, the door to our nation's Ark -- the Endangered Species Act -- has been locked, despite a long line of refugees desperately waiting to board. It's time to kick the door back open and give species in need the protection they deserve," stated Dr. Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians.
The 681 species petitioned by WildEarth Guardians were selected from a source that the Service regards as "authoritative" -- NatureServe. The petitioned species are either critically imperiled (ranked G1) or verging between critically imperiled and imperiled (ranked G1G2). There are over 800 species ranked G1 or G1G2 across the Service's Southwest and Mountain-Prairie Regions. More than 80% of these are not listed or candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act.
In the past, WildEarth Guardians has submitted lengthy petitions to obtain federal listing for single species. But the Bush administration's refusal to list species sparked a new strategy: to petition for species recognized as imperiled by a source the Service regards as authoritative. WildEarth Guardians continues to file single-species petitions and filed suit on March 13 in Washington DC over the Service's failure to grant WildEarth Guardians' petition to list the black-tailed prairie dog.
According to Rosmarino, "We need to elevate the pace on obtaining federal protection for our nation's wildlife and plants. Too many species are slipping through the cracks as the extinction crisis escalates. It is time for something completely different."
The 681 species for which WildEarth Guardians is seeking protection represent the diverse tapestry of life within twelve western states and include vanishing fishes, beetles, butterflies, moths, caddisflies, mayflies, grasshoppers, snails, scorpions, spiders, salamanders, prickly pears, oaks, grasses, mosses, cacti, daisies, buckwheats, and yuccas.
Photo gallery of species.