Interior Dept. Announces Settlement Over Endangered Species Lawsuits

yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus)

In a May 10 press release, the US Dept. of the Interior announced a settlement over hundreds of pending lawsuits brought by various environmental and wildlife preservation groups under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). At the same time, the department’s Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) announced its intent to implement a new ‘work plan’ (as part of the settlement conditions) that will give greater priority to those species most in need of protection.

This comes as much welcomed news following the legal impasse last month between the Interior Dept. and the Center for Biological Diversity, a prominent conservation group which has brought many of the suits. The ‘work plan’ emerged as part of another series of lawsuit brought by the group Wild Earth Guardians.

The timing of the agreement is also notable, as May 20 (Friday) is Endangered Species Day (look for my upcoming post.

If approved by a federal judge, the settlement and new work plan will bring about the most comprehensive changes to the ESA since the 1990’s, when new streamlined procedures for designating Federal protection status for endangered species of plants and animals was formally adopted.

Officials within the department and the FWS have complained that the legal actions have been too onerous and cumbersome and even prevented it from doing its job. The settlement will “reduce litigation-driven workloads” and permit the FWS to focus its resources where they are most needed.

“For the first time in years, this work plan will give the wildlife professionals of the Service the opportunity to put the needs of species first and extend that safety net to those truly in need of protection, rather than having our workload driven by the courts. It will also give states, stakeholders, and the public much-needed certainty,” — Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes

Currently, 1,374 domestic species are protected under the Endangered Species Act. But in just the past four years, some 250 lawsuits have been initiated, claiming that the FWS has failed to live up to its mandate under the ESA as the agency charged with providing protection for these species. Over the same time period, more than 1200 “candidate” plant or animal requests for ESA listing were fielded by the FWS.

According to Interior department officials, most of the species cited in the lawsuits will achieve federal protection, under the settlement, and they estimate that 50 species will be added annually to the list. This estimate exceeds by far the averages under the Bush (8 species annually) and current Obama administrations (29 annually).

Animal and plant species currently listed on the 2010 Candidate Notice of Review, and which are being considered for federal protection, include:

  • New England cottontail rabbit,
  • yellow-billed loon and cuckoo,
  • white fringeless orchid,
  • Pacific sheath-tailed bat (Am. Samoa),
  • whorled sunflower,
  • Tutuila tree snail,
  • Acuna cactus,
  • relict leopard frog,
  • several varieties of pocket gopher,
  • Mardon skipper (butterfly),
  • sheepnose mussel, and
  • Northern Mexican garter snake   …to name only a hand full of the 461 species under review.

Read the full US Fish & Wildlife Service’s Work Plan Press Release.

Photo credit: ( Yellow-billed Cuckoo – Coccyzus americanus) Factumquintus ; CC – By SA 3.0

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