Corbin Hiar, E&E reporter
Published: Thursday, September 1, 2016
The Fish and Wildlife Service today unveiled which rare animals and plants it will consider adding to the endangered or threatened species lists over the next seven years.
The listing plan is based on a new methodology for organizing the status reviews of hundreds of species. The highest priority was given to species that appear to be critically imperiled; the lowest went to those for which there are limited data available.
Among the first species to be considered for new or additional protections are the lesser prairie chicken, which an oil industry trade group successfully sued to have removed from the threatened list in 2014, and the threatened northern spotted owl, which could be uplisted to endangered and pose new challenges for Northwest timber companies. Meanwhile, the wide-ranging Western bumble bee and the little brown bat are a couple of the species closely watched by industry that FWS does not plan to review for listing until 2023.
FWS finalized its review prioritization process as it was nearing the end of a pair of 2011 legal settlements that set firm deadlines for listing decisions on 251 species through 2017 (Greenwire, July 26).
“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 in a statement. “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.”
All 30 “candidate species,” which the agency previously determined warrant Endangered Species Act protections but was precluded from listing due to other priorities, are included in the plan, as well as 320 others that outside groups have petitioned the agency to list. It also includes 11 species that FWS has decided on its own to consider for listing and one that a court required the agency to review.
In cases when FWS determines protections are needed, it will “seek to issue a listing proposal instead of adding the species to the candidate list,” the agency statement said. Furthermore, FWS “will endeavor to simultaneously propose” protections for lands or waters needed to recover the species and regularly update the agency’s listing decision priorities so that it always stretches at least five years into the future.
The tentative plan was welcomed by state wildlife regulators and some conservation groups.
But it is unclear if it will satisfy the Center for Biological Diversity, which threatened to sue FWS if the agency did not contact the conservation group to “develop a legally binding timeline” for 417 species (Greenwire, Aug. 23).
CBD was one of the groups that forced FWS into the 2011 settlements. It claims that the agency has repeatedly rebuffed the group’s attempts to provide input on the listing plan.