Dear EarthTalk: What’s the gist of the recent agreement between the Center for Biological Diversity and the federal government regarding adding many more plants and animals to the Endangered Species List?
— J.J. Scarboro, Tallahassee, FL
The agreement in question forces the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to make initial or final decisions on whether to grant some 757 imperiled plant and animal species protection under the Endangered Species Act over the next six years. In exchange, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), a leading advocacy group devoted to animal and plant conservation, will withdraw its legal opposition to a May 2011 agreement between USFWS and another conservation group, Wildlife Guardians. CBD argued that the agreement with Wildlife Guardians was too weak, unenforceable and missing key species in need of protection. The new agreement, if approved by the U.S. District Court as submitted in July 2011, would make many of the provisions of the old agreement obsolete.
“Scientists and conservationists have a critical role to play in identifying endangered species and developing plans and priorities to save them. The extinction crisis is too big—too pressing—to rely on government agencies alone,” says Kieran Suckling, executive director of CBD.
CBD reports that the work plan under the new agreement will enable USFWS to move forward with systematically reviewing and addressing the needs of hundreds of species to determine if they should be added to the federal Endangered Species List by 2018. Some of the species in question that will get a closer look—and which CBD hopes are “fast-tracked” for protection—include the walrus, the wolverine, the Mexican gray wolf, the New England cottontail rabbit, three species of sage grouse, the scarlet Hawaiian honeycreeper (‘I’iwi), the California golden trout, the Rio Grande cutthroat trout and the Miami blue butterfly, among others.
The 757 species up for listing consideration span every taxonomic group—including 26 birds, 31 mammals, 67 fish, 13 reptiles, 42 amphibians, 197 plants and 381 invertebrates—and occur in all 50 states and several Pacific Island territories. Alabama, Georgia and Florida are home to the majority of the species (149, 121 and 115 in each respectively). Hawaii, Nevada, California, Washington and Oregon each play host to dozens of unlisted imperiled species as well.
“The Southeast, West Coast, Hawaii and Southwest are America’s extinction hot spots,” says Suckling. “Most of the species lost in the past century lived there, and most of those threatened with extinction in the next decade live there as well.”
CBD considers the agreement a big win and a key piece of its decade-long campaign to safeguard 1,000 of the nation’s most imperiled, least protected plant and animal species. Some two-thirds of the species listed in the agreement were not previously considered to be candidates for protection for USFWS. “This corresponds with the conclusion of numerous scientists and scientific societies that the extinction crisis is vastly greater than existing federal priority systems and budgets,” adds Suckling.